That not-puritanical purity // Mercury-ruled Virgo // the ordinariness of culture // a farewell
“What kind of life can it be, I wonder, to produce this extraordinary fussiness, this extraordinary decision to call certain things culture and then separate them, as with a park wall, from ordinary people and ordinary work? At home we met and made music, listened to it, recited and listened to poems, valued fine language. I have heard better music and better poems since. But I know, from the most ordinary experience, that the interest is there, the capacity is there… I don’t believe that ordinary people in fact resemble the normal description of the masses, low and trivial in taste and habit. There are in fact no masses, but only ways of seeing people as masses.”
– Raymond Williams, ‘Culture is Ordinary’ (Sun, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn in Virgo)
In the final season of Wentworth, Pamela Rabe plays recovering amnesiac Joan Ferguson, who is in the process of retrieving her identity as a prison governor, murderer, murder-attempt survivor, and prison top dog (not in that order). Her amnesiac identity Kath Maxwell struggles with the jarring onslaught of memories not just of Ferguson’s recent crimes, but the violent home in which she grew up traumatised. In astro-speak, Maxwell injects a dose of mutability to Ferguson’s extreme fixity: she brings Libra-Gemini-Virgo-Pisces flexibility to Ferguson’s Taurus-Scorpio-Leo-Aquarius absolutism.
“I’m not Kath, I’m Joan Ferguson,” she finally tells Greg Miller, the prison psychiatrist and the only person who believed she was genuine in her claims of amnesia. “I recovered my memories weeks ago, all of it. The urge for revenge is so strong. You have to help me. If you don’t help me to control myself, something terrible will happen. I struggle with dark impulses.”
He freaks out and does a classic white man getaway, mumbling that he can’t work with her, demanding that security remove her from his office, at the moment she’s come to a crucial insight. An insight that could damage his good standing in his profession.
Later in the episode, Miller and Ferguson meet again in his office. He shuts the blinds, and places in her hand an experimental drug. It’s meant to enhance prosocial tendencies and diminish the worst effects of anti-social urges. He asks her to keep this drug, and the fact that she has recovered her memory, a secret. And – “You must commit whole-heartedly to our sessions,” he says. “Really delve into the past to get an understanding of the source of your impulses, with a view to controlling them.”
In this week’s episode, she does. There are moments in the therapy where they find a pathway to empathy, past the trauma, past her past crimes. There are moments when she’s back amongst her fellow prisoners, doing ‘the right thing’ for people facing their worst nightmares, like figuring out who murdered someone’s lover in cold blood. She finds herself in the liminal confusion of wanting the peace of absolute amnesiac forgetfulness, and wrestles with the possibility of regaining that peace while working through her recovered painful memories.
She confronts him: “What’s in it for you?”
He replies, “I’ve staked my professional reputation on you having amnesia.”
She smirks. “You’re such an ambitious little man.”
“These sessions are about you, not me.”
“You want to make your name by curing a psychopath.”
They have become each other’s undoing, and in so doing they become equals. Here is the therapeutic alliance at work, albeit an unholy distortion. His ambition to cure her (and also his desperation to save his career) has turned him into a criminal, running illicit treatments through experimental drugs (though as Wentworth history illustrates, it’s not his first time). His perseverance in meeting her exactly where she is – all her troubled places experienced simultaneously – is something she’s never known before. This, more than the drugs, might be doing more for her discovery of a more empathetic self within.
The police officer pursuing the crime lord is another couple that endures in fiction and on screens large and small.
In “La Casa De Papel” (with its awful American title “Money Heist”), Sergio Marquina/The Professor (played by Álvaro Morte), overpowers his pursuer Police Inspector Raquel Murillo (Itziar Ituño) in multiple ways.
They become lovers, not by strategy (though not without his clear interest). It is the one flaw in his otherwise foolproof plan to continue his father’s ambition to rob the Bank of Spain. She inevitably learns that he is her archnemesis, the architect of a heist that could make or break her career. The heist team has always been several steps ahead of her unit because of her unwitting romantic involvement with the heist’s leader. She is forced to choose between love and not only her career, but the law she has defended her whole life.
In her attempt to arrest The Professor, he manages to subdue and restrain her. She’s fucked him up, too. His father died in a shoot-out during an attempt to rob that very same bank. His plan is not just an effort to make money, it’s the continuation of his father’s legacy.
“This is just paper,” he tells a bound Raquel. He tells her of his father, who was murdered to protect something that isn’t real, that is causing real damage in real people’s lives. The plan proceeds perfectly (he’s definitely a Virgo). He has not only honoured his father, but surpassed him.
But – sex. Love.
“I’m making a liquidity injection,” he tells her. “But not for the banks. I’m doing it here, in the real economy. With this group of losers, which is what we are, Raquel. To get away from it all. Don’t you want to get away?”
Love always beckons us towards our unknowns.
Virgo. The maiden. An eternal girl, whatever her gender. She is desirable, she is hot property, but can never be possessed. With wings on her ankles, she is ever fleeting. Like the precious perfection pursued by those born under this sign, she is forever out of reach. A virginal though not puritanical purity. A purity not of being, but of purpose.
Virgo is Mercury’s own. Of Mercury, astrologer-scholar Robert Hand says: “Mercury is impossible to pin down. Mercury, by definition, has no quality of its own. Mercury conveys the essence of whatever it is in touch with. It’s the messenger. The messenger has no message of its own.”
Bataille, a solar Virgo offers, in Eroticism, a Mercurian take on taboo: “Man is the animal that does not just accept the facts of nature, he contradicts them… There is a connection between man’s denial of the world as he finds it and his denial of the animal element in himself. In so far as man exists, there exist also work on the one hand and denial of the animal element in man’s nature on the other. Man flatly denies the existence of his animal needs; most of his taboos relate to them and so these taboos are so strikingly universal and apparently so unquestioned that they are never discussed. Adam and Eve knew each other to be naked. But nobody mentions the horror of excremental matter which belongs to man alone.” Less than 1,000 words later, he cites a fellow Virgo, saying, “This conception of the transition from animal to human is really Hegel’s.” It’s an essay about incest and reciprocity and why exchange and community are essential considerations in understanding eroticism, and merits further discussion in a fuller essay than in a little paragraph like so.
Humanity, of course, is more than merely ‘Man.’ In Habeas Viscus: Racialising Assemblages, Alexander Weheliye (2014) summarising and responding to Agamben, writes: “The homo sacer, a human being that cannot be ritually offered, but whom one can kill without incurring the penalty of murder. These subjects, by being barred from the category of the human, are relegated to bare or naked life, being both literally and symbolically stripped of all accoutrements associated with the liberalist subject.” (p. 33) To murder, and to be murdered, are acts involving bodies, and occupy the taboo spaces between humanity and animality. They are acts involving symbols, too. To be denied a place of agency in history, to have your place in the history of humanity taken from you, is a murder most foul and a large-scale theft that takes, not just from you, but from your ancestors, your descendants, and your entire community. If you’re not the property-owning straight white man, and especially if you’re queer, if you’re trans, if you’re a person of colour facing multiple intersections of difference, you’re not the so-named ‘Man’ who gets a seat at the table of cultural production. Sure, you’re part of the story, but only insofar as what gets to be called ‘culture’ is always an injunction against something that is ‘not culture’ or not ‘our culture.’
After seven seasons of underrated, top notch screen storytelling celebrating diverse talent, the latest season of Wentworth stumbles onto a tired trope: the murdered trans character. Reb, masterfully played by Zoe Terakes, is drugged and left for dead in his lover’s bed. It’s not the worst variation of this trope; he wasn’t murdered because he was trans, he was murdered because the murderer wanted to take something precious from his lover, as revenge for the murder of her own love. From a whole-of-story perspective, Wentworth, like Game of Thrones, has a history of killing the characters you love, brutally and abruptly, and white cis characters have not been exempted. From a narrative standpoint, it heightens Lou’s ambition not only for vengeance, but for domination in the prison, setting into motion a final big-boss battle for the show.
As a queer and non-binary viewer, it feels like a massive missed opportunity. What would it be like to use the particular cinematographic possibilities of television, to explore a story about a trans person in a happy committed relationship pursuing his transition behind bars? Hours before the murder, he and his lover Lou (played by Kate Box) talk about how much they hate the idea of appearing as just another heterosexual couple once the transition is complete. I would have wanted to see how the show would have dealt with this theme. Surely the brilliant writing and directing team could have found a less travelled path to set Lou into the final-season war-of-all-against-all mindset, without falling into the love-as-a-distraction-from-destruction trap. Just because we’re happy in love, doesn’t mean we’re forever cured of stupidity, hubris, or other human failings.
This is my last column for Free Association. I just had my solar return, and I am excited to devote my first house profection year to my studio practice, and to continue building capacity and strengthening connections with communities close to my soul. Youth, bodily integrity, and energy aren’t forever things. One has to be healthy before one can be wise. Wisdom, like astrology, is about space and time. Where do I offer my limited time, before the inevitable end of everything?
I’m writing a couple of books; starting a new figurative-art photography series about gestures of devotion; creating trans-Atlantic links with my fellow young astrologers in North America, where exciting astrological developments are happening, trying not to spend so much time writing grant applications that I’m not putting in my 10,000-plus hours into my craft, or keeping my ears close to the pulse of my people.
If you’ve been following my work here, I thank you for reading this far. Reading is intimacy. You can’t do it while doing other things. You take time out of your day to do the thing. You’re devoting anywhere from a few minutes to hours of your precious time, not looking at type on a screen, but hanging out with someone’s mind. Sometimes the words and your intellectual and emotional responses, remain with you long after you and the text have parted ways. Australian literary writers, as has been well-documented, don’t make money off their writing. The least one can hope for is to be read. You could spend a lifetime writing millions of words without knowing if your words are landing, or if anyone beyond the occasional reviewer actually leafed through pages that took years from your life.
To everyone who reached out to me privately to say that what I wrote meant something to them, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
14th September 2021, 17.52 AEST Boon Wurrung Country
The first part of the fifth and final season of La Casa De Papel (Money Heist) is available on Netflix, and will resume in December 2021.
Wentworth: The Final Sentence is currently airing.
Bataille, Georges. Eroticism. Translated by Mary Dalwood. London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2012.
Weheliye, Alexander G. Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human, Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.
Angelita Biscotti is a Boon Wurrung Country-based Spanish-Filipinx queer astrologer available for birth chart readings via Zoom. @angelita.biscotti