Sep '02 [Home]

Essays

Degree 365:  The Earth's Rotational Wobble

by Maureen Holm, Senior Essayist

Enduring changes in the life of an individual or of a people result from events which compel, not a 180-degree renunciation of one's departure point, but rather, a full-circle self-examination—even as one must simultaneously ride the accelerating, counter-directional outer ring of public experience—and advancement, to degree 365 of the course, there rendered wiser by the shake-up.

The imperfect circle of our course around the sun owes its 5-degree excess to a phenomenon called "the earth's rotational wobble." As physics loves a metaphor (and vice versa), the imagination speculates on the cumulative effect of off-kilter orbit, our poles the more pitched and shuddering as year, decade, century whirls to conclusion.

"New York, the 11th (July 26, 1788)"
(ink on paper) © 2002 Big City Lit

Over and over, my brother drove the moment to its crisis. A high-flown Los Alamos theoretician, Darryl took a three-month break from axiomatic chaos and thermodynamics to spin tops at his desk; for all his second-nature science as fascinated as a pre-Copernican kid with a dredl. And maybe as childishly petulant, as his toys revolved, wobbled, stopped, and keeled over.

No top, here is an explicable wonder:  an earth that revolves, wobbles, rights itself, and resumes—a metaphor for the illogic, the anti-matter, which forms the essence of man—as the crucial tension between centrifugal and gravitational forces reachieves balance.

Heidegger's In-die-Welt-geworfen-sein ('into-the-world-thrownness') suggests more than the onslaught of air and light that greets the crowning newborn, more than the perplexingly disconnected, seemingly random array of the world's vast inventory of objects and beings. In the first crisis of Dasein, heaven's verb must peel himself off the ceiling of the circumferential perimeter—and then strike an always tenuous deal with gravity in order to chase a personal destiny predicated on standing erect and look-Mom-no-hands purposeful ambulation:  "Standing man:   like a drink through thirst / gravity plunges through him." (Rilke, "Schwerkraft") And on symbologic speech.

Thrown, yes, and into the collective… let's call it, Mit-der-Welt-gesponnen-werden ('with-the-world-spinningness'). On a merry-go-round, the safest footing is at the center, soon a mere breather zone in another ancient game, the hopscotch we must engage in—lately and suddenly, at the outermost, public reaches where centrifugal force threatens out-of-the-world-thrownness. "All our heart's courage is the / echoing response to the / first call of Being which / gathers our thinking into the / play of the world." (Hölderlin) Whatever the wheel image—an hour, a year—with every rotation now we must encounter the 5-degree, Tuesday to Saturday wedge of grief and resume wiser at 365. 'Universes have their lifespans too.' (Elaine Schwager, "Living in the Falling Apart")

Centuries typically begin awobble in their decadent ending:  Queen Anne's War and the Spanish Succession; Napoleon's brumaire seizure of power; Crown Prince Ferdinand's murder, sacrificial Isaac for 400 years of old testament Hapsburg rule, and herald of the broken covenants and realignments of the modern waste land that succeeded it. 'We know now that we are mortal.' (André Gide)