The World as a Labyrinth


The Dark Side of Culture

Humanist thought, in which he believed to the last, was the weapon Gustav René Hocke deployed against both National Socialism and Communism. In 1937, the heyday of the Nazi era, he published Das geistige Paris (Spiritual Paris), a plea for European humanism and Franco-German reconciliation. Even then he shared Louis Pasteur’s belief that peace and science would pave the way to a better, more united Europe.

His visit to Italy in 1937 provided the incentive for Magna Graecia. Wanderungen durch das griechische Unteritalien (Magna Graecia. Travels in Greek Southern Italy, 1939). This travel diary describes a magical landscape abounding in natural beauty and cultural relics. It is a vivid portrait of the home of such eminent figures as Pythagoras.

As early as 1940, when the Kölnische Zeitung sent him to Rome as its correspondent, Gustav René Hocke began assembling material for his first work of fiction, Der tanzende Gott (The Dancing God). In this historical novel a young Greek physician becomes enmeshed in the toils of a tyranny—not only an exciting story but an evocation of Hocke’s experiences during the Nazi reign of terror. This book has been described by critics as one of the most important ‘desk-drawer manuscripts’ written under the dictatorial Nazi regime. Unable to be published until 1948, Der tanzende Gott exemplifies a writer’s inner emigration.

Gustav René Hocke embarked on his most productive years as an author after the war, when he was living in the Alban Hills. What began as an art-historical study of the Late Renaissance became a cult book. In Die Welt als Labyrinth (1957) and Manierismus in der Literatur (1959), Hocke laid down milestones in fantastic art.

Given the immense response to his books on Mannerism, one almost overlooks the fact that Gustav René Hocke was the author of other standard works. His Europäische Tagebücher (European Diaries, 1963) is the first scholarly overview of European diaries from the Renaissance to the present day. Its insight into the personalities of such prominent figures as Christopher Columbus, Queen Victoria and Gottfried Benn is an intimately multi-faceted and enthralling adventure.

In 1975 Hocke published Malerei der Gegenwart: Der Neomanierismus. Vom Surrealismus zur Meditation (Painting of the Present Day: Neomannerism. From Surrealism to Meditation). In this book, which is quite as electrifying as Die Welt als Labyrinth, he examines the artists who put more faith in their subjective power of imagination than in mere imitation of nature. Fantastic and visionary art derives from inward experience and is subjective. Idea-Kunst, or concept art, exists all over the world. This is attested by individual works by artists ranging from Ernst Fuchs to Fernando Botero and from Fabrizio Clerici to Elmar Hildebrand and many others.

Even Gustav René Hocke’s memoirs, Im Schatten des Leviathan (In the Shadow of the Leviathan), continue to attract considerable media attention decades after his death. Niklas Maak discussed the book extensively in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (16. 3. 2005) after its publication in an edited edition by Dr Detlef Haberland in 2004. As a critical observer, he brings a substantial part of the 20th century to life, to cite the verdict on Hocke’s autobiography in He was an observer who, for nearly a century, experienced Leviathan, the monster in the labyrinth, in numerous guises.