I don’t know how someone could come across Hubert Fichte today, or how he would come along, but it would be by foot in any case, this much is for sure, as Fichte himself told Rüdiger Wischenbart 1981 in an interview: “the most important body part in the life of a bisexual ethnologist and author when exploring a bicontinental culture are the feet.” I’ve not been on my feet very much, or not for quite some time. Feet, I told myself, are the epitome of the 1970s, the 1990s at best. Among the teens of the twenty-first century, feet aren’t that important anymore; feet, only a few use their feet, sometimes they’re there, sometimes they’re necessary, but in a city like Saõ Paulo they’ve become somewhat absurd. Even in Rio, the feet aren’t used there much anymore, and in Belém – well maybe in Belém – but basically I know that what I know about Belém is what I’ve read from Fichte. Yet, you could probably still say that you experience the most when you’re out and about on your feet, not just in the figurative sense, but also in reality. In the figurative sense that means making the effort to start a dialogue, looking for conversation, to scare up some simultaneity with the surroundings. However, the figurative sense is something Fichte would have raised an eyebrow at, or would have understood as a house of cards, something to be regarded like Hauchbildchen [extremely delicate, transparent sheets with scenes from the bible or prayers printed upon them], in bookcases upon which books behind books are hidden within books. “Hidden behind Schiller was Dr Rudolf Steiner: The Occult Science. Hidden behind Dr Rudolf Steiner: Heinrich Heine: The Rabbi of Bacherach.” (Detlev’s Imitations, p. 73)

 

By foot, you can discover something about the order of the world, the always-particular rules of urban space, of the public and the private, about transitions. Ultimately, these steps could lead to the Palette, one of Hamburg’s first underground bars, the place for all the odd birds, as no one would have even said at the time:

 

“Palette is ninety-eight to one hundred steps from the Gänsemarket […]

Jäcki’s first visit to Palette: Jäcki walks over the Gänsemarkt. Jäcki walks down the four steps. Jäcki closes the door.

The first visit lasts five minutes.

That’s not important for Palette. The five minutes could be twenty-nine visits or nine hundred visits which each last twelve hours or a second – between the creation and closing of Palette. In Palette everything is there.

Only the first five minutes are important for the narrative, that it’s the first five minutes from Jäcki’s such-and-such depicted visit, and it is important for Jäcki, who is in the middle of his visit, where he stands.” (Palette, pp. 7/14)

 

I felt similarly when reading Fichte, whose writing took a hold over me at first, and only revealed itself to me, little by little. Writing that, not coincidentally, takes up the traditions of hermetic writing but by strolling through it, in a manner of speaking.

 

Adequately describing this place, Palette, was the starting point for his eponymous novel, the hit novel, his bestseller, which was published only three years after his debut, Das Waisenhaus (The Orphanage), in 1968. Doing this properly, not full of clichés and half-truths or rumors, but rather realistically – which in this case included critical self-examination, simultaneously doing justice to the concrete and the historical, and giving space to both the window cleaner, Karl, and the Blume zu Saaron (flower of Saaron), creating an alphabet of the linguistic and physical gestures, subversive gestures of differentiation, of making connections and imitating, so that everything can be present for now, pure democracy of space, just not without distinction, but without judgement of distinction and origin.

 

Fichte himself had already made amazing transformations at a young age. From a half-orphan and a half-Jew hidden away in a Catholic orphanage during the era of National Socialism, to child actor at the Thalia Theater in postwar Hamburg, to becoming the “foster son” of Hans Henny Jahnn, and to a young French and Swedish farmer, who fled school, from gay to bisexual. It’s fair to say that he knew his way around metamorphoses, he knew how to move in the most varied of milieus, and he knew how salvific little signs could be. He didn’t believe in the essence, but rather in gestures, images, words.

 

Correspondingly, it won’t come as a surprise to hear that Hubert Fichte traveled through over 20 countries, by foot, by car, by plane, with Touropa and without, alone, but usually accompanied by his life partner, the photographer Leonore Mau. A literary legend, someone who can’t truly be grasped, but who still achieved enormous influence. After 1968, at the age of 33, he had already invested his status as a bestselling author in his travel and research project on syncretism, which seemed obscure at the time, and would later mutate into the Die Geschichte der Empfindlichkeit (The History of Sensitivity). He mutated into a centipede, so to speak.

 

Today he’s available in multiple iterations: as syncretism Fichte, as Palette Fichte, as the conversational Fichte, the Palais d’Amour Fichte, Hans Henny Jahnn Fichte, Daniel Casper von Lohenstein Fichte, reportage Fichte, and later as Thomas Meinecke and Klaus Sander Fichte, and I’m certain I’ve actually already met one or two of them. Had conversations with one or the other of them, which went on from around 1998 to around 2006, and then I calmed down a bit, but these different Fichtes just continued to correspond inside of me, putting their heads together and stepping back, shaking their heads, at some of the nonsense.

 

In this regard, a speech about Fichte here at the Literarisches Colloquium can only be radically subjective, well not radical, but subjective, for this is ultimately one of his places, his locations, of the literary showdown of a former literary-objectivizing event, Group 47 – the examination of the canonical value of texts. There are scenes reminiscent of a summer camp, which one can read about in Die zweite Schuld (The Second Guilt).

 

Overall, his material was about travel – whether such in his own past, or into the system of the literary business in Villa Massimo [a German cultural institution in Rome], in the art scene of New York, or in the syncretistic candomblés in Brazil, or to the Place of the Hanged in Morocco – there was always this system of observation and notation, the first impression.

 

“A veil of sea spray.

Two meters high.

It appeared to Jäcki. The sun pierced it.

The skyscrapers shook.

The cars honked.

The wave collapsed.

The next one splashed up between the towers.

This was Copacabana – a clogged main artery,

full of exhaust fumes that were named after the Holy Virgin,

naked wet Africans, naked glittering Indians, naked

Portuguese, covered with beads.

Mini slips billowing, surfboards in the blue, black fog.

Between the busses, an aznavourepigone bellows out chansons of ardency and

rain forest

And at the end of every street canyon the illuminated second-ling towers of

Sea spray.” (Explosion, p. 9)

 

Extremely sensual, concrete, rhythmic, and brilliantly assembled. And yet: in relation to Fichte, one apparently still likes to imagine an audience where it’s not necessary, one thinks of the ethnologists, the postcolonial people, the gender and queer factions, and I’m not alone in this. I’ve even been asked about it at readings – and been placed automatically in the ethnologist camp, whatever that might mean about me (I’d always prefer to be placed in the freak camp …). The unquestionable fact is that for a long time people “just came” to a Fichte reading; in other words, they came for aesthetic reasons, because they were interested in literature.

 

The same for me, it was precisely his aesthetic that intrigued me. He developed this from the baroque style of a Caspar David von Lohenstein and Hans Henny Jahnn, pushing between the most different of mannerisms to the edge of a sensual, crystal-clear, analytic-type language, someone bringing a sense of the Enlightenment, revealing a realist, and someone who truly understood something about reality. Self-enlightenment helped him out in making description concrete, in putting forward the egalitarian treatment of needs, of the erotic, and offering a clear awareness of power hierarchies and practices of submission. One’s own searching and curiosity, an enjoyment of travel, the question of rites, these formed the underlying movement that all other movements could meet. They were alternative versions to that which I at any rate already believed I knew, and in that respect, it had an enormously liberating effect.

 

“Suddenly – but perhaps prepared by material slowly floating to the surface – I discover that all of my previous attempts only betrayed a single movement: finding my way back to earlier layers.

I resolved, from then on, to divide actions into the magical and that which had been removed from the magical.

(Although I slightly transformed the concept of the magical for my uses.)

I thought about if my conceptions of the puberty of ritualizations were like the symbolic language of eagle-winged, poisons oath and the painting of novices.” (Versuch über die Pubertät, p. 9)

 

The division of the world into the magical and non-magical presented the possibility of ordering social relations: Allowing the ritualization and symbolic language of priests to stand as gestures of resistance and putting the art of survival in the favelas with this, to interpret one another, was the first order. The everyday enactment of people in puberty was the second; and putting people, without staging, on vacation, in relation to linguistic magic orders, this was the third order. His verbalization of the world was tied to these three orders, but also, with this, was the very precise and patient observation of an ethnologist, who understood self-observation as an integral part of his art.

 

In his texts I repeatedly encounter his way of asking, always close to an interrogation, but not quite there, insistent, soft, and yet consequential. I always have Fichte’s tone in my ear. After all, you can listen to the interviews from the Palais d’Amour, or the conversations with Lil Picard, which have been released by the audio publisher called suppose. The art of dialogue decisively influenced his style. It was pop, without a doubt, not only playing with all kinds of literary and media forms, from radio play (school radio!) to surahs from the Quran, to the essay, but also he wrote, to the extent that I’m correctly informed, the first German-language interview novel together with Wolli Köhler, the second with Hans Eppendorfer. Der Ledermann spricht mit Hubert Fichte (The Leatherman Talks to Hubert Fichte). He hides the third right in Explosion, in which a literal architecture of the literary interview is to be found. Finally, he inserts the 1973 interview with Salvador Allende in his residence, which became famous, within the thwarted one with Jorge Luis Borges in the Argentinian National Library, and closes with the precarious conversation he had with Allende’s former minister on the deck of a car lot ten years after Allende’s murder. Conversations surround conversations and contradict them, the spoken shifts to the written, and then this back into the spoken. The Proustian questionnaire has to travel through the mouth of the pimp and socialist bordello operator, Wolli Köhler. This, of course, is systematic.

 

Even today, it’s still astounding what can happen in a conversation, most of all when the tape is running! Through him, at least, I was able to become familiar with the ping-pong system that is literature, which consists of not only a single bouncing ball but of many. Carrying out conversations in order to jumpstart the dialogical system of literature, to escape the fictional forcing, which is usually tinged by the somewhat un-erotic. “First of all, become familiar with the world – perceive! Set yourself into motion, but never ignore hegemony, the tension of power structures through our bodies, and never make decision makers too personal in a talk show manner! Discover orders, aesthetic orders, engage yourself with the verbalization of the world within, and make a system of it!” I literally hear him saying this, even if he never would have put it in that way; as a matter of principle, he gave no instructions to younger writers, only to teachers. At least once, a teacher gave me a cassette recorded from the radio, a Fichte session from Bad Mergentheim in Southern Germany, to which I was allowed to listen, as far as I can recall. At any rate, one can read about the techniques in Explosion:

 

“Jäcki learned all of the silence.

The lists,

The traps

The secondary rites that develop under the ethnologists, along the gods’ rites

like the favelas around the luxurious houses of the former capitol

He learned the gaucheness

The economy of the question

The purposefulness

The precision, disarming, the cut in the face in consciousness

The overwhelming

Jäcki acted as if he was patient. 

Jäcki found all of the clutter of a mental colonization interesting enough because he repeated, a he believed, four hundred years of colonialism once again in four months, so that he hesitated whether he wouldn’t prefer to make this, the fever and flaccidity of the white, the heat, the ethnologists’ sweating, the focus of his research, instead of the ur-material, the bloodbath, the feces soup, the slaughtered dachshund

But that didn’t stand isolated.

he kings of Abomey wanted to have guns, too, after all.

A gun for a prisoner of war, a slave.

Jäcki wasn’t interested in purity. (Explosion, p. 195f.)

 

Clearly, Fichte always knew to whom he was talking. He also knew that something stronger than him inhabited the interview: “You don’t write the interview yourself, it’s done for you,” he noted in Der kleine Hauptbahnhof (The Little Central Train Station). An interview is always simultaneously a self-portrait of the interviewer, Fichte’s typical precision and the follow-up questions tell us several things about him. Yet what good fortune: “Jäcki isn’t interested in purity.”

 

Bi-

In Othmarschen writing about the candomblé.

Thinking of Mario via Irma.

Bicontinentality.

One complete.

Jäcki couldn’t do it.

Jäcki considered purity terrible

Purity doesn’t exist. (Explosion, p. 336)

 

This Fichte-like turning away from the principle of purity was one of my aesthetic eye-openers, as they say. Turning away from the principle of purity as a program of realism. The syllable “bi-” in front of every gesture. The two directions simultaneously. The two time zones, the two faces. That presumably is exactly what still motivates me now, over ten years since my occupation with Fichte began.

 

For me, Hubert Fichte simply appeared to be someone who trusted himself. He encouraged me, in how far he went, how much he was able to enable his own aesthetic research, how he went down precarious paths, and most of all how he tied everything together, which I initially was not able to accomplish. There was the presumptuousness of travel, that of the autobiographical – he made the little pronoun “I” so much the focus, surrounded by all the emotionality of the 1980s. There was the presumptuousness of research and that of tying worlds together through aesthetics: Geschichte der Empfindlichkeit (The History of Sensitivity), a syncretistic megastructure, an aesthetic global system, a roman-fleuve, a monumental work slated for its 19 volumes. An epic monster, as the baroque and mannerism scholar Gustav René Hocke might have put it. A verbalization of the world one must think of, a poetic anthropology.

 

In Explosion, Fichte replies to the questions of Dieter E. Zimmer from the weekly newspaper Die Zeit:

 

Dieter E. Zimmer: So you’re writing on single book, a roman-fleuve, of which only fragments only exist to date?

Hubert Fichte: Yes. Roman-fleuve? ‘River without banks’? Perhaps ‘delta novel.’

Dieter E. Zimmer: What should this novel be called?

Hubert Fichte: ‘The touristic development in the second half of the twentieth century.’

Dieter E. Zimmer: Excuse me?

Hubert Fichte: Aside from a few exceptions, there are two groups of people: Those who travel with Touropa and those who plunder military canteens because they’re hungry. I’m concerned with depicting the development of the first group and its reaction to the second. (Explosion, pp. 216–223)

 

I’d like to call out immediately: “that’s so current!” Yet I don’t, because “current” is pretty much the worse word one can think of using in relation to Fichte. The entire tourismization we’re increasingly stuck in, lives from the current now-we’re-even-colonizing-time, and we visit the contemporary like an experiential process which is one it seems we can consume especially well. In this way, Fichte isn’t contemporary, and yet he’s completely present. In the sense of a moment of crisis, a searching, a path towards a decision.

 

I’ve never understood why he hasn’t been received more widely. For a long time, I thought, “Now’s the time for Fichte! Why is he still considered a marginal figure?” There’s no real answer, not even his publisher Fischer Verlag is at fault: they’ve reprinted most of his oeuvre and made it accessible in paperback editions. It would be nice if it were not just the syncretism people speaking up in Fichte’s space, not just the ethnologists, and the homosexuals, but also if everyone spoke up altogether, in a manner of speaking. But that’s perhaps the most unreasonable utopia that could arise from a heterosexual brain.