Is it possible that feelings and impressions can enter a process of restitution? Can one reverse the gaze that Hubert Fichte (1935–1986) cast on Afro-diasporic cultures? What possibilities open up and what limits are encountered by ethnopoetic self-reflection and a utopianly conceived homosexuality when employed as research tools?
Since 2017, the project Hubert Fichte: Love and Ethnology has explored these questions. It takes its starting point in Fichte’s unfinished “Die Geschichte der Empfindlichkeit” [The History of Sensitivity], which spans – depending on how you count – nineteen to twenty-four volumes in a cycle of novels and other texts that focuses on Afro-diasporic arts and religions on the one hand, and a global utopia of (sexual) sensitization on the other. However, due to a lack of translations, the cycle has failed to reach a large part of its potential audience – readers in the locations visited by Fichte and his partner Leonore Mau along the Black Atlantic. In the context of Love and Ethnology, texts from “The History of Sensitivity” were translated for the first time, forming the basis for critical discussions of Fichte’s writing in these locations. Out of these translations, exhibitions emerged in in Lisbon, Salvador da Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago de Chile, Dakar, and New York, organized by various locally active curators and artists.
The exhibition at HKW concludes this project. It gathers contributions from these earlier project iterations, situating them in the context of local discussions about histories of the avant-garde and ethnology, as well as about the conceptual foundations for the revision of Eurocentric canons of art history and knowledge production.
The German writer Hubert Fichte must be seen as a forerunner of today’s postcolonial and queer discourses. However, he was by no means the only person to employ poetic means to meet the challenge of the ethnological encounter and the transgression of cultural boundaries—and in the process critically dispense with the aloofness and distance promoted by scientific objectivity. His approach was to instead inscribe one’s own desires into the method of presentation. The declared aim of Fichte’s materialist poetics, with its focus on the factual, was to convert the separation of the observer and the observed into a dialectical process of language and sexuality.
Although he relentlessly pursued certain questions relating to desire as a will to knowledge, Fichte nevertheless managed to subject his goals and projects to constant revision. However, two themes remained stable: firstly West Africa, in particular the Bight of Benin, not just as the origin of a rich culture of spirituality and resistance that continued to flourish in the African diaspora, but also as a direct source of Egyptian and European antiquity- witnessed “by my friend Herodotus,” the traveling historian of the “Old World.” The second overarching topic of Hubert Fichte was “the oldest revolutionary movement,” the one by homo- and bisexual people.
Fichte’s vision of a “gayification of the world,” and a program of “impurity” has lost none of its relevance in light of the terror that continues to be wrought by heteronormative dichotomies and the identitarian drawing of borders. However, as is explored in this project, Fichte’s position highlights the problem of how colonial structures and power relations are reproduced in their critiques. Ultimately, in order to employ Fichte as an agent of decolonization, Fichte himself must also be decolonized.