The Zone of Totality

The "Old Man Yells At Cloud" meme from the Simpsons but edited to read old TRan yells at cloud

I have felt over the past few weeks that attention, coverage and hype for today's total solar eclipse has been more noticeable and consistent than it has previously in my life. But as the last one was in 2017, aka infinite time ago emotionally-speaking, this feeling is at best unreliable.

Me and my cohort are older and more prone to excitement for such things, pandemic-time has produced intense recency bias, and the landscape of media and social media are pretty wildly transformed, so my sense of "general vibes" is even more vague and untrustworthy than it was 7 years ago.

There are real empirical ways to attempt to answer the question of whether or not there is more attention and excitement, but not only am I not skilled in these particular modes of narrative-sociological analysis, I'm just not gonna do them.

Still, to put off my inevitable destiny (becoming transexual Andy Rooney) for another day, I'm just going to say that the excitement for today's total solar eclipse has struck me as particularly poignant and ideologically revealing, and I have been trying to think through why.

An image of Andy Rooney from his 60 minutes segment with the sequence of the eclipse transposed over his forehead

Here in Philadelphia we are outside of the Zone of Totality with regards to the eclipse, so many people are traveling for hours to be in an area of full and total darkness. I have found myself completely unmoved, totally disinterested in doing so. I am experiencing an allergy to the entire thing.

With all the discussion of travel, of people clogging up hotels and air bnbs, with a flurry of stories about bogus and non-functional eclipse viewing devices on sale through CHINESE websites, with governors declaring states of emergency in order to be able to dispatch extra emergency personnel to the Zone of Totality, it reminds me of a hype-cycle similar to last summer's Barbenheimer or this year's Dune 2 discourse.

I'm reflexively and deeply cynical and grumpy about these mass events at the moment, curmudgeonly against cultural moments that offer so little in the way of real mass experience. In this instance I think I'm wrong. The Solar Eclipse is a pretty cool astronomical event, and a rare one, and that's interesting! And an excuse to take a Monday off to go on a road trip into the mountains is also pretty fun and cool. What's my fucking problem?

At first I wanted to make an argument of high Theory, you know some kind of Deluezian deterritorialization of the psychic spaces of current ideology. In this moment of deep uncertainty and crisis, after a decade where major news and natural events were all tragedies and disasters, climate change manifests without anything like an attempt at change from those on high, where earthquakes shake the east coast and "carbon tax credit" strategies have given rise to Elon Musk, and the news of temperatures, ice melts, floods and wildfires is always already terrible, the Solar Eclipse offers a natural phenomenon much more copacetic to a world of order, science, and pleasure.

The celestial dance that once produced terror and wonder is now containable within the social: predictable, managed, profited-off of. What might have prophesied the collapse of empires or marked a new era of human experience is now integrated into capitalist flows, made harmless by a pair of glasses, simple technology available everywhere for everyone. Excitement for the solar eclipse could then be seen as a reassertion of the 20th century faith in progress, a kind of nostalgic return to mid-century techno-optimist liberalism during the era of its final burial.

Perhaps we might say, quoting Debord, that the eclipse shows how "the true is a moment of the false." More than just the demistifying and profaning of the eclipse, much like the demistifying and profaning of the moon itself by the moon landing, this moment of utter darkness during the day is turned into a fully lit and comprehensible "event". The eclipse is pre-digested culturally, economically, socially (and indeed critically, here) by an apparatus that must always appear to be harmoniously engaged with and through the world upon which it feeds and which it destroys. It truly is the Zone of Totality.

a skeet by Hayes Brown reading "an earthquake three days before a total eclipse of the sun would absolutely have taken out a whole ass dynasty back in the day"

But what's actually going on is something more personal, I think, something more internal. I have grown deeply hostile to the current construction of the social mass, not simply in its ideological and market driven manifestations, but even in its local forms. In forms as diverse as: my extended social scenes, the "movement", Philadelphia, anarchists, the left, millenials, my neighborhood, it doesn't matter how you slice the social, the victory of Biden's counterrevolutionary normalization strategy and the collapse of pandemic solidarity has left me deeply wary and resistant to getting swept up in excitement of any kind.

This is an isolating, lonely and often pseudo-agoraphobic feeling, and could easily become contrarianism, that intellectual habit of the damned which is probably the main pathway from progressive commitment to fascism. But I desperately want a movement again, a social formation that can reinvigorate my sense that we will in fact free ourselves, that such power is real and possible.

And so at the same moment I shun eclipse discourse, eclipse tourism, eclipse profit, at the same time that I'm sitting in a cubicle in the Philly suburbs doing data entry rather than excitedly gathering with strangers in a field in some small Appalachian town, I'm also choosing that, when the eclipse comes, when I step outside into the parking lot, in this flattened barren office park to greet it, even if only in its partial splendor and without the tools that would allow me to gaze upon it directly, I am going to believe in it.

Despite myself, despite this cynicism, I am choosing to believe that it is a sign that things are changing and a new era is upon us, that the darkness will be brief, and though it feels it will never end, in the vast scales and rhythms of history and time this evil will not only pass as briefly as a shadow over the sun but it will be just as quickly forgotten, reduced to dust like the paper on which it is built, indeed its doom is foretold and this is the year that doom begins.

It's either that or I become fully Rooneyfied. Get off my lawn!