James Franco, 19 April 1978
Tim Curry, 19 April 1946
Heath Ledger, 4 April 1979
Marcel Marceau, 22 March 1923
James Franco, 19 April 1978
Tim Curry, 19 April 1946
Heath Ledger, 4 April 1979
Marcel Marceau, 22 March 1923
Another great court portraitist, (like Anthony VanDyck, Red Aries #18), Francisco Goya, born on March 30, 1746, had a penchant for bright red, especially as an accent: red cape, red ribbon, red collar, red corsage, red boutonniere, red cuff, feather, box, flag, flame, hat, pants, ember, blood. He painted the Duchess of Alba twice, once in a white dress and once in a black one, each with a red sash. The painting above, Goya's most beloved, unites the color with his favorite theme, childhood. At the lower left, his frequent touch of the macabre, the three cats ready to pounce on the bird.
Here he equates the Aries bodypart, the head, and the Aries color.
The haunting portrait of Count Floridablanca is profound meditation on identity. The ostensible Subject is the central figure in bold red, but his existence is diffused, appearing also in his oval portrait dimly looming above him. There is also a self-portrait of the artist, humbly dressed on the left, whose profile is 'fortuitously' highlighted, while the individuality of an insignificant secretary seems to have struck the artist as more interesting than the Count, who is comparing his painted image with his image in a mirror. So there are at least six self-images present or implicit. Other important Aries images in Goya's work: Boy on a Ram, The Disasters of War series, The Massacre, and the hacked and bloody butcher's still life, "Head and Quarters":
Taking a page from Lady Gaga's (#32) playbook, Cynthia Nixon (April 9, 1966) in a red leather dress!
This paper: Knight, Chris; Camilla Power & Ian Watts (1995). "The Human Symbolic Revolution: A Darwinian Account" (PDF). Cambridge Archaeological Journal 5 (1): 75–114. presents this interesting diagram:
to demonstrate how the synchronization of the human menstrual cycle with the lunar cycle led to the development of symbolization and civilization. In fine scientific fashion, the theory led to an hypothesis and a prediction: something arcane about the use of red ochre in imitation of menstrual blood, and where it would be found at Paleolithic sites. The prediction came true, like a wish in a fairy tale, hence the entire anecdote has been printed in the Cambridge Archeological Journal and is a respected scientific concept, and a plausible element in a theory of the relationship between astronomology and early hominid development.
The authors consider themselves "radical archeologists". They were arrested in England last April for trying to upstage the Royal Wedding with a public orgy.
1. Aries, the first sign, the pioneer, the warrior, the bully, Miles Gloriosus, the planet Mars, the color red.
The first thing I bring forth about Descartes is his Mars quality. He carries a silver sword, unenlisted he attends battlefields, he philosophizes in the barracks, he contributes to the science of ballistics, the technology of munitions. On the Orleans road he disarms a rival lover. Famously, on a ferry in the Lowlands he disarmed brigands who were plotting his murder. As De Quincey put it in his immortal essay On Murder, Considered as One of the Fine Arts: ". . . if ever one could say of a man that he was all but murdered—murdered within an inch—one must say it of [Descartes]. . . "
Frans Hals paints him as a dashing swashbuckler, his simian brow concealed in bangs, a veritable D'Artagnan with blazing eyes, a confident sneering smile and intimidating eyebrows. He has contempt for the past, the intellectual authority of the scolia, Aristotle, dead languages, books in general.
[....Not that I really give a shit about the horoscope crap but I did notice that all of the coolest MFers on this site are Aries. All of you Aries people come in here and show yourselves and the board will see what I mean. http://www.boxingscene.com ]
In the Discourse, Descartes uses the metaphor of battle: "Or perhaps we should make the comparison with army chieftains.... for to try to conquer all the difficulties and errors which stand in our way when we try to reach the truth is really to engage in battle; and to reach a false conclusion on an important issue is to lose the battle."
To facilitate the goal "to make ourselves masters and possessors of nature" he calls for this, perhaps his most tangible forecast of modernity, the organized campaign of science:
"Truth can be discovered only little by little . . . . It is true that as far as the related experiments are concerned, one man is not enough to do them all; but he could not usefully employ other hands than his own, unless those of workers or other persons whom he could pay. Such people would do, in the hope of gain, which is a very effective motive, precisely what they were told."
In other words, he calls for a mercenary army of researchers. He rejects volunteers, whose assistance would be "at a net loss" for among other reasons "they would infallibly expect to be paid . . in compliments and useless conversation which would necessarily consume much of the time needed for investigation."
There is a touch of testy impatience; it's also the Generalissimo barking Do it now! He feels pressure to see the practical results that will alleviate and transform Humanity. He's particularly concerned to expand human lifespan "as much as a thousand years," if not "prevented by the brevity of life." Descartes's contemporary, Aries Andrew Marvell gives a vivid glimpse of this side of the Aries temperament: "But at my back I always hear/Time's winged chariot hurrying near."
Blood flows around him. For a time, he purposely lives near a slaughterhouse. "I have spent much time on dissection during the last eleven years, and I doubt whether there is a doctor who has made more detailed observations than I." He is joined in this pursuit by several other Aries natives of genius and energy excited to pioneer in studying the mechanism and vitality of the physical body. Sanctorius, the widely published physician born 35 years before Descartes, proposed that the body is a machine, and measures its temperature, rejects scholasticism. William Harvey, 18 years Descartes's senior establishes the circulation of the blood. Descartes, disagreeing with Harvey about the heart's activity, cuts out part of the heart of a live dog and measures the pulsations along the aorta with this bare hand. He vigorously defends vivisection. He is credited with writing the first textbook of physiology but it follows on Sanctorius and Harvey; a team of Aries invade the body.
He frightens his neighbors and is thought to be an atheist. Pascal seems to takes him for such (for practical purposes) in his well-known remark:
"I cannot forgive Descartes; in all his philosophy, Descartes did his best to dispense with God. But Descartes could not avoid prodding God to set the world in motion with a snap of his lordly fingers; after that, he had no more use for God."
2. Cogito ergo SUM
Descartes himself admits that the Cogito is not a piece of reasoning. Paul Valery calls it "a fist coming down on a table . . . . the explosion of an act, a shattering blow . . . If the cogito turns up so often in Descartes work, if it is found again and again in the Discourse, the Meditations, the Principles, it is because it is an appeal to his essential egotism. He takes it up as the theme of the lucid Self; it is the clarion call to his pride and the resources of his being. . . . . I say that the real method of Descartes ought to be called egotism: the expansion of consciousness for the purposes of knowledge."
Aries comes infant naked and with the passionate energy of newly discovered self-hood it must clothe itself in individuality, and defend its unique, unshareable position in space-time, and its creativity is born of that need. Aries is urgent and distinct, never bland, often noisy.
I shall never be silent. Never. Samuel Beckett
I am here to live aloud. Emile Zola
It is a truism that Descartes introduces the Subject to philosophy. Aries invokes the immediacy of the nascent I, the human being-as-subject, im-mediately in agonic relations with both the source-of-being, Nothing, and the context-of-being, the World, striding frantically forth with a cry in a state of emergency (and usually picking up the nearest weapon).
Astrology does not presuppose a simplicity of origin, but recognizes in birth the agony and terror, as well as the miracle. In choosing a point representing the start on a circle or cycle, the necessary arbitrariness is a violence which provokes or uncovers a crisis-state. Descartes's I AM immediately confronts the Other, (or does he defer the encounter by creating this) Doubt, the all-powerful Demon, and then opens a Pandora's box of dualisms, which are dealt with for centuries: mind/body, subject/object, self/other, conscious/unconscious, certainty/doubt. Not the least of them is progress/regress. The terror of regression, back into an imprisoning non-being, fuels Aries pre-emptive aggression with pre-rational force.
This first-person singular Descartes, this "I" that was born and thinks, that dissects eyeballs and fetuses (competing, again with Harvey, for a "father of embryology" award), who dreamed of living a thousand years and determining the "cause of the position of every fixed star" is the hero figure of intellectual modernity. Or the villain: overreaching, insecure, power-mad fantast, imperialist colonizer of infinity, self-declared origin. At any rate, for the next 250 years after Descartes's birth, there was no need for another Aries in the philosophical sphere.
Not until the Aries Edmund Husserl (born 4/8/1859), who explicitly embarks on a new Cartesian-style beginning (and is similarly forced to deal with solipsism). That Husserl’s philosophy goes straight back to Descartes is widely accepted. Descartes is "the original founding genius of all modern philosophy," he wrote. (See The Cogito in Husserl’s Philosophy, Gaston Berger, 1972. And Paul MacDonald, in Descartes and Husserl: The Philosophical Project of Radical Beginnings, refers to “Husserl’s repeated insistence on the importance of the Cartesian point of departure” and “the abundance, even superfluity, of commentaries on this avowed influence."
The next Aries of highest regard is J. L. Austin: Is the Cogito not par excellence the speech-act, or performative utterance, inaugural of European thought for 300 years . . . sort of? (A cadre of language philosophers and logical positivists exist in the Taurus/Scorpio polarity. Austin is the only one who wanders into neighboring Aries territory. In a list of the 40 most important philosophers of the last 200 years, compiled from 600 contributors Husserl and Austin are the only Aries.)
On the other hand, outside philosophy, Descartes's researches into the mathematical physics of motion, force, energy, heat, light were extended rapidly by crucial figures born under Aries: Huygens, Euler, Laplace, and Fourier. I doubt that four names of equal importance to the development of theories of physical energy can be found together under any other zodiacal sign, certainly not within 200 years of Descartes's birth.
There is, however, one other canonical philosopher born under Aries, and contemporary with Descartes, namely the "menacingly terse" Thomas Hobbes, whose long life encompassed Descartes birth and death. If Descartes originates the philosophical Subject, Hobbes does so for the political Subject. Hobbes is the man of two clear and distinct . . . not even sentences, clauses only: "And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" and "the warre of each against all". At the same time that Descartes is devising methodical doubt in the Meditations, Hobbes assumes the same strategy in his Human Nature: "intending not to take any principle upon trust, but only to put men in mind what they know already, or may know by their own experience." They each dissect primitive concepts of physical extension, motion and force. Hobbes regrets coming too late to a familiarity with geometry. Extended discussions of similarities between these two figures that reinforce the Aries theme occur in Hoffman, Piotr, The Quest for Power: Hobbes, Descartes, and the Emergence of Modernity and Farrell, John, Paranoia and Modernity, Chapter 7: "The Demons of Descartes and Hobbes". From Farrell I would quote this about Hobbes: "Hobbes is one of the style-setters of paranoid modernity . . . His ironic empiricism and satirically reductive materialism were to become central instruments in the arsenal of the modern, perennially available for deployment against idealistic opponents whenever they might emerge."
I think of Hobbes as Descartes's henchman. De Quincey's quintessential essay examines a list of major philosophers on the point of their 'murderability'; Hobbes he calls "a man who was always dreaming of murder."
"Hobbes, but why, or on what principle, I never could understand, was not murdered. This was a capital oversight of the professional men in the seventeenth century; because in every light he was a fine subject for murder, except, indeed, that he was lean and skinny; for I can prove that he had money, and (what is very funny,) he had no right to make the least resistance; for, according to himself, irresistible power creates the very highest species of right, so that it is rebellion of the blackest die to refuse to be murdered, when a competent force appears to murder you. However, gentlemen, though he was not murdered, I am happy to assure you that (by his own account) he was three times very near being murdered. . . . . "
3. Aries and atheism
It can hardly be denied that Cartesian, mathematical, scientific materialism is implicitly atheistic. Aries Laplace famously remarked to Napoleon of God, "I have no need of that hypothesis." Laplace, like Descartes, is accompanied by his Demon, and the demonic is one version of atheism, in its most simplistic form. The Demon is lively; Aries atheism is not so much a logical position as an expression of rebellion, contrariety, anti-authoritarianism, pugnacity, and can have an underlying streak of vitalism or animism.
Like Descartes, and with even more justification is Hobbes pursued for atheism, called "the monster of Malmsbury". (". . . the K. hath at length banisht from his court that father of Atheists, Mr Hobbes".)
Aries pugnacity produces a unique style of hard-line atheism. All of the four so-called Horsemen of the New Atheism, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris are Aries and notably belligerent. Dawkins with his selfish gene theory promotes a Hobbesian position, and as Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science, he carries the sword of Descartes and the cudgel of Hobbes into the battle for the hegemony of science. At the same time his attitude towards DNA is distinctly animistic and even mystical.
Aries atheists seem to clump together like clotting red-blood cells. Hitchens biographizes Thomas Jefferson, atheist author of a secular Bible (supernaturalism removed). Another Aries, British philosopher John Grayling recently gave us his own secular Bible, and is himself biographer of the pugnacious Aries atheist William Hazlitt (best known for his classic essay "On Boxing"), as well of Rene Descartes himself. Another Aries philosopher I've noticed is John N. Gray, with much in common with Hobbes. Certainly, being of one particular sign does not force one to a particular side of any issue. That said, Gray's evisceration of Grayling was clear, distinct, nasty, and not too long. Madalyn Murray O'Hair was an Aries.
4. Aries and parturition
I've noticed that Aries often has something to say or hide about the circumstances of her birth that is formative of her concept of herself. We know quite a bit about the earliest days of both Hobbes and Descartes. Hobbes told Aubrey that "His mother fell in labour with him upon the fright of the invasion of the Spaniards." He told it himself in Latin verses (here is a contemporary anonymous translation):
In Fifteen hundred eighty-eight, Old Style,
When that Armada did invade our Isle,
Call'd the Invincible; whose Freight was then,
Nothing but Murd'ring Steel, and Murd'ring Men;
Most of which Navy was disperst, or lost,
And had the Fate to Perish on our Coast,
April the Fifth (though now with Age outworn)
I'th' early Spring, I, a poor worm, was born. (l. 1-8)
. . . . For Fame had rumour'd, that a Fleet at Sea,
Wou'd cause our Nations Catastrophe;
And hereupon it was my Mother Dear
Did bring forth Twins at once, both Me, and Fear. (l. 25-8)
( . . . geminos, metque metumque simul.)
Hobbes clearly situates his emergent self with the scene of murder, drowning, catastrophe, and the great early modern spiritual rift of Catholic vs. Protestant forces. Early maternal symbolizations arise in any psychological parsing of Aries. The neofreudian discourse of the role of the pre-Oedipal mother (the good-enough mother, the good breast/bad breast mother, the dismembering, cannibalistic mother), in the formation of the Self, derives from two Aries head-shrinkers, Melanie Klein, and D. S. Winnicott.
Descartes's birth circumstances present parallels: his father, a Protestant of Poitou, his mother a Catholic of neighboring Touraine, the two families separated by the often crossed river Creuse. Descartes reported that his mother died at his birth. He seemed to have forgotten that she died when he was fourteen months old, after giving birth to a short-lived brother. A forgetting as good as a remembering, poignantly evoking a distressing infancy of unutterable loss and fratricidal fantasy. At any rate, there is a suggestion of some emotional wreckage around the Cartesian womb. Attention is drawn to the re-enacted birth experience, the enigmatic episode of the visionary dreams in the "stove". Even his life-long idiosyncrasy, the inability to get out of bed in the morning, has been traced by psychoanalytic students of Descartes to a mother-fixation.
The greatness then of both Descartes and Hobbes derives in part from their opportunity and ability to be shaped by the alignment of the purely personal agony of birth (from which Aries never entirely dissociates), with the geo-political agon of his time: Protestant vs. Catholic
Of course, the philosophy of mind is rooted in Descartes's Aries self-discovery or assertion. Consciousness, self, mind-body dualism, etc. I'll try not to get in over my head, but observe that, to a layman, the top-seeded players on this court are Daniel Dennett and David Chalmers. Stepping back a bit, the first scientist to programmatically measure subjective processes? Aries Gustav Fechner. And the first to measure processes inside the human body, Aries Sanctorius. Fechner was a vitalist, and so in a way are Chalmers and Dennett with their various approaches to "emergence" and the Will, some sort of unceasing birthing or creation "to emerge" etym: 'out of mother or ocean'). I would sidestep neurophilosophical tangles here and give some Aries illustrative of emergence:
Vincent Van Gogh, an inexhaustible self-portraitist, writes: "There is only a constantly being born again . . a constant going from darkness into light."
Harry Houdini with his compulsion to repeat the act of escape, especially from water (along with an abnormal attachment to his aged mother).
Poet Paul Verlaine. In a drunken rage against his mother, he once smashed the glass jars containing the preserved fetuses of his still-born siblings.
Lady Gaga, flamboyantly re-enacting her birth from a gigantic egg.
Touching on the present, we must now call a spade a spade, a sword a phallus, thanks in part to the most prominent neo-neo Cartesian, Jacques Lacan, solipsistically absorbed in the subject of the Subject that is always already split, defective, in conflict, dismembered, yet-to-have-been mirrored, and so forth. He and his Aries acolyte Slavoj Zizek continually interrogate the Subject, Zizek bringing the violence of Hobbes back into the picture. Casting a backward glance on the portrait of Descartes as a swashbucking swordsman, from the viewpoint of Lacan's panphallicism, I am reminded of a string of record-breaking Aries rakes: Aretino, Casanova, John Wilmot Earl of Rochester, Lacan himself, Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, Hugh Hefner.
5. Aries the macabre.
If Descartes set walking the powerful illusion of the unified ego, Lacan sets out to ambush it in any way possible, for instance with the shadow concept of the fragmented body. "The infant perceives its own body, which lacks motor coordination, as divided and fragmented. His anticipation of a synthetic ego is constantly threatened by the memory of this sense of fragmentation which manifests itself in images of castration, emasculation, mutilation, dismemberment, dislocation, evisceration, devouring, bursting open of the body which haunt the human imagination.” (An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Dylan Evans, pg. 67)
Among David Chalmers many colorful maneuvers is his philosophizing about zombies, repeating the idea of the mechanical body of Descartes and Sanctorius, not to mention the spooky legend of Descartes's mechanical daughter. There is a creepy, ghoulish vitality to Aries, in its affiliation with demons, zombies, automata, self-replicating DNA, selfish genes, ceaselessly activity and strife. It sometimes manifests in the separate career of severed body-parts: Van Gogh’s ear (in the mail), Gogol’s nose. Charlie Chaplin’s body (robbed from its grave), the memorial bust on Houdini’s tomb (stolen). Pieces of the body of the outspoken 17th century Aries Spanish mystic, Teresa of Avila, spread throughout the catholic world immediately after her death and now reside in reliquaries all over Europe and South America. The skulls of both Haydn and Raphael were stolen and became peripatetic momenti mori. Philoprogenitive J. S. Bach’s skeleton disappeared. Madalyn Murray O'Hair was dismembered, along with her son and granddaughter.
Descartes himself was virtually canonized in the 18th century, a sort of rationalist saint, and, like Teresa's, his skeleton and skull were circulated, moved several times in Sweden shortly after his death there, divvied up and carted around northern Europe and France, ideologically freighted, and finally cherished as relics of the new religion of rationalism. (See Descartes' Bones, by Russell Shorto.)
Other aspects of this topic: on Aries, atheism and violence, here:
" I believe in the fable that the Fates fell in love with Hermes. " Emerson
" Mediator. Mediation. There is nothing else; there is no Immediate known to us. " Emerson
" A good symbol is the best argument. . . The value of a trope is that the hearer is one; and indeed Nature itself is a vast trope, and all particular natures are trope ... All thinking is analogizing, and 'tis the use of life to learn metonymy. " Ralph Waldo Emerson
"O please don't start in on the Zodiac." Joseph Brodsky, Gorbunov and Gorchakov
The Twins, the third sign of the zodiac, first one of the element Air, associated with the Messenger Deity Mercury/Hermes, houses the Sun at the births of many writers. It is the first sign that has language at its disposal.
The symbol of the Twins denotes any and all copula, their functions and manifestations, from the intimate to-and-fro of personal interaction, to any generalized form of mediation, transition, re-presentation, specularity, iteration, duplication or multiplication, mimesis or similarity. Hieroglyph, stylus and pen, typeface, word, the mirror and the mirror neuron, metaphor, language, dialogue, translation, figuration, photography, all spring from the Twin's mutual address. Gemini, the third sign, looks back and sees only two things, the majestic parental binary of Aries and Taurus, and channels all its creativity through the revelation of AND.
Dante Alighieri in Paradise honored the "glorious Twins" thus:
. . . . o stars
impregnate with great strength,
to whom I owe whatever genius
I possess, with you the sun
arose and set when first
I breathed sweet air of Tuscany.
Each of the three books of the Divine Comedy ends with the word "stelle." Dante taxes us to experience pre-Copernican astronomy and astrology not yet fully separated. In Dante's comprehensive vision anything believed of the heavens, mythological or geometrical, signifies spiritually.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, a translator of Dante, reaches for the stars continually:
"Astrology interested us, for it tied man to the system. Instead of an isolated beggar, the farthest star felt him, and he felt the star. However rash and however falsified by pretenders and traders in it, the hint was true and divine, the soul's avowal of its large relations, and, that climate, century, remote natures, as well as near, are part of its biography." (The Conduct of Life: Beauty)
"Every astronomical fact interested him," Emerson's nephew recalled, but his perspective was entirely symbolic. "I think," he wrote, " I could have helped the monks to belabor Galileo for saying the everlasting earth moved." According to a friend: "The majesty of planets and suns and systems, in their ordered courses, especially appealed to Emerson from youth. . . . In the years between 1835 and 1845 his journals, and the scattered fragments of "The Poet" show how constantly he sought "the sweet influence of the Pleiades" and "Arcturus and his sons."
Divine inviters, I accept
The courtesy ye have shown and kept
From ancient ages for the bard.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
I watch your course,
Who never break your lawful dance
By error or intemperance.
O birds of ether without wings!
O heavenly ships without a sail!
O fire of fire! O best of things!
O mariners who never fail!
Sail swiftly through your amber vault,
An animated law, a presence to exalt.
"I am part of the solar system. Let the brain alone, and it will keep time with that, as the shell with the sea-tide." Emerson looks to the stars with a philosophical yearning and a poetical mood and a downright belief in sympathetic influence that have little to do with astronomy.
America's first popuylar astrologer, William Chaney, adopted Emerson's "Hitch your wagon to a star" as his motto.
W. B. Yeats casts horoscopes obsessively. His Geminian Sun murmurs "Mirror on mirror mirrored is all the show." He was enamored by the idea of a generative principle which he called the "antithetical self", as unreachable as the image in the mirror. (cf. A Vision)
Gay Gemini poet Walt Whitman reaches out to "Poets to come!" Gay Gemini poets reply in echo: Garcia Lorca (Ode to Walt Whitman), Allen Ginsberg ("What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman . . ") and Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (Salutacion a Walt Whitman), who left trunkloads of unpublished astrological papers, pleads (in English):
With the higher trifling let us world our wit
Conscious that, if we do it, that was the lot
The regular stars bound us to, when they stood
Godfathers to our birth and to our blood.
Somehow Gemini Joyce Carol Oates added a name, or two, to the list of Pessoa's hundred-odd heteronyms. In a Yeatsian trance, a "real or imagined 'possession'", she "translated" fully 22 stories (a satisfying Gemini number) by (yet another) imaginary Portuguese author, Fernandes de Briao, collected in the volume "A Poisoned Kiss". In explanation Oates cryptically invokes Yeatsian antitheses. "Everything about her had two sides to it," Oates wrote in her most famous story, and in her natus the Gemini itself is one side balanced against another, a powerful Persephone archetype). Her novel based on the life and death of Marilyn Monroe, also a Gemini, was written under the working title Gemini, then renamed Blonde; Oates' antithetical autobiography in a way.
Allen Ginsberg relished his birthstars, as here:
This universe a thing of dream
substance naught & Keystone void
vibrations of symmetry Yes No
. . . . all the way down to the first Wave
making opposite Nothing a mirror
which begat a wave of Ladies marrying
waves of Gentlemen till I was born in 1926
in Newark, New Jersey under the sign
sweet Gemini ---
. . . . . .
. . . I correspond with hopeful
messengers in Detroit, I am taking drugs
and leap at my postman for more correspondence, Man is leaving
the earth in a rocket ship,
there is a mutation of the race, we are no longer human beings,
we are one being, we are being connected to itself,
it makes me crosseyed to think how, the mass media assemble
themselves like congolese Ants for a purpose
. . . . .
communicate with me
by mail post telegraph phone street accusation or scratching at my window
and send me a true sign I'll reply special delivery
DEATH IS A LETTER THAT WAS NEVER SENT
As promised by its title, Joseph Brodsky's "To Urania: Collected Poems 1965-1985" inclines to astrology. The title poem responds to the 1960 "Homage to Clio" of Brodsky's mentor, W. H. Auden (n. b. not a Gemini). Late Auden is permeated with this discouraging shibboleth: 'poetry makes nothing happen'. In "Homage to Clio" Auden submits to the realpolitic of history (whose Muse is Clio), to rationalization and disenchantment. He rejects Zodiacal illusions for good: "We may dream as we wish / Of phallic pillar or navel stone // With twelve nymphs twirling about it, but pictures / Are no help".
In Brodsky's youthfully Geminian, optimistic counterview the very ubiquity of limitation and division in the sub-lunary world privileges Urania's transcendental exploration over Clio's scrolled archive. Gemini is ever the gadfly to the realist. Urania's profounder Self ("the/body's absence") is a spiritual giant who strides the upper atmospheres like Dante ascending (or a passenger in an airplane), observing Earth's majestic shifts from above.
Everything has its limit, including sorrow.
A windowpane stalls a stare. Nor does a grill abandon
a leaf. One may rattle the keys, gurgle down a swallow.
Loneliness cubes a man at random.
A camel sniffs at the rail with a resentful nostril;
a perspective cuts emptiness deep and even.
And what is space anyway if not the
body's absence at every given
point? That's why Urania's older than sister Clio!
In daylight or with the soot-rich lantern,
you see the globe's pate free of any bio,
you see she hides nothing, unlike the latter.
There they are, blueberry-laden forests,
rivers where the folk with bare hands catch sturgeon
or the towns in whose soggy phone books
you are starring no longer; farther eastward surge on
brown mountain ranges; wild mares carousing
in tall sedge; the cheekbones get yellower
as they turn numerous. And still farther east, steam
dreadnoughts or cruisers,
and the expanse grows blue like lace underwear.
So Brodsky rejects Auden's dispiriting obeisance to necessity. Having known prison he is not one to chip away at the possible meanings of freedom, but will keep faith even if narrowed to a twinkling point.
Auden doesn't think Clio reads his poems, or should, while Urania leans over Brodsky's shoulder as he writes. She pops up often, indirectly in the collection's first poem, May 24, 1980, which is the poet's fortieth birthday -- and two days before Pushkin's birthdate. (Urania implicitly attends all births.) The brotherhood of Brodsky and Pushkin is common critical currency. They are the Castor and Pollux of Russian literature, as the two Geminis, Emerson and Whitman, are of American, and May 24, 1980 is a compendium of Pushkin/Brodsky resemblances, in tone, meter, rhyme scheme and incident. The Dantesque enters as well: "From the height of a glacier I beheld half a world, the earthly / width."
In Lithuanian Nocturne Brodsky plunges into the most obvious Gemini terrain. In a teleported visitation, with allusion to Girenas and Darius, a legendary pair of doomed Lithuanian airmen, Brodsky address fellow poet his distant friend Thomas Venclova on the subject of their shared literariness: "Our inkpot alliance! It's splurge!/ . . Our imprints!" Then a full outcry of the Twin's need to pair:
Thomas, we are alike;
We are, frankly, a double:
. . . We're a mutual threat,
Castor looming through Pollux,
We're a stalemate, no-score,
Draw, . .
Echoes tracing in vain the original cry . . .
In Stanza XV Urania appears in her glory (and to the disadvantage of Clio). Brodsky's thoughts of Venclova, transcending political boundaries, unite in the upper atmosphere with Venclova's thoughts of Brodsky to become
A specter . . .
simply note in this faint apparition a kin
or an aspect of air--like these words, with their fear of the morning,
Scattered thinly at midnight by some slurring voice --
. . . . but in which
ever-naked Urania is to rejoice!
In Stanza XVII, Brodsky addresses Urania again: "Muse of dots lost in space! Muse of things one makes out / Through a telescope only!") and sings to her a "little aria," actually four dithyrambic stanzas, on the subject of Air, Breath and Speech, which resounds with the afflatus, pneuma or prana of the element Air at the roots of indo-European astrological imagery.
In the kingdom of air!
In its equality of
gulps of oxygen to our syllables! . . .
. . . our O's
shape the vault of the palate,
where a star gets its shine from the vat
of the throat! That's how the universe
Two memorable times in his youth, Brodsky experienced "astronomical illuminations" while gazing at the stars, and he regretted (to an interviewer in 1988) that they had never recurred. In The Fifth Anniversary, a dejection ode, the poet tries to talk himself out of silly beliefs. It opens:
A falling star, or worse, a planet (true or bogus)
Might thrill your idle eye with its quick hocus-pocus.
. . . there are no enigmas, signs in heavens."
Yet Gemini is compelled optimistically to his Penmanship: "Scratch on, my clawlike pen, my pilgrim staff, my salvage!"
Again, in one of his Christmas poems he is disillusioned with the stars: "well after hours, blinking . . . and a thoughtful gaze can be rested on none of these."
Astrology is confrontational in Gorbunov and Gorchakov, Brodsky's important novel-in-verse, a poetic genre which few but Geminis attempt. (I name Pushkin, of course, coupleted Pope ("Why did I write? What sin unknown / Dip't me in ink, my parents or my own?"), Thomas Moore, more recently Vikram Seth, Anne Carson.) The most extended of Brodsky's several conversation poems, it contains the astonishing Canto V of "He said"s (A Song in the Third Person), an x-ray of dialogue. The subject of Canto X is the primacy of language:
"And so it's not the sea that surges in-
to shore, but words are overlapping words."
"And words are sort of holy relics." "Yes."
The two protagonists are political prisoners in a mental ward. Gorchakov is Brodsky, an intellectual, Gorbunov, his antithetical self, a peasant. Gorbunov consults the stars, Gorchakov mocks them. Gorbunov describes himself in astrological terms, then asks
"And you, What is
your sign?" "Well, I belong to Gemini.
Born under Gemini, in May." "I guess
that makes you warm." "I guess." . . .
Our normally garrulous and provocative Gorchakov is suddenly laconic, unresponsive. His contempt for astrology is belied by his all-too obvious Geminian qualities. He knows Gemini fits him to a T, a final blow, it stops his words. Gorbunov argues with Uranian metaphor (she always represented with a compass):
forgetting that, although the radius
is scorned in life, the compass will endure
The usual allowances for problems of translation aside, Brodsky still makes good points, often with fabulous, if slightly accented language. Nothing perishes faster in translation than the sheen of an intricate rhyme scheme, except perhaps delicate conversational gradations of Slavic irony and mood. The notorious "untranslatability" of Brodsky (echoing that of Pushkin) is a fitting part of his Geminian literariness, and added to his labors and his substance as a personage. He was not only his own translator, but editor and collaborator with a stable of colleagues. Brodsky is a hero of border-crossing, so charmingly grateful for the freedom offered by the West that we English reader generously excuse the inevitable awkwardness. We lean forward to understand -- what communicator could ask for more?
"Indeed, a star that climbs above the field
seeks out a brighter interlocutor."
To unite the beginning and the end of this essay, and justify my eccentric practices, I submit quotes from Brodsky and Emerson:
"The surest defense against evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even — if you will — eccentricity." JB
"I would write on the lintels of the doorpost, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation." RWE
Addendum: Other poets born under Gemini: Thomas Moore, Mark van Doren, Harry Crosby, Josephine Miles, Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, John Yau, Lucie Brock-Broido, Paul Muldoon, David Lehman, Anne Carson
--- Mark Shulgasser
"Where the Music Comes From" words & music by LH
"Evening" from 'Evening without Angels' by Wallace Stevens
"Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll
Born on February 8, 1911, a hundred years ago last week, Elizabeth Bishop wrote about her sudden, sickening childhood identifications with the sky-permeating female scream, and the dizzying awareness of her unavoidable fate: being human, "one of them," accompanied by "the sensation of falling off / the round, turning world / into cold, blue-black space." Of this never forgotten inward trauma, her cosmic fall into identity and time, she solemnly notes the date in these lines from her poem "In the Waiting Room": "I said to myself: three days / and you'll be seven years old. . . ./ And it was still the fifth of February, 1918."
The poet's first conscious creative act, then, was to establish the birthdate as synecdoche of origin, identity and fate. This fetishistic attitude toward the birthdate is in a sense universal and unavoidable, and a source of both the attraction and the antipathy to astrology.
Thirty years later Bishop commemorated her orphan's birthday with a stoical dejection ode, pivoting hopefully only on the very last word.
I did a quick search for qualifiers to the term "Self" in some recent books about Elizabeth Bishop, and came across "dismantled," "disunified," "shipwrecked," "fluid and unfixed," "unstable," "only arbitrarily bounded," "denied," "questioned," "lost," "obfuscated," "decentered," "abnegated," and "fractured".
The poet's famous attentive objectivity originates in self-effacement. The motives for effacement are well-known: female, homosexual, alcoholic, chronically ill, the American gothic childhood. Fortunately, directly opposite confident, sun-ruled Leo, Aquarius deplores egotism. Not so much a self as a constellation of problems, Bishop dedicated herself at whatever cost to a true poet's life of "no regular hours, so many temptations," reading, writing (mostly letters), affections, drinking, and travel.
Bishop's cold-blooded menagerie, her semi-alive lichen and moss, her wraith-like atmospherics, measure alienation from a solid core of solar identity. With Aquarian Hugo Hofmannsthal she would agree "We are no more than dove-cotes." Her multi-hued mineral grains, the iridescences, her attention to every color playing no favorites, and the triple rainbow epiphany which is central to her reputation, are shining peripheries of hope, the refraction of unendurable singularity.
* * *
Aquarius, centrifugal of the autocratic heart, circulates democratically, directs the oxygenation of the blood, and identifies with all aspects of the atmospheric cycle Thus Bishop's asthma , which chronically threatened her life, but stimulated her highest identification. Her work is crafted in a death struggle and is as necessary as cortisone. She breathes easiest when uncrowded before the detailed panorama. Continents, rivers, waterfalls, harbors, mists, moonlight, cities are seen from the slopes.
--- Mark Shulgasser, The Blue Zenith
See Astrological Profiles there for my pieces on Sagittarian and Capricorn poets as well.
Here are some excerpts from James Dickey's wonderful long poem The Zodiac, published in 1976.
He moves among stars.
Sure. We all do, but he is star-crazed, mad
With Einfuehling, with connecting and joining things that lay their meanings
Over billions of light years
Eons of time--Ah,
Years of light: billions of them: they are pictures
Of some sort of meaning. He thinks the secret
Can be read. But human faces swim through
Cancer Scorpio Leo through all the stupefying design,
And all he can add to it or make of it, living or dead:
* * *
Only one way beyond
He must solve it must believe it learn to read it
No, wallow in it
* * *
He has to hold on to the chair: the room is pitching and rolling--
He's sick seasick with his own stars,
Seasick and airsick sick
With the Zodiac. . . .
He knows he's not fooling himself he knows
Not a damn thing of stars of God of space
Of time love night death sex fire numbers signs words,
Not much of poetry. But by God, we've got a universe
Those designs of time are saying something
Or maybe something or other.
Night tells us. It's coming--
Venus shades it and breaks it. Will the animals come back
Gently, creatively open,
Like they were?
The great, burning Beings melt into place
A few billion-lighted inept beasts
What else is there? What other signs what other symbols
Are anything beside these? If the thing hasn't been said
This way, then God can't say it.
* * *
What animal's getting outlined?
All space is being bolted
Together: eternal blackness
Studded with creatures.
Beasts. Nothing left but the void
Deep-hammering its creatures with light-years.
Years made of light.
* * *
Look, stupid, get your nose out of the sky for once.
There're things that are close to you, too. Look at that!
Don't cringe: look right out over town.
Real birds. There they are in their curves, moving in their great element
That causes our planet to be blue and causes us all
To breathe. Ah, long ghostly drift
Well, son of a bitch,
He sits and writes,
And the paper begins to run
But he can't get rid of himself enough
To write poetry. He keeps thinking Goddamn
I've misused myself I've fucked up I haven't worked--
I've traveled and screwed too much,
But but by dawn, now NOW
Something coming through-coming down-coming up
To me ME!
His hand reaches, dazzling with drink half alive,
For the half-dead vision. That room and its pages come in and
Of being. You talk about looking: would you look at that
Electric page! What the hell did I say? Did I say that?
You bastard, you. Why didn't you know that before?
Where the hell have you been with your head?
You and the paper should have known it, you and the ink: you write
With blackness. Night. Why has it taken you all this time?
All this travel, all those lives
You've fucked up? All those books read
Not deep enough? It's staring you right in the face. The
Is whiteness. You can do anything with that. But no--
The secret is that on whiteness you can release
The night sky. Whiteness is death is dying
For human words to raise it from purity from the grave
Of too much light. Words must come to it
Words from anywhere from from
Swamps mountains mud shit hospitals wars travels from
From the Zodiac.
You son of a bitch, you! Don't try to get away from yourself!
I won't have it! You know God-damn well I mean you! And you too,
Pythagoras! Put down that guitar, lyre, whatever it is!
You've driven me nuts enough with your music of the spheres!
* * *
You know that from the black death,
The forest of beast-
Symbols, the stars are beaten down by drunks
Into the page.
By GOD the poem is in there out there
Somewhere the lines that will change
Everything, like your squares and square roots
Creating the heavenly music.
* * *
the stars are gasping
For understanding. They've had Ptolemy,
They've had Babylon
But now they want Hubbell
They want Fred Hoyle and the steady-state.
But what they really want need
Is a poet and
I'm going to have to be it . . . .
In all this immensity, all this telescope-country,
Why this microscopic searching
Of the useless human heart?
Marina Abramovic (b. 30 Nov 1946) her partner Ulay (b. 30 November 1943)
See the dramatic video of these two Sagittarians below.
Here's an astrological poem by Sadge James Tate
Why should you believe in magic,
pretend an interest in astrology
or the tarot? Truth is, you are
free, and what might happen to you
today, nobody knows. And your
personality may undergo a radical
transformation in the next half
hour. So it goes. You are consumed
by your faith in justice, your
hope for a better day, the rightness
of fate, the dreams, the lies,
the taunts. —Nobody gets what he
wants. A dark star passes through
you on your way home from
the grocery: never again are you
the same—an experience which is
impossible to forget, impossible
to share. The longing to be pure
is over. You are the stranger
who gets stranger by the hour.
Isn’t it time that, loving, we freed ourselves from the beloved, and trembling, endured as the arrow endures the bow, so as to be, in its flight, something more than itself? For staying is nowhere. Rainer Maria Rilke, b. Dec 4, 1875
Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic and her partner Ulay were both born on November 30, three years apart. This coincidence played an acknowledged role in their collaborations. The audio in the performance piece “Rest-Energy” is their amplified heart-beat and respiration. Reminds me of a poem by Sagittarius James Tate, “A Sunday Drive”:
“What am I supposed to do?” I said. “I think you’d
have to put an arrow through me,” she replied.
“I don’t have an arrow,” I said, “and besides I
could never do that. I love you!” "I think the
flying disease is for life,” she said, gliding
over me. Then she was gone in a blur of light.
More on Sagittarian poet James Tate here.
de nobis ipsis silemus (Of ourselves we are silent.) Francis Bacon 22 Jan 1561
"Subjective, objective -- what's the difference? William Burroughs February 5, 1914
“WHAT AM I? NOTHING.” Lord Byron 22 January 1788
"Who in the world am I?" asked Alice. "Ah! That's the great Puzzle."
Lewis Carroll 27 January 1832
Thus the famous theory of the *I* is essentially without a scientific object, since it is destined to represent a purely fictitious state.
Individualism is the disease of the Western World. Auguste Comte 19 January 1798
Behold a universe so immense that I am lost in it. I no longer know where I am. I am just nothing at all. Bernard de Fontenelle 11 February 1657
None of us possesses his own self: it is wafted at us from without, escapes us for long periods and returns to us in a breath. We are no more than dove-cotes. And self indeed! The word is very little more than a metaphor.
Hugo von Hofmannsthal February 1, 1874
The first-person singular is my favorite figure of speech.
Charles Lamb February 10, 1775
"I" is the true shibboleth of humanity. Stendhal January 23, 1783
Is me her was you dreamed before?
Was then she him you us since knew?
Am all them and same now we?
Whence it is a sloperish matter, given the wet and low visibility (since in this scherzerade of one's thousand one nightinesses the sword of certainty which would indentifide the body never falls) to indentifine the individuone. James Joyce 2 February 1882
Ego! It is the great word of the twentieth century. . . Everything we
have done in this century, from monumental feats to nightmare of human
destruction, has been a function of that extraordinary state of the
psyche which gives us authority to declare we are sure of ourselves when
we are not. Norman Mailer January 31, 1923
It was when I read the first of the books I found in my house that I saw
the word "I." And when I understood this word, the book fell from my
hands, and I wept, I who had never known tears. I wept in deliverance
and in pity for all mankind. Ayn Rand February 2 1905 from her novel Anthem, which portrays a dystopian future where the first person singular has been abolished)
WE, a 1924 novel by the soviet writer Evgeny Zamyatin February 20, 1884, about a dystopian future where the first person singular has been abolished)
WE, the autobiography of Charles Lindbergh February 4, 1902
I, etcetera. a book of short stories by Susan Sontag January 29, 1933
And identity is funny being yourself is funny as you are never yourself to yourself except as you remember yourself and then of course you do not believe yourself. The minute you or anyone else knows what you are you are not it. You are what you or anybody else knows that you are and as everything in living is made up of finding out what you are it is extraordinarily difficult really not to know what you are and yet to be that thing.
I am me because my little dog knows me. Gertrude Stein February 3, 1874
She would make him stand with her in front of the looking glass and ask him why he barked and trembled. Was not the little brown dog opposite himself? But what is “oneself”? Is it the thing people see? Or is it the thing one is? So Flush pondered that question, too . . . Virginia Woolf (25 January 1882): Flush, a Dog
Before her death Virginia Woolf planned a next novel to be called
"In revising his youthful poems, Georg Trakl (3 February 1887) substitutes everywhere for the
lyrical and personal "I" metaphoric disguises such as "the stranger," "a thing putrified," "a dead thing," "the murderer." .. . . the poet has abstracted everything unesssential, including the personal pronoun "I"
from his existence . ."
The self is only the shadow which sin and error cast by stopping the light of God—and I take this shadow for a being. Simone Weil 3 February 1909
Aries Lady Gaga looks great in red. Wearing blood, for instance, is one of her fashion statements, and she has just associated herself with a headphone-accessory named (Red). The most interesting thing about her chart is the action of transformative Pluto as the cutting, or high focus, planet of her bowl configuration,conjunct the Moon in Scorpio, bolstered by a strong trine to Jupiter in Pisces (exalted). Mars is in 0 Capricorn (also exalted). She's an extreme Plutonian, obsessively personating chthonic goddess figures, flagrantly displaying the exalted menses of a hellish dominatrix, with a beat and a sense of humor -- her rapid success marks something, it's hard to tell what -- related perhaps to the Large Hadron Collider's start-up.
The Buddha was exceptionally handsome. “The Brahmin Sonadanda described him as handsome, good-looking, and pleasing to the eye, with a most beautiful complexion. He has a godlike form and countenance, he is by no means unattractive.”
"It is wonderful, truly marvelous, the good Gotama's appearance . . just as the golden jujube in autumn is clear and radiant, just as a palm-tree fruit just loosened from the stalk is clear and radiant, just as an adornment of red gold wrought in a crucible by a skilled goldsmith, deftly beaten and laid on a yellow-cloth shines, blazes and glitters, even so . . . his complexion is clear and radiant."
“A disciple named Vakkali . . . was so obsessed by Buddha's physical presence that Buddha had to tell him to stop and reminded Vakkali to know Buddha through the Dhamma and not physical appearances.” (quotes from Wikipedia)
Buddha was a Taurus, and after years of restless seeking, with Taurean stubbornness he decided to sit under a tree until Enlightenment came, which it did after 49 days, at the Taurus full moon. So it’s interesting that Taurus Rob Pattinson had this profound Buddha experience – note the Taurean, fixed-earth emphasis on the vision’s concreteness, duration and practicality.
Boris Karloff: wouldn’t we like him to be a Scorpio? Actually he barely escaped it, born at 10:30 am (see his chart at astrotheme), when the Sun, whose disc takes a whole day to pass from one degree to the next, was about 80% over the cusp into degree zero of Sagittarius. But Sag is open and good-humored, not at all gothic, intense, secretive, moody, the typical Halloween Scorpio cliche, so what gives? . . . . . Looking at Karloff’s chart , we see nothing else in Sag to reinforce that almost home-free-all Sun, but a vivid close conjunction of Jupiter/Mercury in Scorpio, as if harpooning the escapee back onto the horror ship; and another close conjunction nearby: Venus with electrical Uranus, the formative Frankenstein zap. It’s as if the lonely, uncompleted, botched Sagittarian self, a tall, loping athlete, staggers out of the other side of death, enlivened by a jolt of eelish Scorpio bio-electricity. The life-creating intimacy of Scorpio sex is madly perverted into an abortive reverse electrocution, harnessing the atomic power of the cusp, a gap in the solar plasma. Appreciate the mad cosmic grandeur of Dr. Frankenstein's experiment; in Karloff's chart he had the perfect subject. Unfortunately he didn't employ an astrologer to calculate the correct moment. . . . . . The gentle monster’s pathos derives from the fact that the mistimed Scorpio/Uranus life-shock infused the benign personal energies of Mercury, Venus and Jupiter. The five planets clustered around Karloff’s astronomical zenith are a little rebus of the Frankenstein monster character. A botched resurrection, he rejects Scorpionic blood, fangs and decay, he seeks Sag freedom and life. As a real person Karloff (actually William Henry Pratt) projected his sunsign Sag, not Scorpio; he had a “well-known aversion to the word horror” which he associated with the repulsive. His personal self-awareness had nothing to do with the psychological miasms of the horror movie genre. Rather than horror he preferred the word terror which he thought of as a pleasurable thrill, “good clean fun", practical joking. . . . (I wish critics of astrology could advance from Scorpionic suspicion to Sagittarian adventurousness and see astrological coincidences as fun and thrills, rather than deception and evil.) The split between Scorpio and Sag in Karloff’s identity is echoed in the common misapplication of Dr. Frankenstein’s name to the nameless monster. Off the set he was a typically Sagittarian sportsman (passionate about cricket, soccer and rugby) and animal lover (he bred Bedlington terriers and Scotties, kept a menagerie of farm animals) and he loved entertaining children.
Fernando Botero, (b. April 19, 1932): Femme habillee par Valentino. Aries painter Botero is not afeard of red, for sure, tho I wouldn't say it plays a special role in his work. But he was attracted by fashion designer Valentino's great romance with the color. Valentino is a Taurus, but the Sun is his sole Taurus planet, while his chart's outstanding element is a powerful triple conjunction in Aries of Mars, Mercury and Uranus (all trine Jupiter), which he shares with Botero, who was born only three weeks before him.
see more Aries in Red here.
Color associations to the signs and planets are not rigidly assigned, and are based on subjective psychological affinities. Some are no-brainers, like red being associated with the planet Mars and the sign Aries (which is “ruled” by Mars) -- the war god evokes blood, anger (seeing red), the red planet, even the iron (oxide) of weaponry, which is also the source of blood’s color. Then the Moon and its associated sign, Cancer the Crab, suggests silver or white, also the moonlike pearl and nacre, esthetic essence of the crustacean.
Some signs have less definite color associations, but sun-ruled Leo, the Lion, one of the 3 firesigns, is obviously related to gold, yellow, orange, and to sunlight itself, if that can be called a color. Aquarius is the sign directly opposite Leo in the zodiac and the two signs are poles of a larger system. Hence, as Leo is sunlight, Aquarius is the spectrum of frequencies of which sunlight is composed, i. e. the rainbow. As Leo speaks of the Sun complacently imagining itself the center of its universe, Aquarius reminds that each of the infinite stars is itself a sun. (And each star has its unique spectral analysis, or rainbow variant.)
This metaphor generates a whole rainbow of antinomies. Leo is the autocrat, Aquarius the anti-authoritarian rebel, democrat or collectivist; Leo the individual, Aquarius the species; Leo the Self, Aquarius the group; Leo egoistic subjectivity, Aquarius detached, scientific objectivity. Leo is the heart/sun/nucleus, Aquarius the circulatory system/orbiting planets/electronic current. Aquarius is a political sign, the rainbow a joyous symbol of the coalition of minorities, yet Aquarius can also be conservative in characteristic ways, embracing a libertarianism in revolt against an oppressive consensus.
Altho an air sign, Aquarius, in ruling circulation, is associated with rivers and streams (whence the flowing symbol of the waterbearer), and more abstractly, with the cycle of ocean, vapors, winds, clouds, rain, river, ocean. The rainbow (an unpredictable, uncanny event in that cycle) is associated with promise and hope, and Aquarius is associated with futurity: the first 10 signs cover the known past and present, Aquarius, the 11th, the airy, insubstantial future, or a cyclical (rather than linear) concept of time, an Eternal Now, the epiphanic Instant, the electrical zap, the accident, the gratuitous, the lightning strike, the thunderclap. With respect to the future, both utopia (for instance the neotribalism of “Age of Aquarius” hippiedom) and super-rational distopia are offered. Aquarius is thus particularly associated with both the threat and promise of ever-increasing scientific objectivity, the very concept a transcendent abstraction called Knowledge, Truth or Mind.
" . . . R is Rubretta and A is Arancia, Y is for Yilla and N for greeneriN. B is Boyblue with odalisque O while W waters the fleurettes of novembrance. . . . Winnie, Olive and Beatrice, Nelly and Ida, Amy and Rue. Here they come, all the gay pack . . ." The 7 Rainbow Girls, a cavorting daisy-chain of colored scarves and flowers, in Finnegans Wake (Ch. 9) by James Joyce (b. 2 Feb. 1882)
For some time I’ve been pursuing the idea that Freud’s correct birthday was March 6, not May 6. The almost universally accepted May 6, 1856 date (6:30 pm, Freiberg, Moravia, now Pribor, Czech Republic) appears authoritatively in the first sentence of Freud’s official biography, written by his close associate and disciple, Ernest Jones. Yet that very sentence bears a footnote (deleted from the abridged edition) joking that the actual birth may have taken place two months earlier, only seven months after the wedding of Freud’s parents.
Freud wrote a book called Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, yet this jocular slur against his mother remains relatively unanalyzed by biographers, even though Freud himself raised suspicions that he was sired by one of his own half-brothers, that his official father was actually his grandfather.
To my mind, given all that we now know about Freud, the March 6 horoscope is the more apt of the two. There is much in the early years of Freud's biography to support this idea. (I have published a comparative analysis of the competing birthcharts in the Astrological Journal of March/April 2000). Only recently, however, have I come across Freud and Moses: The Long Journey Home by Emanuel Rice, MD., where it is reported that one of the most compelling documents supporting the May 6 birthdate, the so-called “inscription” in the "family Bible", is not an inscription at all, but merely a sheet of paper tucked inside a Bible which itself contains no family records at all. Yet in Peter Gay's authoritative biography, again the issue is relegated to another complacent and jocular footnote: "But the documents, amply supported by the Freuds' family Bible, shows that Freud [Sr.] and his bride seem to have obeyed the proprieties: the conventional date of the biographies, May 6th, is correct."
The sheet of paper in question, reproduced in Rice, is full of idiosyncracies. It is headed with a solemnly phrased record of Sigmund's grandfather's death, which took place after the wedding of Sigmund's parents but before his birth. There is of course something touching about this record of the grandson who attended his grandfather's funeral in utero. But the unique elaborations of this record may indicate something not straightforward, perhaps that the deceased was not Sigmund's grandfather, but his great-grandfather.
On this sheet of paper again the May 6 birthdate appears again and again, no fewer than eight times: as the date of the month and day of the week for both the birth and the circumcision (mandated to take place one week after a Jewish birth), in both the Jewish and the Christian calendars; the insistent reiteration seems overdone and anomalous. We find nothing like it, in fact nothing at all, about the birth of Freud's five surviving siblings, or the brother born just a year after Sigmund who died in early childhood. Why does the so-called family bible only contain a record of this one child's birth? Freud biographers all seem to take it as a matter of course.
The list of dates is followed by a spontaneous sentence which is marred by a Freudian slip of the pen: “On the fourth of [illegible], 856, my son mentioned above, long may he live, got three teeth." The change in tone chides the solemnity of the formal sentences above it and undermines trust, and the illegible slip may reveal the writer's embarrassment over the true month of the first dentition. (Born with a full head of hair, Freud's baby teeth would probably also have appeared precociously, and impossibly early if he was born in May.) The document perplexes; does one record the death of the grandfather and baby teeth on the same page?
The page also contains a list of the names of four officiants at the circumcision. Just as the page has been presented as a sacred inscription in the "family Bible" while it is merely a piece of paper placed into a Bible, so this list of names has been taken as a list of witnessing signatures attesting to the correctness of the date. A mere list of names is taken for a list of dated signatures, which it is not. In short the so-called family bible evidence strikes one as having been over-elaborately produced in order to securely corroborate the wrong date for future readers.
Granted, other documentary obstacles remain in the way of the March birthdate. However, the reverential attitude towards and legendary status of some of these documents suggest they may not have been examined interrogatively. The so-called birth certificate often cited as probative, reproduced on the Library of Congress website (http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/freud/images/vc008101.jpg) was issued in July of 1886, when Freud was 30 years old, not a contemporaneous document. Some other documents seen in poor photo copies have been contradicted by earlier reported descriptions.
Many biographies elide the fact that Freud's two uncles were professional forgers. One of the uncles was imprisoned, much to the 9-year-old Freud's shame, and the Manchester branch of the Freud family was implicated; Manchester was the manufacturing source of counterfeit rubles that flooded eastern Europe via Vienna prior to WW 1. We know surprisingly little about the Manchester Freuds, or and nothing about Freud's father's source of income.
The circumstances around Freud's birth records are clouded. He was not born, as has been stated, in an Jewish shtetl where no one could keep a secret, but in a small enclave of suspiciously foreign Ostjuden, hardly distinguished from gypsies by the local population, stigmatized, secretive itinerants, possibly petty criminals. At the time of his birth, the largish family was crowded into one room above the shop of a gentile locksmith (not, as is often mistated, blacksmith: true Freudophile know that he said he developed his psychological acuity by playing with lockdsmith tools as a baby).
It is worth pointing out that the March 6 birthdate is not without support among Freudians: Marie Balmary made the argument in Psychoanalysing Psychoanalysis (1979); Wladimir Granoff assented in the 1975 Filiations; as does philosopher Andrea Nye in her Feminist Theories and Philosophies of Man (p. 156); as do Jay and Jean Harris, MDs , in The One-Eyed Doctor Sigismund Freud (1984). At least one authoritative textbook has this: "Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was born on either March 6 or May 6 in Freiberg, Moravia (now Pribor, Czech Republic)." [An Introduction to the History of Psychology, B. R. Hergenhahn, 6th edition, 2008, pg.518]
It is hard to read the last chapter of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life and not feel that Freud was, at times, massively daft, in a way best described by the amazing and intense conjunction in Pisces of Sun, Moon, Neptune and Jupiter, all square Saturn, which took place on March 6, 1856. Pisces, the last Zodiacal sign, is traditionally associated with nescience and void, ergo, the Unconscious; while the quadrature of Saturn evokes pathology and pessimism.
There is a gradually assembling consensus that the vast influence of Freud on the mind of the twentieth century was in some way delusional, rhetorical, pseudo-scientific. I relish the paradox that another pseudo-science, astrology can offer insight here. As former markers of personal identity erode under the influence of psychopharmacology, assisted reproductive technologies, globalization, the internet, etc., we look back on the Freudian mythos with the newly-liberated cultist’s stunned sense of incomprehension and wonder.