Hans W. Fischer
Brandenburg was a friend of Hans W. Fischer, and for a couple of years (1920–1921) they worked together to support the ventures of the Münchener Tanzgruppe, based in Hamburg, where Fischer lived. Fischer (1876–1945) began his literary career with dramas about the mythic aura of technology, including Flieger (1913) and Der Motor (1919). Brandenburg regarded Fischer's epic poem Das Schwert (1920) as the finest piece of literature about the Great War. By 1920, Fischer was reviewing dance and theatre productions for the Neue Hamburger Zeitung , and Hamburger Kulturbilderbogen (1924) compiled his vivid descriptions of the lively dance and theatre culture in Hamburg during the early years of the republic. In Das Tanzbuch (1924) he organized his thinking about dance around abstract categories—folk dance, the female dancer, the absolute dance, the group dance, and so forth—rather than, as Brandenburg had done, around dance personalities. His thinking on the abstract level, however, was not especially original or insightful; his writing was much less verbose than Brandenburg's but also much less "demonic." Moreover, Das Tanzbuch , like his Hamburg book, contained no pictures (instead, he appended the scenarios for three of his "dance plays"). Thus, Fischer did not ground the idea of dance very deeply in the mechanics and materiality of specific performances or pieces.
His major strength as a critic lay in his skill at associating a distinct message with a dancer's personality and style of dancing, even if he did not analyze particular performances or contradictions within the style. For example: "Valeska Gert dances the world of the cabaret, the bar, the loft, the circus, and the operetta, in short, all the amusements of civilization, behind whose glowing arc-lamps menaces the desolate darkness of sordid streets . . . constructed with fantastic certainty of instinct and given with diabolical joy" (57). On Sent M'ahesa and Ruth St. Denis: "How far removed is her studied boredom from the exoticism of Ruth St. Denis! [St. Denis] does not exude the contrived aura of incense clouding an art studio,
but the fragrance of the jungle, the menagerie, and even the cabaret, with its mixed blood attractions—wildness, conjuring, insolence, captivation, intimidation, and a bit of the cheap bazaar" (45). Nikolaus and Suhr had already introduced this technique of ascribing meanings to personalities rather than to dances, but Fischer's literary skill surpassed theirs. His chief contribution to theory was to associate the voice of the spectator with a vivid, metaphorical language of meaning rather than with the analytical language that exposes the techniques used in making meaning.
But Fischer's hugely popular Körperschonheit und Körperkultur (1928), containing nearly 200 photographs, revealed a fundamental tension within him. He masterfully described numerous categories of sport and athletic activity in great technical detail and from the athlete's perspective without, however, describing the personalities of athletes, who consistently remained generic identities—the rower, the motorcyclist, the swimmer. But when, in the second half, he focused on categories of dance, he reverted to his convention of ascribing meaning to personalities rather than to dances or even dance techniques. Unlike the theoretical categories for sport, the theoretical categories for dance seemed empty of meaning in themselves, entirely dependent on personalities to bestow value on them. Some chapter-categories, such as those for folk dance and social dance, contained no discussion of personalities, but the curious, journalistic blandness of his writing in these sections perhaps inadvertently disclosed that these categories of dance did not produce distinctive personalities. The value of any category of dance derived from its power to reveal an interesting personality.
Fischer could describe well the personalities issuing from dance, but he lacked the temperament to describe differences in value between generic movement techniques and techniques unique to the dancer and performance. All along he sensed that abstract categories of dance possessed their own meanings, but he could not identify them persuasively. His literary inclinations perhaps dominated his perception: he saw the referent, not the sign; he saw what Gert signified, not how she signified; he saw what the dance evoked in his imagination, not the dance. Probably this affection for the imaginary urged him toward the mythic image of the body advanced by National Socialism. He upheld this image himself in Götter und Helden (1934), and in Lachendes Heimat (1933) he compiled wit and humor ascribed to the healthy disposition of an idealized Nordic race. With Menschenschönheit (1935), a large, luxurious production with nearly 400 illustrations, Fischer explored "the secret of beauty" in the human body, examining images of (mostly female) bodies from cultures and eras around the world in an effort to identify the abstract, generic, "natural" values of the "well-created body," which transcends all cultural difference. What made bodies beautiful, he concluded, was neither nature nor culture but will, the
conscious act of disciplining the body to fulfill the image of an ideal, of an imaginary identity. Though the ideal itself was subject to cultural relativism, the will was not—the will was relative only to personalities and therefore only to bodies, not to cultures. "The stronger the will to beauty is, the stronger it forms a [beautiful] manifestation" (72). In this sentence lies the limitation in Fischer's mode of theorizing: the will to manifest beauty becomes confused with the will to see the manifestation; the generic category of the will collapses the difference between sign and referent; though Fischer's assertion about the relation between will and beauty seems correct, his language does not.