Extract from Michael Mitchell's translation

Oskar Kokoschka's Stories from my Life

One evening in the spring of 1909 in Vienna (I will describe it in fuller detail later on), I was going home with a friend from the premiere of my first play, Murderer, Hope of Women, which had been performed in the open-air theater of the Kunstschau exhibition.

Why in those days educated people in particular tried to by-pass truth with their eyes closed is no longer a mystery to me today. Since I have matured, I can see that that is precisely what their ‘higher’ fate consists of. But at the time the fact that both the pictures I painted of those people and my plays aroused such an acrimonious fury of opposition had a different significance for me. I was still a stranger in the world of the grown-ups who alone had the right to pass historical judgment on people. A few years later, during the World War, it became apparent how little concern they had for human lives.

The basic idea of my first play is that man is mortal and woman immortal, and that in modern life it is only the murderer who wants to reverse this basic fact. With this I had offended against the empty-headedness of our male society, immediately being seen as an affront to all right-thinking people.

That night I was standing in St. Stephen's Square in a state of intense excitement, animatedly discussing the events of the evening with the friend who had played the male lead in the play. Gate-crashers, Bosnian soldiers from the barracks opposite, had joined in the rumpus kicked up by the paying audience, so that the literary dispute would have degenerated into bloody warfare had not Adolf Loos and a small band of his faithful followers intervened and saved me from being beaten to death.

It was midnight. Since childhood the full moon has always upset my nerves; at home they had to take special precautions to stop me climbing out of the window in my sleep.

There is a picture I painted of my friend which is now in the museum in Brussels. I called it ‘Actor in a Trance,’ and if you look at the staring blue eyes of the figure you will perhaps understand what was behind the experience I am about to relate and which I cannot adequately describe in words. I saw his eyes open wide and, bewildered by the sudden, silent look of horror on my companion's face, I looked around. Over the whole square the bumps of the cobbles, each framed in shadow, reflected the moonlight, like the glistening scales of fish seen through the meshes of the net; only my own shadow had separated from my feet, as if the ground beneath me had started to move, and my shadow with it.

A moment of suspended consciousness. The only reason I can give is the agitation I have just described, the abnormal state of a young man suddenly, and for the first time, dragged into the screaming, raging maelstrom of a public brawl. The whole thing probably only lasted for fractions of a second: I appear to rise up into the air, vainly try to get my feet back on the ground, and am forced to move my whole body, finding myself eventually in a horizontal position with my left side pointing slightly toward the ground.

In water, or some other element heavier than air, there would have been nothing unnatural about it.

I did suffer from a similar delusion many years later, during the World War, after my sense of balance had been disrupted by a had wound which destroyed the labyrinth of the left inner ear, the organ controlling it. However, that abnormal reflex was still many years away, and, anyway, it had a perfectly natural explanation and corrected itself with time and experience.

On that night all those years ago my friend ran away. For a long time I bore him a grudge for the word ‘Liar!’ he had shouted at me, simply because, in an impossible situation, I had asked him to pull my feet back down to the ground. There was no one else around to help me, and I couldn't stay there for ever hovering in the air, in a logically impossible position.