One of my favorite mottos is to find the magic in the mundane because in doing so you realize how interdependent we all are to each other and to the universe. When we look at the sun and moon, we are so normalized to them that we can easily forget how we are dependent on them for our existence and how much they shape our existence. It has been our ability to use our imagination to see the world beyond the mundane and search for knowledge and meaning as well as our creation of technologies to observe the universe that has allowed us to see that. As I was reading Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “Race is/as Technology, or How to Do Things to Race,“she writes that “According to Martin Heidegger in his 1955 ‘The Question Concerning Technology,’ the essence of technology is not technological. Indeed, by examining tools, we miss what is essential about technology, which is its mode of revealing or “enframing.” So how does the creation of technologies to look and observe also reveal ourselves? Who is watching who and who is creating who at the same time?
Warning: some spoilers ahead!
Rasheedah Phillips’ The Telescoping Effect (Part One) follows the mysterious story of a black woman scientist, named Lula Belle and her great-great-granddaughter, Elaen A’roz Smith, who live 100 years apart. Fitting with the release of the recent film Hidden Figures and the theme of unacknowledged contributions of black women in science, Elean, who works as a coordinator at RCG, Inc. (Research Coordinates Group), a company involved in event manipulation, or as it is called, “fixing history,” is researching about her grandmother. But Lula Belle is no ordinary scientist; she also invented a special telescope that was able to see a lunar eclipse days before it actually happened. Yet what is as important is that seeing the eclipse early also gives Lula insight into the events that took place in the 1919’s Red Summer, where racial violence resulted in the deaths of hundreds of black people.
In the story, we see why finding out about Elean’s missing family history is important to her. However, we also see how revealing that power and ability to see and change the future causes danger for her character as the company she works for is also eyeing for the same technology and for potentially different agenda — to manipulate the future, or how the past is seen by the future, for the benefit of the powerful. Through Elean’s research, we are given a chance to view the larger picture of the interrelation between the movements of the cosmos, the events that happen throughout history, including the history of the TransAtlantic slave trade and Elaen’s own family lineage reaching back to her ancestors in Africa, and the movements within our own bodies. That the same particles that make up the universe make us up as well. Elean finds out that this is more than the reduction of science and knowledge down to simply proving or disproving theories, like the Theory of Relativity, but how new knowledges affect the overall scheme and perceptions of life.
Phillips incorporates imagery throughout the short book, whether it is the manipulation of words of the page or the inclusion of photographs of telescope and camera technology, newspaper clippings and flyers, astronomical and astrological charts, and maps. The ability to see and change the future is linked to our ability to record what we see and sense. This is not just through technologies like the camera or our ability to write, but also our ability to store memory within us and recognize signs. The opening quotation of the books is from John Mbiti, who said that the eclipse is not “simply a phenomenon of nature but one that speaks to the community that observes it, often warning of an impending catastrophe.” Phillips mentions that when the moon passes between the sun and the earth to form the eclipse, it looks like our eye pupil. Also, the moon itself has been associated with water and mirrors and thus it is light looking directly at itself in addition to the moon’s role as a satellite, linking to the technology of artificial satellites and their ability to let us monitor, observe, navigate and connect on a global/universal scale. Like the moon we are absorbing light and information that reveals us to ourselves. Our ability to see those signs of the universe and create technologies to extend outward started with us and our abilities to see and sense that connection in the first place.
At the end, Elean figures out how to disrupt the powerfully dangerous gaze of RCG, Inc., in the similar sense of reproducing the particle-wave theory. That part of her can be observed and that part is fixed in time, but other parts of her, like the wave of the ocean moved by the moon and the wave-like movements of the words on the pages of the book, cannot be easily grasped by sight or exist within a fixed sense of time. That their are histories, knowledges and sciences that exist outside of the “official” fixed notions of history, knowledge and science.
What do we see when we look back at our own history that others who try to control our history cannot? When we look back at those who control and manipulate us with their gaze? In what ways are you connected with what you are observing? What knowledge is gained and for who and for what is this knowledge intended?
Here’s something interesting: the other day when I was reading The Telescoping Effect, I happened to be listening to This Week in Blackness‘ podcast and around the time when I was about to read the Mandela Effect on the page in the story, the hosts of the podcast also started to discuss the Mandela Effect. Spooky huh?
The universe and us, the past, present and future are all connected, you just need to have the insight to see it!
Thank you to Rasheedah Phillips for the pleasure of reading The Telescoping Effect and you can purchase it at The House of Future Sciences website.