Monday, November 7, 2011

Reading Asterios Polyp's Chart

In my "Future of English Studies" course this week we read David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp.  It's a wonderful graphic novel that you should go read.  Then you can come back and read this post.  I'll do my best, as always, to explain my astrological analysis in non-astrological terms.

Doing a natal chart for a fictional character is always tricky business, but in the case of Asterios Polyp I feel justified.  The book itself draws attention to Asterios's birthday and sign, as one of his key companions in the story is a self-proclaimed "Goddess" who studies astrology and, hilariously, lets Asterios know not to worry "if you fall in love with me, everyone does."  She's a Pisces, we're told, but she must be an Aquarius cusp or a Leo rising the way she comes across in the book.  She's, uh, forward.  And one of only two other characters as opinionated as Asterios.

While Asterios, as a rational thinker, dismisses astrology and its nebulous determinations and interpretations, I thought it might be interesting to see whether his chart tells us anything more about him than "he's a Cancer-Gemini cusp."  Now, the book tells us a few things - birth date, and a number of significant life events - but it gives no time or place, so we have to do a little rectification.  Guessing at place is easy enough.  Asterios lives and works in New York, and his parents are immigrants from Eastern Europe (hence the "Polyp," a shortening of a longer, presumably Greek, name).  Assuming that Asterios was born in New York City seems safe enough.

Time is a little trickier.  I ended up deciding on 5AM, for a number of reasons.  First off, we learn that Asterios is born a twin - his brother dies - after a 30+ hour labor.  For whatever reason, I imagine the doctor's decision to perform a c-section as happening at the end of a second long night of labor.  As for astrological reasons, the first argument for this birth time is that it puts most of Asterios's planets on the Eastern side of his chart.  Asterios is a fairly self-absorbed character who, moreover, is an architect used to shaping his own world.  That jives better with Eastern hemisphere of self-determination than Western.  Moreover, we learn that Asterios has not yet designed something that was actually built, so he's more of a theoretical architect.  That his Northern hemisphere is stronger than his Southern with a 5AM birth time supports this facet of his personality: despite his vociferousness and manifest brilliance, much of his work (Saturn) remains below the horizon (in the fourth house).

The other virtues of a 5AM birth time include a Piscean midheaven, supported by the positive and, I think, transformative relationship he has with our aforementioned Goddess and her family.  Also, Sagittarius - the sign of philosophy and higher education - fills most of the 6th house of work, another sensible configuration given that Asterios works in Academia.  Finally, and most importantly, this birth time puts his Sun in Cancer in the first house, but keeps his ascendant as Gemini.  The book as a whole is largely concerned with how Asterios deals with duality, and so a Gemini ascendant makes sense, as does a first house Sun, as Asterios is extremely self-absorbed for much of the book (it is worth noting that he is a progressed Leo, too, making him something of a showman).

Ultimately, we can't rely too heavily on the houses here, despite how sensible the rectified chart looks.  Nevertheless, they can serve as guideposts for interpreting the signs and planets.

Without further ado, here's the chart.

Asterios Polyp Rectified Chart - Generated by OpenAstro

I won't go into too much detail here.  There's a lot here and, to even my surprise, it fits Asterios extremely well.  Indeed, the chart's correlation to what we know about Asterios as a character is strong enough that I wonder whether Mazzucchelli consulted an astrologer while he was writing.  Anyway, let's look at the highlights.  What really jumps out here?

Short (technical) answer: T-Squares.  Big, messy t-squares.  Mercury in Gemini squares a Saturn-Moon Conjunction, Squares Chairon.  Indeed, throw in Jupiter and you're on the verge of a Grand Cross.

Non-technical answer: Asterios has serious conflict and difficult in his chart.  His workmanlike attitude belies the difficulty he has in translating his work into reality.  Nevertheless, he's so deeply invested in what he does that he makes it a part of his home.  He has a strong aesthetic that he must see realized in his home, and even slight deviation from his expected and desired order of things is profoundly upsetting to him.

This quality he has a hard time expressing and understanding, tending to overwhelm his interlocutors precisely because he's not as self-assured as he seems.  He struggles to communicate how deeply he is what he does and says.  That is, ideas are not merely ideas to Asterios, but are rather a core part of his personality.  This multi-faceted sense of self is so upsetting to Asterios that he subsumes it in his subconscious, refusing to realize that the way he lives is peculiar and personal, instead externalizing it as a philosophical position.

Because of this internal conflict, duality takes the place of complexity in Asterios's thought.  In a beautiful piece of astrological serendipity, Chairon sets off both the internal and external senses of self with a deep, personal wound.  For Asterios, this wound is his dead brother.  Indeed, his splitting the world into dualities is his attempt to heal the loss of his twin.  Not only that, in healing himself - so he thinks - he finds a means by which he might heal others.  That is, he can bring them a simplifying dualism.

That Asterios does not understand that dualism is, of course, the irony at the heart of his character, and the quality that sets the plot in motion.  The story is very much an effort by Asterios to better connect with complexity.  Fittingly, this is represented by the place to which his t-cross opens up: Pisces in the 10th house.  Asterios has Jupiter - a planet of growth - in Pisces, and it is no surprise that his growth throughout the book is both Piscean - in the sense of embracing emotional complexity - and social, as signified by the 10th house.

There are other interesting aspects in Asterios's chart, but this t-cross (which is nearly a grand cross) is really the heart of the thing.  How well it fits perhaps raises a question: how much am I mapping the book onto the chart, and how much am I mapping the chart onto the book?  That is, which is prior?

The answer, of course, is neither.  Yes, my familiarity with Asterios as a character colors my reading of his chart, but should I know nothing about him, I would come to similar, if more abstract, conclusions.  The forces at work here - the important planets, signs, and houses - have very broad meanings that, nevertheless, are narrow enough to allow only particular interpretations.  That the events of Asterios Polyp fit so well with that interpretive baseline, yielding a rich, specific chart seems to me no accident.

Now, the question is, does this tell us anything about Asterios we didn't already know?  Perhaps not.  But it does give me a different language through which I might explain the things I sensed in reading.  Just like writing a reflection on a text, doing a chart might open up linguistic and artistic interpretive pathways that would otherwise stay closed.

To the skeptic, then, that opening up of new pathways is the value of astrology.  It is not about fate.  It is about understanding.