The Furthest Edge of Longing

Seeing is a dialogue about the limits of sight. For example, you are standing on earth and the moon is out and brightly full. You are allowing yourself to feel alone with it by remaining almost entirely still, smoothing the edge of its diameter with your open eyes. 

Fig. 1. The Mare Orientale Basin as photographed by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, 2010

Around four billion years ago an asteroid careened into the lunar crust, with an impact that would create a basin of concentric rings spreading across five hundred miles. The crater will be christened by the Prussian astronomer Julius Heinrich Franz, whose observations were occasioned by a rare window of libration.  

A technical term for the subtle wavering of the Moon as a result of its tilted axis in relation to its orbital plane, libration allows margins to show the shape of their truth, which is flux. For Franz, on one night of a dark century at the Royal Observatory of Königsberg, libration meant staying up late and straining to see the shadowy fragments of a mountain range at the easternmost extremity of an otherwise familiar face.

Fig. 2. Diagram and detail from Julius Heinrich Franz’s Die Randlandschaften des Mondes, 1913

It would remain the Mare Orientale even after the International Astronomical Union inverted the relevant East-West axes in 1961, with an astronaut’s view from the Moon serving as the point of orientation for a rewritten map. Obsolescence is one of the things that naming does best. Every lunar mare is a mare because the imaginations of seventeenth century astronomers saw the Moon teeming with oceans. 

Maps and catalogues, the intransigent, glimmering errancy of nomination. These inertias may seem like all we can see, but it depends on where we’re standing and how long we are willing to watch. 

Any dialogue depends on intervals. The one between the Earth and the Moon requires a long moment of floating in which East cannot be East and West cannot be West. Otherwise, nothing they are saying to one another can make any sense at all.

On Earth, Julius Heinrich Franz’s description is published in Leipzig at the outset of 1906.

On Earth, in the Imperial Theater of Johannesburg, South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi will introduce the concept of Satyagraha on September 11th of the same year.