Nobody knew how it got its shape. Some said it was designed to look like the leaf of a lost tree. Others compared it to a spread vulva, the maternal bosom, the mons pubis, a little box or the wound of a knight. In one ancient text, it has been described as a disembodied body without essence or substance, a discarded oar, a red gate and the emptiness of the other shore.
It is sometimes called the blackbox. It is not black at all, but perhaps it should be. It is the hybrid of a radio and a refrigerator, a camera obscura, a labyrinth, a code matrix, and a battery. The wiring is intricate–one is tempted to think of bombs. Though they can explode and implode, this is actually quite rare. What is not rare is the amount of destruction it can unleash. In the last century alone, this machine was responsible for at least 160,000,000 wartime slaughters, 100,000,000 suicides, 87 million garden variety homicides, and one and half billion abortions, all totalling about a quarter of the world’s population today. Only about 20% is used or known to work, according to the ancient proverb, which means that 80% sleeps in darkness, just as 80% of the universe sleeps in darkness. On the thin shores between twin unknowns, the black box crackles with signals and commands. It breathes. The black box is the most haunted place in the universe. It might even be its own universe. Its ghosts are imperceptible from the outside. They travel in whispers and mute screams no electricity can detect. Their long, steely fingers scratch at the coffin-black spaces between signals and circuitry. They make a pilgrimage for a surface they cannot find. It is an inverted pandora’s box, an insane asylum in a bag of raging winds, an aegis that consumes itself, the lone eye of the gray ones orbiting itself in sheer emptiness, the magnesium flashing head of the gorgon that turns all things to stone, a saturn eating its own offspring. And yet, it is only a small football of fat sizzling with electricity in a fragile cowl of bone.
The mound of sand rose pale and smoky in the blue night of great stars as a light breeze constantly added and subtracted grains of sand to and from its mass. The lost assassin thus perceived the merciless impossibility of death, the momentous eternity, the shattering and reassembling of numbers and words, and the distance of distance.
The assassin climbed a bell tower to better survey the topography of his mission, but just when he had figured out the way to stalk his prey, the bells rang, and to his great horror he slipped and fell, splattering on the ancient stones below. They buried his body in an unmarked grave.
When an assassin sharpens his blade, he contemplates the possibility that he is a living parable, or a living conspiracy; he is in fact not much more than a blade. Whether sharpened or not, blades are ambiguous, and someone else can always wield what you imagine to hold in your hand.
One of the assassins was entrusted with leading an armed caravan into the deserts. Perhaps it was to stalk and kill an escaped conspirator, perhaps it was to escape a conspiracy or a trial, or perhaps it was a secret mission to better determine the way of the sands and clouds, the history of his nation, the possibilities of empire and the nature of trade routes. The caravan took up its arms, tools, merchandise and machines and departed for the dry oblivion. As they drifted deeper into the soft dunes and burning blue sky, the assassin felt that they were transforming into a song. The caravan was a strong and strange piece of music. Lost in ecstasy, he did not notice the approach of the sandstorm. All of the warriors and camels, except for the assassin, were buried alive. The assassin made his way to a desolate oasis and survived for many years on water, wild grains, and non-integers of birds. One day, a caravan stopped at the oasis and found the bewildered survivor. The travelers decided to take him along. As they crossed the wastes, the assassin spoke of all that he had learned of clouds, sands, and little creatures. When the caravan arrived back in civilization, the assassin learned that his language, nation and cities were no more. Other caravans were departing for newer cities and different times and places, with stronger and stranger music. Lost, the assassin made haste to join their sand-blasted journeys into oblivion.
One manuscript turned up in a desert well. Although the language was scriptural, and could have been classified as philosophy or wisdom literature, the text was a long vulgate poem of lectures about harvests and departures, addressing all of the great questions of the soul. The second manuscript was found buried along the great highway. It was clear that the second manuscript was an imitation of the first. It suffered from poor grammar and pointless meditations, but the fictional framework of this second text was just as intriguing and appealing: the discourse of a stranger in a city on the verge of destruction. Ashes are more appetizing than grain, as the ancient proverb says. The man who found the manuscripts read both again and again over the course of the day, in the empty fields of scattered trees. The man came to know the texts well, the sources of their genius, the unrealized heights of expression possible, the unreached horizons of thought and dream that had been left behind. It were as though the very minimal and mediocre seeds of these texts suggested an invisible and imaginary harvest somewhere else, in some other unwritten text. It was clear that both texts were imitations of earlier works, in a tradition that saw the fading of form and depth with each successive edition, but perhaps they were not. Perhaps every text is the same as another, a futile attempt of one person to become an author, to become a text, in a time when all authors are already dead, when all souls are as readable or as burnable as texts, when all texts are as stable as the papyrus that turns to dust in fresh air and bright sun. To write is to die, and to live. Returning to his home, the man began to pen his own manuscript, to stretch for the landscapes missing from the other texts. It occured to him that he was a mere copyist, but it became unclear as to who or what he would be copying–the first manuscript, the second manuscript, their unknown sources, or the imaginary texts they had failed to write? The man wrote his own manuscript anyway. It was a text of winters, departures, and long abandoned cities. An assassin was the main speaker. There was almost nobody worthwhile there to listen. The assassin’s discourse would be the itinerary of a soul addressed to stray cats, thieves, and the thirty-two winds. They would ask and he would answer. Or perhaps he would ask and they would answer. Someone would say, Speak of confession, of contagion, of deterioration, of migration, of depression, of contemplation, of ingression, of resurrection, of origination, of convolution, of radiation.