WHERE THE READ ANTS DREAMT
It is a typical American day: febrile, and the cyborg-patriarchs relax backyard, fenced in with steel blades and organophosphate poison. In America a homestead is an abbatoir; a householder, a warlord; an animalcule, the enemy; and summer, summer is the season for war. A perfect picnic is a typical summer scene, and a figure for empire—its children and vittles as vulnerable as even the most paranoid cantonment crèche; its edges uncontrolled, riddled with dacoits and secret policework—and rumors of thuggee, as a mangy coyote prowls acacia-shaded ditches dreaming of fat Chihuahuas. A hornet hides in a swimsuit hung to dry in the sun; you put it on and he bites you hard on the ass, the sting swells like a pustule in the heat. Or as you sit innocuously in the grass near your home your nerves suddenly shiver open, as though peeled, flayed like mimosa seeds, laid bare by an angry acid dropper, shrieking with hot red and magenta neuron showers of pain up your legs and arms. Armies. Ants. Red ants.
Hundreds of red ants swarming and attacking you.
So run and get on that internet, look for the hive mind’s “black insect laughter,” its heavy-metal smiles, and more than that: reviews.
I. ORTHO ORTHENE
12 OZ. FIRE ANT KILLER
while this product is labled for fire ants it will work on all ants, any crawling bug when put in its path!!! I have 3 acres and live in FL the fire ant capitol 1 large container will last me for 2 years! Just a small amount on the bed and the next day it is a grave yard!
Wildwood, FL, USA
55 to 64, Male
The algebra of killing non-humans answers to Serres’s description of the algebra of literature: the wolf’s hypocrite game — the “I” of the lamb is the “I” of the wolf”—tat tvam asi. The unstoppable aggressor dons his preferred mask of justified victim and righteous survivor, while the hapless aliens go about their inhuman modes of living, true innocents oblivious to the heavy symbolic weight they’ve been forced to carry along with the poison, arthropod lambs schlepping leaf debris and fungal molecules—white powder and with it, mass death. The end of the world.
I love stepping back after applying Orthene to the mound and just watching the ants immediately start staggering and getting weak.
55 to 64, Male
I’m not a regular dreamer—so rarely do I remember my dreams that when I do remember one it sticks with me. About 32 years ago I had a dream that I was a child in some vaguely defined, abstract and blurry but distinctly non-western, non-modern society. In the dream, I was aware that my time had come to participate in an extremely painful, inevitable, and important initiation ritual for boys my age. I woke up from the dream still plotting my escape from the ritual. What I remember most about that cold Wisconsin morning was a crushing feeling of sadness in my chest: I hadn’t gone through with it. This was bad. I was stuck here.
THIS IS A GREAT PRODUCT FOR ALL SMALL INSECTS. I CAN SAY ENOUGH HOW QUICKLY IT WORKS. BETTER THEN SPRAY THAT GOES UP YOUR NOSE AND THROAT.
35 to 44, Female
So I search the electronic encyclopedias for information on the ants that attack me,
join the lumpen communications fora, the digital storefronts that typify and people my
world, my expanded cinema. I want to identify the ants so I can kill them quickly,
easily and cheaply. (In an age of information: cybernetics and customer reviews. In an
age of compression: white powder, black meat. ) I download a list of ants present in
Southern California, cut and paste their Latin names, feed the A.I., and scan readouts
till something clicks:
TAXONOMIC IDENTITY OF ‘HALLUCINOGENIC’ HARVEST ANT
(Pogonmyrmex californicus) CONFIRMED
In 2001 Kevin P. Groark, of UCLA’s Department of Anthropology, confirmed that the ants described in his pioneering 1996 survey “Ritual and Therapeutic Use of Hallucinogenic Harvester Ants (Pogonomyrmex) in Native South-Central California” were indeed Pogonomyrmex californicus, the steely-jawed, ultra-violent ant whose “exceptionally intense and piercing” stings have been described as like “turning a screw in the flesh around the sting site.” Groark notes with grim satisfaction that despite lingering mysteries with regard to its chemistry “the ant’s venom gland represents the pinnacle of venom development among the social insects.” The California harvester ant “is capable of synthesizing extremely complex and potent chemical compounds, many of which are highly pharmacologically active.”
Chilblains goosebumped my ankles and I knew these were the ants.
In an account collected at Tejón Ranch in 1916, an Interior Chumash man named José Juan Olivas explained that you take ants
if you wish to become an hechicero [curing or bewitching shaman]… You take ants again the following summer and so on every summer till they tell you enough… They give you power to injure or cure people and help you to escape when in peril—you always have these powers if you take the ants successfully.
Olivas cautioned, however, that once the decision was made to ingest ants, “you have to keep your promise. You can’t fool this animal. The ant knows you have said it. If you do not fulfill [your promise], you will die soon.”
The pubescent boy is led by an old woman to the outskirts of the village where the ant hills wait and in them, the ants. Through them, the deep sleep, the death dream, the “coming of the animals”—and, with any suerte, being chosen.
The old woman wets something—the down-feather of an eagle is good to use—and sticks it into a vessel containing the ants and 4 or 5 ants cling to it and form a ball. She puts the ball into your mouth and you draw your breath in sharply and thus suck the ball down your throat, swallowing both ants and feather. Then the old woman gives you another and another and another—she goes on counting until you have taken 50, 60, 80, or 90 balls—just as many as you can stand.... While you are sitting quietly after taking the ants, the old woman who gave them to you says, “Sit here quietly a little while, I am going to get something.” Then she slips up behind you and grabs you, or rather pokes you with both hands, on ribs at sides, just back of upper arms, crying out or grunting as she does so. She does this to startle you.…When the old woman startles you the ants all bite at once and immediately you fall as dead. Then she takes you and puts you in the shade so that you lie face down… Then she retires some little distance and watches you.
Aspirants who were tough could go on like this for days, alternately tripping deep through the pre-Columbian alter-bardo, speaking with the ants, seeking out dream-helpers—and coming to long enough to rest a little, then ask the old woman for more. “If you have enough courage you take ants until the ants run out of your mouth as soon as they are swallowed. This gives you a lot of power if you can do it. When this happens the ants speak to you and tell you you have taken enough… The ants talk to you and ask what you want… Then come the animals.” Dream helpers look like the mountain lion or bear, the coyote or the sparrowhawk. “Each can give their virtud—all of these, even the rattlesnake, can come and talk to you. Rattlesnake says, ‘they are going to bite you.’ That night the rattlesnakes come [and bite you], and you open your eyes and you are well.”
Heriberto Yepez, El imperio de la neomemoria (Oaxaca, Almadía, 2007).
II. UNCLE MYRMECOPHAGE’S FARM
Consider a picnic in Southern California, not far from Tejón Ranch, where John Peabody Harrington collected Olivas’s accounts of ritual ant ingestion in 1916. It is only forty years later. But no one knows that or cares. Rather, it is the Fourth of July, 1956. And one Milton Levine, toy man and inventor manqué is bored, bored with his own old ideas. Those flat toy soldiers in the crackerjack box? His. Toy shrunken heads like straight outta the Amazon? The ones you hang from the rearview mirror? His. And those potato guns made from plastic? His. He even took a whack at mass producing balloon animals. (In an age of information, compression. In an empire, boredom.) Levine was bored at his sister’s picnic, waiting for the fireworks, waiting for the food, restless, walking around the pool, looking for trouble. He spotted a mound of ants. “They build those overnight,” his brother-in-law swore. “And sting like the fucking devil.” Antarium, he mumbled. “Antarium?” someone asked. No, fuck that, said Milton—an ant FARM.
In a hot red minute Uncle Milton’s Toys was born.
Incorporated. The earliest Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm
model measured six by nine and cost a buck twenty-nine.
Ants (Pogonomyrmex californicus) sold separately.
By the time Levine died in 2011, the company had sold
over twenty million ant farms and distributed countless
billions of Mojave-bred, pharmacologically active
Pogonomyrmex californicus to generations of eager if
ill-disciplined American children—refrigerated into
dormancy next to mother’s margarine in the fridge,
delicately introduced by slender tube into their thin-walled
plastic flatworld. Mutinying. Spilled on occasion.
Allowed to escape. Stinging and biting. Being eaten by
a boy child.
Did we dream?
Yes, the ant farm is actually a living TV screen
that will keep you interested for hours.
Ad copy for Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm, 1967
But no queens: one of the great limits to the Uncle Milton
Ant Farm concept was that federal law prohibited the shipment
of queen ants across state lines; the Feds made sure Uncle
Milton’s Ant Farm stayed an annual, not a perennial—an
Adonis garden, not an orchard. The Feds made sure Uncle
Milton’s “ant farmers” couldn’t be farmers; only buyers, junkies,
freaks for the ants, fiends for a “steady supply,” dreamers of the
hard signal, of the coming of the animals.
In 1968, Levine introduced the “Executive Antropolis.” Targeted
to aspiring businessmen, the executive model was advertised with
a “see through case on walnut base, has New York City skyline;
contains ARMY OF LIVE ANTS zooming around at work and
play, digging tunnels, etc.” But it didn’t sell. Perhaps this had
something to do with an insight shared by Levine in his 1970 study
Ant Facts and Fantasies. “This writer is of the opinion that ants are
truly Socialist. After all, their life is truly a communal one.” The second “truly” was a dead giveaway: in 2010 Uncle Milton sold Uncle Milton Industries to the Transom Capital Group for more than $20 million.
If Levine’s political imagination hobbled his expansion into luxury models—if Levine was stuck at that picnic, stuck in the flatbox world of crackerjack boxes and potato guns—if Levine could only see socialism among the ants—if Levine, in the end, couldn’t make an ant farm at once the living sign, figure and instrument of capitalism in overdrive—then the Transom Capital Group would work free of such comforting, earthy constraints. Aptly, they call the new model the Ant Farm® Revolution, a “gel colony” where you can “watch as ants dig 3-D tunnels in illuminated nutrient-rich gel.” The illuminated gel allows them to go where they like while preserving the essential, panoptical aspect of the death farm, now sickeningly green and without shadow, a floodlit world of nutrient-rich gel.
For 50 years Uncle Milton Ant Farms have amazed and entertained millions
around the world. Now it’s time for the REVOLUTION to begin! It’s Ant Farm
Revolution! Introducing the first 360 degree ant farm where busy ants dig amazing
3-D tunnels. Now turn out the lights, look up, LOOK OUT! As giant ant shadows
are projected across your ceiling. AWESOME! The revolution has begun!
“Ant Farm Revolution” advertisement
The gel was actually developed by NASA for a space shuttle experiment and it
provides all the nutrients and water and moisture that the ants need.
of inglorious death,” by Amanda S. Mills “Amanda”
But what in God’s name was the experiment? What’s this revolution?
Floodlit, sleepless world with no exits, only more gel, and more. (“In the land of plenty, have nothing to do with it,” says Maximus.) Ant eats organophosphate, becomes poison. Ant eats nutrient gel, becomes spectacle. Boy eats ant, becomes shaman. Man poisons ants, becomes householder. Householder reviews poison, becomes citizen.
It is unclear when Uncle Milton, Inc. switched ant species from Pogonomyrmex californicus to the pharmacologically anodyne Western Harvester Ant (Pogonomyrmex occidentalis), an ant without psychoactive venom and without history. Uncle Milton never advertised the shift, never let on what he had learned. An incredible experiment in the mass distribution of off-label entheogens to American children drew quietly to a close—and with it, Uncle Myrmecophage’s Farm, a cosmic empire hidden like fire in grass, budded in the throbbing jaws of the drones.
We lost it. Stuck here with white powder poison and ‘too much information’!!
35 to 44, Male
Tarrah Krajnak, Ant Studies, 2015