Summer 2019

History horror

The historian’s ultimate sybaritic nightmare has always been the annihilation of memoranda. And thus a twisted allegory was realised. An American military jet travelling to an RAF base in England suffered a catastrophic engine failure, stalled, and violently crashed – detonating, exploding, and fulminating directly upon the National Archives building near Kew Gardens. In the initial eruption, the plane’s fuel tank burst its noxious inferno into the surrounding environ, plexiglass discharge searing shrapnel into concrete, bodies, and paper. Hundreds of tonnes of parchment fanned their own flames and mutinied against the indulgent artifices of their preservation – the air-conditioned, tenebrous antechambers designed to preserve them for posterity. The archive staff and readers who survived were hounded by tabloid journalists as they lived out their existences as shellshocked memorialists, victims of a circumstance so catastrophically unlikely, that it could only ever be categorised as a diabolic aberration.

The brutalist edifice itself was destroyed, not in the instant, but gradually, over the ensuing hours, as residual jet fuel sept into every metal-shredded crevice, smothering, engulfing, and setting aflame all interior furnishing, framing, and cladding. The remaining concrete pile, desiccated and spalled, was afterwards allowed to stand as a piteous cenotaph, the only relic of any significance left standing. The event came to be remembered symbolically. Over time, it stopped commemorating the unthinkable human suffering once endured upon that site. As if to reiterate the burning of the Library of Alexandria, the engine failure stood in bleak testimony to a past which had been lost and, through a titanium chain of consequences, burnt its own vestiges. Until finally – with popular support – it was decided, that the archive had to be rebuilt.

Warsaw