Due to health problems, Ada Lovelace started using opium “systematically,” as her biographer notes, from 1841 onward. Her mentor and collaborator Charles Babbage is an interesting figure, too, the author of both “On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures” as well as the Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, a work on natural theology. The fourth chapter of the latter work is titled “On the Account of the Creation in the First Chapter of Genesis.” Scanning the chapter’s opening pages, one discovers references to geology. Most mysterious of all, though: Ada’s letters to Babbage contain references to a “lady-fairy” and “Fairy-Guidance.” Babbage’s nickname for Ada was “Enchantress of Number.” Her hope, apparently, was to “bequeath to the generations a Calculus of the Nervous System.” As her health declined in the 1850s to the point where opium no longer controlled her pain, she began to experiment with cannabis. Ada was largely forgotten after her death until her rediscovery by figures like Alan Turing nearly 100 years later in the 1940s and 1950s. The key to all of this magic, I think, is what Ada called “cycles” and “cycles of cycles,” or loops and nested loops.
I relish the multimedia composites featured at the start of Wormwood, the new Netflix series from Errol Morris about the mysterious suicide of CIA employee Frank Olsen, one of the casualties of Project MK-Ultra. The series makes abundant use of screens within screens, the mind left straddling levels. In this act of mirroring, we find ourselves. My sister-in-law and her husband, however, unimpressed by Wormwood, recommend I watch an anime series called One Punch Man. Eventually we settle on Gremlins, as if choice of film is of some moment. I listen bewitched to the song of the Mogwai: a metaphor, no doubt, for the importation of drugs and electronics devices from the Far East into American society. Revenge via “gizmos” and heroin. With Wormwood weighing on my mind, I find myself projecting onto Gremlins a “War on Drugs”-era narrative of the psychedelic revolution gone haywire — drug culture as national nightmare. This was of course one of the key allegories hammered home to me during my childhood via D.A.R.E. and Narc. But like so many films of the 1980s, it also emphasizes the cruelty of the rich and of people in general. Think of the father character as Daddy CIA, bringing home to his teenage son a shiny, brightly-wrapped package, gotten at a “junk” shop in Chinatown. After an explosion of Orange Sunshine, kids like Corey Feldman start running around dressed like trees. Like a wired artichoke, out pops the comic book Id.
The term “mogwai,” remember, refers to a kind of “devil” or “demon” in Chinese culture. So sayeth the purveyors of ancient myths. What happens, though, when the African-American scientist character starts to inject these mogwai with hypodermic needles? It’s as if someone left the culture’s brain exposed in a darkened laboratory. “Do you hear what I hear?” asks the television. “Do you see what I see?” Coming this Christmas: Takeover by foreign power. All the invaders need do is suspend the postal service, fuck with traffic signals, and seize the airwaves, and the nation is theirs. Note, though, that in the movie, the forces of anarchy don’t succeed at overpowering the community until the gremlins find their way to the water supply.
Will this become in thought and thus in practice a grace that, like an invisible hand, gently guides us toward our destiny? Picture Mazdaism’s Angel, the Fravarti — one’s tutelary transcendent counterpart, one’s better self — leaving clues for us along our way. Mine steps in, for instance, and walks with me hand in hand to an anti-‘present reality’ rally. Headlights reflect garishly off the backs of cars downtown. Drug use becomes more prevalent in our Republican-controlled republic, a coping mechanism for a public seeking serotonin supplements to correct the collective mood. Afterwards some friends and I retire to a bar to discuss the concerns of the day. One friend recommends a comedian named Nate Bargatze and a Jim Carrey movie called Jim & Andy. I rail throughout the night against the procedurally generated fiction known as debt, the latter just as arbitrary in my view as the obstacles the NES generation used to install when custom-designing tracks in Excitebike. Must we toil? Must we busy ourselves because born dispossessed? My mind chases after itself, representing itself doing so across a succession of fleeting images. A montage sequence from an imaginary film noir.
Ears perk up, as on a hound. I do this whenever others wish to converse with me about “traps.” We’ve all lost time to sinkholes and vortices, haven’t we? As I drive along a parkway, an old woman walks past, head tipped back, pouring sunflower seeds down her gullet with the palm of her hand. Would it be fair to liken the invention of a cognitive map to the invention of a superior mythos — one suited to one’s historical moment? Those who call themselves scientists still walk in a mucky world, don’t they? A grizzled oldtimer, sucking on a pipe, lowers his eyes and grumbles ominously out the corner of his mouth, “Ain’t that the truth.” Imagine me speaking to you through a medley of voice actors. Plants today feel prickly, causing me to flinch upon contact. Colored-pencil illustration of fingers, their nails polished, rolling up a thing and lighting it. The buzz of an air unit conspires with the ring of insects out back to wake me like an alarm. Hot damn, where am I? I justify my actions with as loose a code of ethics as possible: just go with it. Become one with the democracy of the self. Contain multitudes comfortably and without apology. So many bugs, though — one must refrain from scratching and striking out at them. For peace, the Lord hath provided us with places indoors. Inner spaces. Learn to stress inwardness as well as presence. No need to crave others’ possessions. The Master of the Self — a master in reach of everyone — redoubles that wealth of joyful intensity within. And that doesn’t require renunciation of the world. Just the opposite: take it, it’s yours and everyone else’s. A small lizard scampers off my stoop. A little black one, with stripes like a skunk. The world in that moment is flush with novelty. These minor revolutions console us in the big one’s absence. These are our share of what was promised: our inheritance. Drug laws are flouted en masse because the people know what works best. A perfect litmus test for detection of the authoritarian personality: do you or don’t you allow yourself entry into the Kingdom of God? As soundtrack, by the way, for today’s entry, allow me to suggest The Isley Brothers’ great cover medley spoken on behalf of and from the standpoint of the meek, “Ohio / Machine Gun.”