“You traitors, collaborators, you have sold the land of those who have not even been born, you liars...in the name of Hassan Sabbah.”William Borroughs, Nova Express.
The video starts with William Borroughs, serene and cool, as he interpellates the spectator with blunt sentences, some of them stolen from a certain someone by the name of Hassan Sabbah, also known as the old man of the mountain, an islamic missionary born in Iran who some time in the 11th century, right in the middle of the Alborz mountains (Northern Iran), organised a community around him. This community would be later included in history by the (originally derogatory) name of Hashshashin.
William S. Burroughs is part of those fiction writers who incorporated into their life and work the ideas of Sabbah, and we could take the risk of stating that he incorporated Hassan himself. For instance, he took from him the sentence that says: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted”, which would later become one of Borroughs’ maxims.
And Borroughs wasn’t the only one. Brion Gysin, a contemporary and friend of his, also wrote copiously about Sabbah and the Hashshashin in his novel The Process, as well as in his short stories, where he mentions Sabbah’s visit to the Alamut ruins. From the term Hashshashin the Spanish term “asesino” (murderer) can be derived.
Today, the presence of Hassan-i-Sabbah is fully alive in our imaginary. Its sign is repeated again and again, non stop, via the communication channels that make up both our world today and Hassan’s representation. Not so long ago, for instance, Hassan the Hashshashin made an appearance in an issue of the comic Superman (nº 657). In it, his mutated appearance made him resemble a supervillain in charge of a great underground conspiracy aiming at the total destruction of the world we live in. This comic describes, in quite a biased way, the most conservative version of contemporary hostilities between the -so called- Western World and the Islamic World. This is the best example to point out Serra’s accuracy of vision in this video, which he made in 1998.
And indeed it is accurate, especially when Hassan’s words, here spoken by Borroughs, manage to get interwoven with the uppermost representatives of world conflict today: the news programmes.
“It is no doubt much more frightening to let someone know that you can kill them than to really do it”, said Hassan-i-Sabbah. And indeed, it is true; representation, the capacity to show a world, the virtual construction of a reality, is, often, worse than any of the evils that this world can, by itself, develop.
Nothing is true but everything is permitted, these were Hassan’s last words. And they are the same words that, in a way, are echoed in Serra’s piece.