Cosmic Disruption: A Twenty-first Century Decentering

By Sarah Hoenicke for Anomaly

1*mz9FTbWbhenSscxdlTFGbA“It looked as though we had all gathered on hilltops to pray for the world on its last day,” Annie Dillard writes of a congregation of eclipse-viewers, in her essay, “Total Eclipse.” Dr. Ofelia Zepeda’s poem, “Riding the Earth,” reverses the gaze; instead of people come together looking out at the heavens, the heavens watch a woman who “felt the earth move again”:

She sees herself with her long hair floating,
floating in the atmosphere of stardust
She rides her planet the way a child rides a toy.
Her company is the boy who takes the sun on its daily journey
and the man in the moon smiles as she passes by.

This jovial companionship of woman and earth and the astronomical “boy” and “man” elicit much the same feeling as Dava Sobel’s telling of the women of the early Harvard Observatory, in her 2016 book, The Glass Universe.Through absorbing storytelling and a persistent knack for remaining in her subjects’ present, Sobel carries readers through the many multinational and often female efforts of the late 1800s and early 1900s to understand the skies.

The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel. Viking, 2016. 333pp, nonfiction.

Sobel shows, without having to explicitly argue it, that progress happens as a series of many meaningful, small steps taken by a multitude and distilled over time, and that better, more complete work is done when carried out by a diverse group. Universe is a joyful book because, like “Riding the Earth,” it describes a moment in which women held positions of power and importance as though it were the most natural thing for them to do so. Rather than a tale of struggle, this is one of comradery, of men fighting for the recognition of their female peers, of collaboration and assistance.

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