I The Monarch trailer lies in the dirt off the side of the road, surrounded by a swarm of objects. A tube lodged in its back issues short charcoal-black breaths. Tired and heaving. A filthy man appears at the door. He descends the stairs, moving with agility. Flapping winter rags trail just behind. The baggy clothes are not hand-me-downs from someone else’s life; they once fit him. They slacken, twist and gather up, in sync with the movements of his spindly limbs. Tenaciously holding onto their reverie of a bigger, more robust man—a John Deere or Nascar man—they ghost him. A figure indistinct like some underimagined protagonist in a fever dream. An allegorical figure tenuously holding together. The man pauses when he reaches the ground. He turns his face—a stale dried apple—toward me. His eyes, outrageously magnified by dirty glasses as if to spite his shrunken head, fix on me inquisitively. Things can go any way. No signboard beckons or welcomes, just the objects. I hitch onto their pulse and let my enthusiasm take over. “Hey, lots of stuff here. Can I look around?” “Go on ahead. Everything’s for sale except for my tools,” says the man toothlessly. He doesn’t ask what I’m looking for. He knows I just want to be in the middle of things. “Why not your tools?” “Cause that’s how I do my work,” says the man with a choreographed cadence, unlike the jerking and lurching that carries him off into his thousand-thing garden. II Winter is warm for January on the edge of Iberia, Missouri. Population 138. Driving unnumbered miles I pass startled bare cottonwoods and pastures of fescue with creeping rootstocks. Cows stare at me, aware. Lone clapboard farmhouses with blind windows stubbornly hold their ground in mud fields. In the town many homes sleep long into the afternoon, not wanting to bother anymore. Santa lies stiff on his back near the front door of a split-level. Jesus, hollow and plastic, stands unmoved. Two houses put in their notice: American Heritage Realty and Sale by Owner. Somewhere a burn pile of sycamore flavors the air. All of it goes unremarked by Fords and Chevys barreling over asphalt. At the convenience store denim and flannel-clad men in workboots buy beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets. Sandpaper hands lined with dried grease hold Anheuser-Busch. Women wait in idling vehicles. A cashier receives customers with moderate solicitations, her smile less jubilant than the redhot mouths that advertise Crunk!!! Energy Stix on the packets that dangle from the counter display rack. III And beyond the edge of town where the humming motors fade into the hush-hush of the cottonwoods there irrupts all at once…abundance! It’s as if most of the town’s objects have shipwrecked here, urged on by some mesmeric charm. In this roadside encampment, the small and the big congregate, exuberant multiples—valve spring and valve spring and valve spring—playing counterpoint to the gravitas of monumental singularities—a McCormick Farmall tractor. Textures and densities, liquidities and radiances. A wild litter—acres of objects in heavy rusted iron, thin aluminum, hard bright plastics, corroded steel, damp polyester. Children’s toys mix promiscuously with the powerful toys of adults. Spools and wheels of wires and lights. Steel drums filled with nameless hard brittle things. Aluminum rods and steel spokes touch. Shattered glass and shredded insulation rejoice. The bristling rust pities the soggy lumps of cardboard and cotton. The faded plastics, knowing nothing but their simple-minded delights, giggle idiotically at the hulking, creaking machines. There is agitation, anticipation. My Fata Morgana. The man zigzags back toward me. “I’m just trying to make a living.” Then he veers off into the incomprehensible, pattering across the yard, object relations breaking out everywhere. There are, in fact, assemblies of objects that demonstrate extraordinary levels of articulation. They are expansive, although at times their claims seem exaggerated or altogether far-fetched. General Motors meets headlong, front grill to front grill with Coachmen—an irresolvable collision interminably taking place. Nearby an upholstered armchair lies facedown on top of a humiliated Ford Galaxy. Objects join to produce sense-fictions—provocations to bewilderment and speculation about the sense of their assembly. At other moments the yard is ebullient. Ten Weedwackers dangle from a tree. The exhilaration of sheer quantities—a barrel of rusted broken coils, a bouquet of mangled garden umbrellas—blurt out expletives, an object-Tourette’s. On occasion there is true eloquence— deliberate prosodic structures with meter and repetition. Stacks and upright rows of windows rhyme with screens. Frost King. A huddle of black rubber car tires modulate the pitch. Goodyear. Michelin. A shawl draped over the handlebars of a wheelless lawnmower. Haiku. A decapitated tree trunk leans against the front bumper of a Ford Pickup, shouldering none of the burden of the open hood. A battered delivery van halfheartedly declares Designed Kitchens and Interiors. IV Mattering. I am looking for methamphetamine. When I do fieldwork in the form of a community study in an eastern Missouri county, I don’t only connect with poor, white cooks and users, treatment and law enforcement professionals, and the protagonists of an industrial-chemical apparatus, its proliferating products and its unassimilable hyperobjects. I also bond to meth, wherever it is in the field. After years steeped in matters concerning meth in a single county, I have taken up a materialist sensibility for a kind of world-compositioning that for two decades has landscaped much of rural Missouri and other small-town regions in the U.S. Sometimes, when fieldwork doesn’t work, I leave the years-long community study I’ve been carrying out to go on rural dérives. I’ve spent so much time with tweakers that I think I can sense them in object gatherings and dispersions in any small town anywhere. I’m moved along the passional object terrains they inhabit and I’m drawn into peculiar augmented psychogeographies, like a contact high. Meth bonds with the molecular unconscious. It invites thinking-feeling experimentally, desirously, and I feel the transmutation of matter. I sense occulted ways of mattering in a late industrial landscape. Meth is worked from the landscapes it embellishes—the secrecy of wooded ridges and the engineered ecology of Monsanto seed-sown plains, the open pits of rock quarries and the blast furnace of the primary lead smelter, the commodity castles of Wal-Mart and their surrounding paved flatlands, teetering homes and wayward crowds of objects, some melted or charred by acid and fire. Meth is entangled with a more familiar repertoire of industrial and homegrown material arts—mining, ironwork, cement work, carpentry, cleaning. Meth is a performance enhancer that gives you more hours and motivation. It helps you make ends meet, or better. You get more work out of life. Meth cooking is late industrial alchemy. Alchemy means to carry to its end something that has not yet been completed. Among meth cooks, late industrial alchemy is the prevailing way that a body, experience, and a landscape all come to matter. A body is liberated as energy, experience gets charged with the not-yet, and things start taking place. It’s the hope of transmutation. Meth is the Philosopher’s Stone, the white, yellow or orange-brown powder that can transmute industrial chemical and mass consumer base matter into gold. Sudafed. Energizer. Drano. Coleman. Walgreens Instant Cold Packs. No sooner do you hold them in your hand than you appear inspired by them and seem to look through them into their distance, like an augur. It makes you the Demiurge slowing and speeding the work of production, making your world anew. You get more life. V Meth cooks in small town Missouri, like alchemists, take an allegorical approach to their arts. Meth cooks often invoke religious tropes to interpret the ecstatic successes and the catastrophic failures of cooking. Some describe their operations as ministries and their users as parishioners. Some interpret their survival of explosions as God’s exhortation to quit and to get others to do the same. Church marquees allude to the struggles of meth addiction or metonymically to the struggles of Post-Fordist Precarity—materialized as landscapes checkered with Dollar Trees and Walmarts, inhabited rundown trailers, piles of objects, and abandoned or unsold homes—and the quandaries of people caught in its throes. God tells them, Tough problems? Strategize less and pray more, and Do not let us mistake necessary evils for good, and Jesus was born for sinners and you qualify. Oscillating between intoxication, withdrawal, and detoxification and abstinence, people associate meth with treacherous sorcery, sacrificial devotion, and righteous religiosity. Occult, evangelical, and mass consumerist matters mingle promiscuously in an unstable composition. Allegories are alluring because they promise to light up inchoate objects, trace unimagined connections, and resolve ambiguities and paradoxes of human—and more-than-human and abiotic—life. At the same time, modern allegories reveal their own failure to cohere. Whereas symbols present themselves as organic forms indivisible from their transcendent ground, allegories disintegrate in the excessive polysemia of their heterogeneous fragments. Meth cooking similarly throws into relief the unstable composition of a life. Meth cooking is an aporia. It leads the way out of workaday failures while lapsing back into them. This allegory is inseparable from these objects in this small-town Missouri landscape, but it also points at postindustrial machinic life elsewhere, including Cognitive Capitalism at the academy and the objects proliferated by its Theorizing Machines. Concepts pop into mind like consumer products. They are capitalized through observational architectures like citation indices and impact factors, reducing creativity to market shares in attention economies. Like many academics and students, I use Attention Deficit Disorder amphetamines to be alert to conceptual risks and opportunities. I make jury-rigged constellations with any combination of these objects to access an encounter and its occulted potentials. Doing ethnography on meth in Missouri feels like a tweaker project. This ethnographic allegory is not a pastoral about an other America in a present becoming-past, but a tale of desire and dispossession cast in the time of now, when trashed promises of a better life have the possibility of being fulfilled.This time is at turns crystallized and expanded with matters that cannot be contoured to fit progressivist-industrialist or Romantic-naturalist narratives. VI When I wayfare in rural Missouri, I cross affective landscapes charged with toxic dreams and precarious compositions. Sometimes I start at Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world and the largest private employer in the US. Wal-Mart reports annual earnings in the tens of billions of dollars. A single Wal-Mart Superstore—hundreds of thousands of cubic feet containing tens of thousands of consumer products like electronics, clothing, foods (generic, brand name, organic), tools, furniture, auto parts, guns, toys, wedding rings, pharmaceuticals—can employ over five hundred people who can help you service a complete life. Vlasic Pickles. Huggies. Depend. Long wide aisles flanked by shelves upon shelves holding rows of objects that repeat flat incantations about life laid out from birth to death. The repetitions count object time toward a vanishing point, the dwelling place of an unfathomable magnanimous source. Sam Walton, the late founder of the company, was driven more by competition than by money. Wal-Mart’s mission has always been to keep prices low by controlling costs, which Walton achieved by spreading a Benjamin Franklinesque pragmatism guided by industry and frugality. Products are often astonishingly cheaper at Wal-Mart than anywhere else. The company thrives on sales volume, operating on a mere 3% profit margin. Drawing all things into its hallowed hangars of merchandised life, Wal-Mart has dwarfed the world outside. Competing retailers fail, Wal-Mart’s monopsony power grows, and the monolith turns “even its largest suppliers, and entire oligopolized industries, into extensions of itself.” Wal-Mart has literally shelved the free market in order to preside over it. Sam’s Club. Shoppers get more for less and, from the point of view of the customer, you want everything. Save Money. Live Better. My Wal-Mart. Sudafed. Energizer. Drano. Coleman. Walgreens Instant Cold Packs. Some shoppers sense in some of the most banal products the promise of metamorphosis in exchange for all-consuming surrender. The products serve methamphetamine synthesis, their sale subject to surveillance and controls. Pseudoephedrine. Lithium. Sulphuric Acid. Ether. Ammonium Nitrate. Meth cooks extract the base elements of late industrial abiotic life to make the Philosopher’s Stone. Emblems. Part-Objects. Transformational Objects. VII Meth is the center of an alchemical cottage industry where cooks rouse the spirit in everyday products and in the process are themselves transformed. Meth intensifies novelty-seeking and reward-seeking which is experienced as an anticipatory high. This feeling is distinct from consummatory pleasure; it is instead the thrilling sense of alertness, heightened interest, motivation, ability, and power that primes the body to forage and seek objects of desire.Meth activates the seeking system, and in Missouri it fires up bodies to play, fuck, or be more industrious at the factory, construction site and ironworks. Or in the methlab, where Wal-Mart products are yet again enlivened, flooding the mesocortical, mesolimbic, and nigrostriatal dopaminergic pathways to dysregulate affect. Over time the repetitions can yield the ultimate Difference Machine: schizophrenia. Desiring-production has no object: it is the production of production. Desiring-production has no subject: a subject is made with each lived state. Desiring-production feeds Capital’s craving for value-extractive innovation. But without an incorporating telos, by being more nervous than system, it leads Capital to the conclusion of its deepest tendency, its own undoing. In small town Missouri economies, reined in by the norms of accumulation, the progressive producer-consumer-self-producer routine is Save More. Live Better. You get more for less. But meth cooks reel in a general economy. Commodities decompose and recombine, routine production-consumption-self-production exceeds itself, energy arises from the unrestrained expenditure of energy, and a crystal moment dilates with supernumerary events. More life. Meth cooks burn up. Out of joint, time begets prodigal years that grow a thirteenth freak month. VIII Back outside the trailer, the rattled man looks at me reveling in things. “Last Chance Incorporated,” he declares, baptizing the wild litter of objects as his own détourned Wal-Mart. “I’ll give you five dollars or a thousand dollars to make it work,” he says, mimicking his phantom customers. “That’s why I call it Last Chance Incorporated.” Drew, as he tells me he is called, weaves off toward a galvanized steel barrel that has an electrical wire snaking over its rim and down to a generator on the ground. I follow him to the contraption and look inside. Attached to the basin end of the wire is a rusty air conditioner grill, submerged in water. When he jiggles the wire, dark leaden socks stir in liquid copper. “It’s cold water. Gotta heat it and do my warsh.” Meth’s alchemical landscapes are often embellished with tweaker projects. When people tweak, they get amped and get onto something—an object of interest or fear, the materiality of an object, or materiality itself—and won’t let it go. They become beside themselves, dispersed across the media that make them. Objects, especially mechanical devices, fire up exploratory desires that may find their expression in foraging, hoarding, and tinkering, repeated and repeated with nonteleological fervor. Forms of stereotypy characteristic of dopaminergic surging.Tweaker projects are DIY artifacts, jury-rigged designs that sometimes approach Rube Goldberg machines. The monuments of Desiring Machines. A tweaker project is a bricolage of materials and modalities with—from a mass consumer perspective—oblique aesthetics of use and uncertain efficacy. But it holds alchemical promise. Meth cooks are shadetree mechanics of all things. Machinic Life. They perform a détournement of industry, an allegory of late industrial world-compositioning with interchangeably human, more-than-human, and abiotic quasi-objects. They step up the cycle of mass production-consumption-self-production and speed toward its ultimate effects. IX “You know how to make meth?” “Well I might know where it is but I don’t know you.” He directs my attention to the jail to our left. Part of the field and its objects are hemmed in by a tall chain link fence. “It reminds me about prison,” says Drew. Drew comes from the Ozarks, further south by the border with Arkansas. He lived there until he was thrown in prison for seven years. “For cocaine. It’s good I remember,” he mumbles and then fades into silence. Suddenly my question returns to him, snapping him out of his reverie. “I like the Shake ‘n’ Bake method. I got all three ingredients right here, somewhere.” He flings a hand at the thing terrain spreading before us. “Let’s go over there.” He moves toward the horizon where the lively topography is given over to a macabre setting. Some objects in their arrogant sense of self-importance have taken up playing house. A sofa, La-Z-Boy, TV and bookcase assume their positions in the remains of a clapboard home. The house bears a wound for a wall and patches of sky where the ceiling was blown off. The furnishings nevertheless insist on conjuring a half-baked reality. They refuse to assist in the conscripting scenarios of JC Penney and Better Homes and Gardens. Instead they enact a design noir where things—not objects struck dumb—look back at, turn away from or simply ignore people, their ultimate opacity causing puzzlement and sometimes uneasiness. Outside the house on a paint-scaled retaining wall, bloated generatio aequivoca hold their breath while waiting suspended in a dozen foggy pickling jars. It seems these formless things are the excrescences of that great garden of arcana. Culled from the retracted lives of objects, the embers burning somewhere among the parts of vacuum cleaners, Barbies, Chevys. Kenmore. The objects have broken away from the town’s metronomic routine—home, work, store, home and myriad variations in between—to this halfway house of the untimely. They flee from a world that still adheres to form and order. A migration of forms. Larval Subjects. X I follow Drew inside. Broken sunlight slashes the living room. He crouches before the moldy plaid sofa. Untwisting a piece of plastic wrap that he produces from a determined fist, he lays out two shaky lines of yellowish powder. “Meth is good and it’s bad.” He feels deeply what he’s saying. He leans down and snorts one of the lines. Meth blasts a life, freeing it from the metronome of history. But it’s a flickering imaginal life where objects shimmer only to once again slip into slumber, leaving you too dispirited. “I cry like a baby every night. I cry for my momma,” says Drew as a drizzle of dopamine wets his receptors. He looks at me with hazy anticipation, waiting for me to snort my line. Each time desiring-production gives itself over to ecstatic abandon more life feels as if forever on the threshold of concrescence. Expenditure begets its own energy. A general economy swells. And for a crystal moment…until the exuberance is lassoed as addictive consumption, an exaggerated producer-consumer-self-producer desire caught in perpetual ratcheting repetition. Last Chance Incorporated. XI Holding tight with lattice force the yellowish crystals keep to their crooked line, the one line remaining. My seeking system. When I look for meth I don’t pick my way through the ruins of uneven geographic development, rogue industry, dysregulated consumption, despoilation and dispossession only to tell an allegorical tale, and certainly not one that makes theory its privileged register and words its privileged marks. Immersed in a field of objects—the leavings of late industrialism and a gluttonous accumulation of concepts—I am trying to feel my way back—through the unreserved use of metaphors, parataxis, the pathetic fallacy, images and allegory—to a fleeting encounter with a person and a place out of time, yet still here. This ethnographic allegory is not only textual, but a textualization of an already allegorically inscribed material-affective geography. Through industry and ruination, a human body and a landscape compose a life tenuously holding together. Intermittently fanning the spark of an obsolete hope to hold off getting snuffed out. I too am sometimes intoxicated with hope—that the alchemical work of redemptive criticism can inscribe an abandoned promise in the lineaments of the present and affect it. That ethnography can matter. But the thirteenth month only rarely reaches maturity, and like a child conceived late in its mother’s life, it lags behind in growth; it is a hunchback month, a half-witted shoot, more tentative than real.