old books make me think of sex. though in those days i did not think of sex as sex. they make me think of MAD magazine, of afternoons sitting on the scratched marble floor in our old house in Taman SEA, when 婆婆 was still living with us and most agile with a cane, when i still slept on a thin mattress in the same room as my parents, when my world was just the neighbourhood and when i was still running around catching tadpoles from the drain behind our house in a competition with the neighbourhood boys.
they make me think of sex – though at the time sex to me was that incomprehensible taboo of adults stripping naked and getting close to each other – because of the way those old magazines smelled. a sophisticated waft of stale talcum powder which i had thought was dust, of dry armpits, of the skin of an old person… it was a peculiar scent that to me blended in with images of a world filled with adult secrets like naked bodies, full breasts and erect nipples, pubic hair. lust was incomprehensible to me at the time, yet there were books on the shelves in the living room which nobody read or seemed to even remember, filled with pointed references to this mystifying idea of copulation and nakedness. graphic books filled with lewd and rabid imagery that were not meant for children, much more non-american ones, but were handed to me anyway because my unwitting parents believed all comics were meant for children. in this way, MAD’s cover wide grin with the gap in his front teeth and oval american freckles somehow became as much a part of my limited childhood consciousness as the bland adventures of peter and jane.
opening up the pages of Read Yourself Raw, i am again hit with the same wave of warped erotica that accompanied those scrambled afternoons of indiscriminate readings. the book is as old as i am, but i am somehow still feeling young and tainted – all over again – from the same talcum powder smell and the even starker brutality of these comics that make no pretensions to mollycuddle my sensibilities. only now the exhiliration, revulsion and confusion that i am met with comes with a host of new considerations: am i still just too young, or am i now just too asian, too conservative, too undiscerning for such literature?
contemporary writing, and by this i suppose i mean post-90’s writing, doesn’t seem to even touch the same level of haunting talcum powder sensations that RYR does. is it because i’m not reading enough?