About explorers and voodoo – literature and lectures

In his book “Jungle Night Noises”, Hans Christoph Buch collects a wide variety of texts.

“The theme was born to me,” writes Hans Christoph Buch in the preface. True, Buch’s grandmother comes from Haiti, in his extensive novels (by no means only in his Haitian novels) and in numerous essays he is constantly treated with issues of postcolonialism and colonial history, has characteristics and origins of a “structural or systemic racism”. analyzed and, not coincidentally, in 1990 he devoted his lectures on poetry in Frankfurt to the topic “Proximity and distance – building blocks for a poetics of the colonial gaze”.

Buch, born in 1944, has always been an extraordinary political author. As a Crisis and War Reporter, he reported for the leading German daily newspapers from what Joseph Conrad called the “heart of darkness”: Rwanda, Liberia, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Nigeria. , Cambodia, Bosnia, Nicaragua, Paraguay and again and again Haiti. “I mutated,” as the wording in the preface of his new book tries to underestimate, “from a writer to a war reporter, an experience that leaves not only scratches but also wounds in the soul.”

“Jungle Night Noises” is a collection of different, a mosaic of texts extremely different in content and form: classic reportage, often characterized by journalistic routine to the subtle structure of language, perhaps even editorial instructions; Essays (e.g. a “Short History of the Voodoo Cult”), revision, portrait, controversy, pamphlet, and – the concise parts of the volume – those rhapsodic narratives, so to speak, that soften factual historical tradition and enrich history with one dimension . of possibility, that is, the expansion of history – in pure fiction. In these miniatures of prose, war reporter Hans Christoph Buch turns into a writer – and that’s a good thing, because that’s where he comes in as a great storyteller.

In “Sudden Reunion” he imagines a meeting between the explorer and great explorer Alexander von Humboldt and the French scientist and botanist Aim Bonpland, dated 13 September 1857, which never took place but which aptly characterizes the two heroes of the history of science. . Buch uses the autobiography of the sailor Hark Olufs, published in 1747, as the material basis for a miniature historical adventure adventure novel. In “Fr Kaiser und Reich” he lets an Askari, a colonial soldier, tell his life – and thus reflects the colonial history of East German Africa with portraits by Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and Carl Peters. With stories like this, swinging between historical facts and fictional additions, Buch solves the corsets of historical tradition – for him, history is an invention for which reality provides the materials.

“Night Jungle Noises” is also an important contribution to current discussions on colonial history and, above all, a well-aimed attack on a political correctness characterized above all by linguistic rules and historical distortions. What Buch calls “postcolonial discourse” seems to be increasingly being mastered, not just in Germany, by the linguistic police of a noisy Woke movement and an ideologically rigid culture of annulment that misunderstands the current misery of a number of African states. as a legacy. of the colonial era. Buch argues, referring to the era of independence in Africa during the late 1950s and early 1960s: “Supporters of the Woke movement trivialize or relativize the shocking reality of civil wars and ethnic massacres.”

Even the continent’s only economic giant, South Africa, has long been affected by what Hans Christoph Buch describes as “Africa’s fundamental evils”: “tribalism, corruption and brutality”. Two generations after the euphorically celebrated independence, the nation-building process has not even begun in most African countries, and can be seen little or not at all by the good governance often used in development cooperation.

Hans Christoph Buch: Jungle noises at night. Postcolonial notes. Transit Verlag, Berlin 2022. 192 pages,
20 euro.

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