“Black Box” by Jennifer Egan

Courtesy of the “New Yorker.”

Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box” is a short story published as tweets, one after the other, over the course of ten days. It’s about a “beauty” (a woman who, in this fictionalized, futuristic, but nonetheless familiar America, becomes a cyborg spy) whose mission is to infiltrate a terrorist group at its island base. The unnamed beauty seduces the terrorist leader all the while documenting every moment of her mission through recordings and mental notes. As an essentially half-machine, half-human database, the beauty is equipped with such things as emergency escape defense mechanisms but also still reflects on her past as a patriot, a wife, a mother.

What’s almost revolutionary about “Black Box” is its format. While the principle behind its unique narrative structure was, at the time of publication, nothing new (serialization had been popular long before, during the time of Dickens, for instance), the specific medium of Twitter is exclusive to this century. But Twitter as a storytelling platform is compelling in ways beyond serialization. The character limit is a constraint, like a lipogram, that writers have to work with, and in the case of “Black Box,” the sentences are poetic and clipped and actually have a narrative purpose.

There’s a lot more to say about “Black Box,” especially about the way it embodies (in a kind of reflexive meta-commentary) the very questions it raises about the dynamics between (wo)man and technology, but I can’t do it justice in this post. You can read the story on the New Yorker‘s website by clicking here.

Posted by James.

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