Retrograde is Over But the Struggle Continues

Image by Emma Lloyd


Yesterday marked the end of our latest retrograde cycle, guiding a supposed return to normalcy whereby Mercury, the House of Communication and Travel, returned direct.

For those uninitiated into astrological readings, retrograde tells of a celestial phenomenon indicated through the illusion of Mercury’s backward movement, which intensifies the potential for mishaps, miscues, and minor injury.

Ask any personal victim of the retrograde and they’ll complain of crashed hard drives and friend fights, missing out on much-needed make-out sessions in favor of lovers’ quarrels. This particular iteration of Mercury retrograde, dovetailing with its onslaught of winter storms, mercifully left us yesterday—begging, then, the question of what it leaves in its wake, or whether it’s left us at all.

The mass proliferation of astrological awareness, even amongst the most hardened of feminist killjoys, can at times close off the critical outlook necessary to identify how mishaps and inconvenience come into being. Breaking your phone is inconvenient because replacing it’s expensive. Replacing it’s expensive because it’s made to be expensive, and yet profitable for a very few. Likewise, those having to choose between long commutes and lost wages reveal the effects of funds siphoned away from aging infrastructure, so that their hardships are borne from the failings of municipal administration.

Inconvenience, accidents, and their political tenors must not be divorced from their broader contexts because inconvenience is distributed unequally across the overlapping metrics of commuter time and socioeconomic standing. And as with safety, convenience is built at the cost of its opposite element. It’s no accident that freshly shoveled sidewalks are the result of labor, and inflict physical and invisible tolls. Unpredictable expenses are created to be crushing and dangerous for some more than others: annoyance for some, and displacement for others.

Where astrology finds much of its appeal is in its ability to guide us through those potential hardships that await us in our imminent futures. Conventional wisdom on the Mercury retrograde dictates that we should practice cautiousness, avoid short-term plans, and be wary of interpersonal dynamics—which, albeit sensible enough, falls short of more radical ways of looking at disruption and inconvenience. The challenge of wedding systemic critique with egocentric astrology is the challenge of looking beyond personal convenience, and advancing an almost New Age attempt to meld self-consciousness with macrocosmic states of economic and social injustice.

The retrograde survival guides populating our digital spheres tell us that, despite retrograde’s infamous difficulties, it’s also a period marked by enhanced intuition, creating opportunities to find those areas where we are stuck, and regain fresh perspective in our routine lives. One way to interpret this is from the familiar vantage point of careerism and romantic fidelity: a look outward at job opportunities, and a jealous gaze toward past or present partners. But what if we gifted new meaning to the retrograde itself, and one that would endanger rather than sustain the mythologies of autonomy and self-reliance?

Winter storms aside, the events of the last few months have shed a new light on just how bad things have been in the U.S. for its most marginal populations—casting necessary shade at our nation’s carceral politics and unjust justice system, with heightened sensibility for the everyday subjection of black and brown bodies. Where the logic of the temporary retrograde fails us is in these deep pockets of injury, and in realizing that at the intersections of low-income, trans, and POC life, the conditions of retrograde suspension can persist beyond the movement of the stars, in areas that vulnerability, financial burden, and medical hardship are weighted most.

Powering through the retrograde may prove an attractive option for some. It’s more comfortable, after all, to weather the storm in shelter, as if things could return to normalcy, if only we waited long enough. But for those suspicious of the current order of things, such a solution will never be sufficient —precisely because the logic of ‘going about one’s business’ serves the ideology of going about one’s business. Maximizing industriousness undervalues the power of disruption to dislodge us from what normalcy has come to mean.

Looking at the various snowstorms in tandem with the disruptive tactics of Black Lives Matters tells a different story of inconvenience: roadblocks made up of bodies hoping to reroute business-as-usual thinking, which would fold the practices of police brutality and mass incarceration into the politics of the everyday. If anti-black racism is what counts for normal, then it cannot be allowed to proceed unchecked. For those of us cheering the end of this retrograde cycle, anticipating the slow warm of seasonal change, we should not forget what came just before so much powdered snow had clogged up our roadways and bridges, when demonstrators poured into the streets to make up their own rising tide.

As the Mercury retrograde ends, sparing us its break-ups and breakdowns, perhaps the best advice is to embrace its cause, and not to ameliorate that feeling of discomfort with everyday events. For casting a closer look at society, just off of stars and snow drifts, reveals the deep marks of an inequity immune to Mercury’s movements. Which is not to say that we should ever be okay with being not okay, but rather, that things have never been okay, and finding serenity in such a world will ask more of us than good planning.  Coping with enduringly fucked conditions will always entail channeling some measure of righteous anger and frustration, embodying, in a way, the spirit of the Mercury retrograde, which is not to find occasion to smooth things over, but to expose and transgress this dysfunctional present for which we have few easy solutions.

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