Gustav Klimt, ‘The Hostile Powers’ | The Beethoven Frieze, 1902

Part Five Chapter 1

Gustav Klimt, ‘The Longing for Happiness’ (detail) | The Beethoven Frieze, 1902

Gaunt, stark, raw in her nakedness, the girl you once were confronts you. Instantly you recognize her defiant vulnerability and self-subjugation, her vestigial femininity and proud isolation. A wave of tenderness overwhelms you, you feel a kind of homecoming: Never have you forgotten this girl who lives inside you, never has a day gone by without you paying her tribute.

Burnt into your face, the embers of your eyes glow with contemptuous sadness. Your hair is falling out, your veins have collapsed; a layer of fine hairs covers your body like a fetus. The spindles of your legs end in swollen ankles; your fingernails are brittle and blue. A skeleton covered in skin, you are a walking corpse, a species of living dead. Jubilant in your decrepitude, you are an affront to the living.

Wearing layers and layers of clothes and cradling a cup of tea, you stand by the radiator but can’t get rid of the cold: It lives inside you.

Looking at photos of yourself as a little girl, you break down and cry: Was I really like that once? You can’t remember the last time you laughed, you can’t even remember what laughter is like. You’ve lost the feeling of being young, you’re convinced you’ll never recover it: You feel you’ve already lived a lifetime.

A dinner party! For others you make a four-course meal; for yourself you ritually cut a slice of cucumber into sixteen pieces. For others the palate is to be delighted: For you it is to be denied. And so before ingesting any food, you strip it of its potential for reverie by counting every calorie and converting it to grams: Nothing over which you are not master will enter your body.

The scales are your touchstone of integrity, you’ve made others understand that, but how can you make your mother understand that you are killing yourself because you can live neither with nor without her?

It never lets up, the force that drives you, it never lets up for even a second: It pushes you to extremes, there’s no in-between. One moment you’re lying unconscious on the bathroom floor, a vein in your eye popped from the violence of vomiting, the next you’re furiously peddling your bike along the lake. One moment you’re crying yourself to sleep, the next you’re devouring Wuthering Heights. And then in the morning you amaze everybody with all you can still do. Up until you were hospitalized, you could do a month’s school work in a week and still be tops in every subject.

My God, why did I wear white? Your father at the wheel, his new wife beside him and you on the back seat, you make your way home from the Lucerne Festival where, from the turn of the opening trill to the wit of the adagio-presto coda, your performance of Beethoven’s tenth violin sonata had been a triumph: A happiness that would soon belong to another lifetime. Between your legs the stain spreads, dissolving your dream of ambivalence. So red is the colour of reality, so red marks my limits. God, what a cataclysm! Thus you came to understand that the exterminating angel is female; yes, that even for you, the other sex is feminine.

Gustav Klimt, ‘The Hostile Powers’ (detail) | The Beethoven Frieze, 1902

Gustav Klimt, ‘The Longing for Happiness Finds Repose in Poetry’ (detail)
The Beethoven Frieze, 1902

Why can’t my body be like a boy’s, profiled for action? Why must it betray me with its loathsome blood and swelling flesh? My body is hollowing out, emptying out, unfolding; my body is scandalous! And all of it aimed at one thing: At making me—my God, never! Never! I don’t want to be a woman: I want to be myself.

With this decision you begin your swim to the source, determined to be reborn in a body that belongs to you alone. And so you make yourself immune to others, you remove yourself from everything impure and begin to shed your flesh. Why should you eat? You lack nothing.

It’s working! What a thrill when the scales testify to your will, what a thrill when your cross a threshold! Before long you’re flirting with death like a matador, convinced that readiness to die allows you to live: In elation you realize that your ideal weight is not thirty-five, thirty or twenty-five kilos; no, your ideal weight is zero!

The joy of needing no-one and nothing, why didn’t you think of it before? Accepting neither reasoning nor coercion, neither love nor interest, you declare yourself sole judge of who you are and recognize no link to anyone. You need starvation to live, you’re in complete control—no one will take that away from you! What do they know, thinking you were trying too hard to please the opposite sex? The fools—if they only knew you were putting an end to sex itself! Why can’t they see that in your infinite nostalgia you are hungry for something else? No, it’s all or nothing. You will make no concession, you will not be reduced to servitude! No!