At the age of fifteen I was scrawny and miserable. I wanted to look like Patti Smith.
She drew, she sang, she wrote poems, she was perfect. I pinned a Xerox copy of one of her album covers above my bed, the one where she holds the necklace pulled across her chest in her mouth. My best friend and I took Polaroid snapshots of each other: she dressed up like Nina Hagen and I undressed, like Patti Smith. It was not an easy task. The singer had no breasts to speak of, while in my case – even if my ribcage did stick out – a distinct protuberance could be discerned underneath my black T-shirt. In addition, she had a long horse-like face: accordingly, I developed a particular Patti-Smith-like way of holding my mouth, which I was convinced made me into the spitting image of my idol. The only problem was that after a while, my jawbone began to get tired – and there was also the question of eating and speaking, causing the overall composition to fall apart somewhat. My girlfriend looked at the snapshots and noted wryly: The problem is that your face is totally round.
– Me? I asked in amazement. In my mind’s eye, my face had long ago become as narrow and bony as Patti Smith’s.
– What do you think?
Later on, I noticed that Susan Sontag looked a bit like Patti Smith; from that point on I wanted to look like Susan Sontag and Patti Smith both at once, raising more difficulties and the issues of clothing, hairstyle and bodily physique. There are no snapshots remaining from this period.
When Patti Smith was in Hungary last summer for the Sziget music festival, I didn’t dare go to her concert: I didn’t want to see how much she had aged. When Susan Sontag died, I didn’t want to hear about it.
The body of the fifteen-year-old left me; in its place I received another. I accustomed myself to it with great difficulty: the collar-bone stuck out, the legs were crooked and looked ungainly and gaunt. There were those who found it appealing, but I was never on friendly terms with it. I tried in my mind to replace it with other bodies; sometimes I treated it harshly, even mortifying it. For the most part, though, I concealed it. When I was twenty-five, I got yet another body: this one at least lived up a bit better to my earlier expectations. It was more womanly, more docile, more shapely. And – this I could not know – much more transient as well. It could not bear up with the insouciance of the previous two. Wounds, perforations, scars came tumbling down upon it, and at the age of thirty, it began to slacken in an enigmatic, inexplicable manner. Once, when my girlfriend and I were going through various clothes discarded from the wardrobe, I happened to look at the skirt she was holding up.
– That was mine once. It’s not bad. I’ll try it on.
– I don’t really think it would fit you anymore, she said.
– Don’t get started with that. Is my ass really that big?
– What do you think?
The body – in contrast to other materials – does not simply expand in warm conditions. It expands from love, from failure. It gets bigger when a person doesn’t eat and also when they do eat, it gets bigger when no one is looking and it can comfortably neglect its womanliness, and grow even bigger still. It’s at least as hard, though, to get up and walk around with your stomach sucked in as keeping that certain Patti Smith way of holding your jaw – not to mention the ass, which can’t be pulled in any direction at all.
At the age of thirty-five, I most wanted to resemble myself. I tried with all my strength to conjure up that other, forgotten body concealed within the contours of the present one, to find my way back to it. I smeared creams on it, I dieted, I measured and weighed it. And it really began to find its way back to itself, to resemble something that would be me. Only that this body then left as well, like all the others: again, nearly imperceptibly changing into something unknown.
It betrays us, it will always be something different than who we are in our innermost selves, who we have remained. The body abandons everyone: by the age of 45 it begins to prepare to make way for the homogeneity of old age, and at 65 we all begin to look alike again, as when we were little children. The bosom and the belly begin to sag, the contours become loose, and then come the toll-collectors of vanity, mortality’s hucksters, who promise indestructible bodies and eternally preserved features; then come the lies, the promise-peddlers, all because you wish to be other, you desire to be something different than what you really are. They want you to hate yourself, so how could you possibly have any love for your fellow humans?
You begin to wither, your bodily height shrivels, your skin becomes like parchment, the colour of your eyes fades. Your earthly garments lose their elasticity, you become brittle and frail. After the age of 80, the vagina softens and has to be fixed in place with a ring. The spine becomes deformed, the vertebrae slip out of place, the face so often turned up to the sky looks downward now, as if searching the depths. The body takes up less and less room until it finally comes to pieces. It rots.
If it would like another human body to preserve its trace, then it lives on in one or two souls, if not, it turns to dust with neither meaning nor trace, and it begins its infinite wanderings among the eternal multitude of beings.
What did you expect?
Translated by Ottilie Mulzet