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  • Homosexuality and the Manly Absolute:Hanns Fuchs on Richard Wagner
  • Mitchell Morris (bio)

Hanns Fuchs was a voluminous writer, to say the least. Born in 1881, he began publishing at the age of eighteen. Between his first short story (1899) and his Wagnerian gay romance Eros zwischen euch und uns (Eros between you and us, 1909), he wrote more than twenty essays, monographs, poems, novels, and plays. Sometimes he wrote under the pseudonyms Hanns Harro or Hanns Passeyer. Just as often, he used most of his birth name: Hanns Fuchs (-Stadthagen). Sometime after 1909, he disappeared, maybe while traveling in the Ottoman Empire. No one ever heard from him again; in 1930 he was declared dead by a court in Darmstadt.

From the first, Fuchs's writings showed a constant interest in questions of sexual definition. (Homo) sexual apologetics was, after all, a relatively new form of [End Page 328] discourse. In 1859, when the third (expanded) edition of The World as Will and Representation appeared, Schopenhauer had already added a somewhat tolerant account of the genesis of homosexuality to his discussion of the "Metaphysics of Sexual Love." The jurist and writer Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs began writing defenses of same-sex love in the early 1860s, coining the term "Urning" out of Symposium to describe men attracted to other men (who are controlled by celestial love, Aphrodite ourania). Plato's Pausanias justified heavenly, Aphroditic love as higher than its earthly counterpart, not only because the former was a matter between men—a crucial concern in masculinist fifth-century Athens—but also because it elevated spirit above matter and produced not needful (thus vulgar) children of the body, but rather loftier children of the mind. There was an important divergence between Ulrichs's concept and the Platonistic term he derived from the dialogues, however. Plato's Pausanias praises Aphrodite ourania precisely because it occurs between men, without a real woman in sight; by implication, then, it is the purity of same-sex relationships that is part of their value. Ulrichs understood same-sex attraction as the result of a mixture of constitutional cross-gendering.

Ulrichs's Urnings were male persons with feminine attributes in their psyches; "female Urnings" possessed women's bodies and masculine souls. An Urning, therefore, inevitably experienced a kind of interior heterosexuality: even between two males, a woman was involved. (Did this mean that two Urnings together engaged in a lesbian relationship?) This was not the kind of explanation that would suit writers (like Pausanias, presumably) interested in conceptualizing same-sex relationships as distillations of masculinity or femininity. Moreover, the postulation of various mixtures of interior and exterior women and men could quickly mushroom into complete confusion all on its own. The cultural need to entertain incommensurate explanations—generalized transgendered desire versus concentrated gender separatism—inevitably presented problems to apologists who followed Ulrichs's ideas closely.

Fellow activist Karl-Maria Kartbeny would soon invent another label for people inclined towards same-sex desires—"homosexual." And this term, aiming at simple description rather than elaborate metaphysical justification, stuck around. But well into the twentieth century, the term, Urning, had its advocates. It is with Ulrichs and Kartbeny, their explanations and defenses, and their new terms, that attempts began to reduce legal persecution of homosexual relations between men in the German-speaking lands; this campaign served as an important model for social reform elsewhere, particularly in the United States and Great Britain. The most crucial figure in American cultural terms was of course Walt Whitman, who celebrated manly comradery—"adhesiveness"—as the foundation of democracy. In a more scientific vein, fin-de-siècle English writers such as J. A. Symonds and Havelock Ellis worked on analyses and justifications of same-sex love. Back [End Page 329] in the German-speaking lands, the medicalization of homosexuality proceeded with even greater rapidity. Richard von Krafft-Ebing's taxonomic enterprise, Psychopathia sexualis, gave aid and comfort to sexual dissidents even while it might be seen to have pathologized them.

And what about music? Wagner himself had made a few suggestive comments on "Greek love" in "The Art-Work of the Future"— comments picked up by lampooners and homophiles alike. Consider these passages...


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