I’ve always been obsessed with history. I wank against old walls, moisten while reading about the Spanish Civil war, the Crusades, the Inquisition in South America, the Russian Revolution, the Long March. It has taken me a long time to unravel why it is that history does this to me and why, when I visit places that have a narrative past, my skin is on fire the whole time.
Climbing the stairs of an ancient Buddhist temple in Siem Reap or Bagan, wandering through the narrow lanes of the Temple Bar, spotting the indecipherable insignias above the doors to the chambers.The faded oxblood tiles on the floors of Tuol Sleng, and the black of the monochromatic photographs turned to powdery charcoal behind the misted glass in the room where they hang the pictures of the soon-to-be dead. The pernicious, clinging sand of Jordan. The brutal insistence of the creeping vines that weave their way through ancestral tombs in Java. Nature unmakes us with every tick of the atomic clock.
Touching it too. The brittle, crumbly sandstone in Oxford abrades my fingertips. Cheek pressed to mottled, rain-stained walls. Decay and dust. Time erodes the world into airborne fragments of a past-bearing virus. It gets into my lungs, lodges there and infects me. And for days I am sick with love for the place. Not for the place now, but for what it has been. Even the greedy, green scent of the giant carnivorous trees of Highgate, breaking the bones of the dead to make their meat. The iron-red water, sleeping in ancient cisterns. Fish nibbling away at the feet of stone columns. The grit on the wind tastes of a thousand, thousand years of saying goodbye.
History is my pornography. The past doesn’t require my compassion or my pity or my measured response. “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair” said Shelley, but that’s not what I do. Not despair, but a throb between my legs. Perhaps despair and a throb? Yes. That, then. Both is better.
The past, however much we fool ourselves, is not real. The real is lost in time and we weave narratives out of what remains. We write histories. The monks, the starving children, the burning witches, the gutted soldiers and the drowned Jews. All dead, now. And what do I care for for their dead cares? I take their corpses as I please. Drink up the lingering stink of their stale miseries. A perverse voyeur of what is beyond my reach to change, or fix or even to remember.
It is the impossibility of putting any of it to rights, the sadistic discipline of time’s obscene rule. The longer, more savage great march forward. There is no going back ever. It’s forbidden. That’s why it turns me on to contemplate it.