Precious Pieces about Weininger
Mostly gleaned from Sex, Science, and Self in Imperial
a Doctoral dissertation by Chandak Sengoopta,
Johns Hopkins University, 1996
- Otto was a brilliant student in high school (Gymnasium), exhibiting a special flair for the humanities. Later,
he also developed a keen interest in the natural sciences and mathematics. He possessed his parents' talent for
languages and at eighteen, apart from German, knew Latin and Greek, spoke French, English, and Italian well, and
was fluent in Spanish and Norwegian. At age sixteen, he wrote an etymological essay on certain Greek adjectives
found only in Homer and attempted unsuccessfully to publish it in a leading philological journal of the time. He
was not, however, a model schoolboy. He frequently disturbed classroom teaching and followed his own inclinations
in his studies, rarely paying heed to his teachers. "My pleasure in 'hell-raising' in class is my pleasure
in chaos," Weininger noted in his pocket notebook in 1903.
- After graduating from high school in 1898, Otto enrolled in the Philosophical Faculty of the University of
Vienna, ignoring his father's wish that he study languages. Otto also joined the Philosophical Society of the university,
which organized weekly lectures on diverse scholarly (and not just narrowly philosophical) subjects.
- A deeply serious young man, Weininger derived his greatest pleasure from discussion of the most difficult philosophical
subjects with his friends. His friend Hermann Swoboda wrote: "He was quite indefatigable as he brought up
question after question during our frequent small parties, which lasted late into the night or into the early morning.
Abstract regions, from which others would turn away with a cold shiver, were his real home. He was, in short, a
passionate thinker, the prototype of a thinker." (H. Swoboda, Otto Weiningers Tod, Vienna: Deuticke,
1911, pp. 6-7.)
- Weininger had little obvious interest in current events: "I never saw him reading a newspaper", Swoboda
recalled. Another friend, Emil Lucka, observed that happiness was foreign to Weininger's nature, although he did
enjoy the beauty of nature and the music of the great composers. Swoboda, however, denied this, saying that Weininger,
initially, was no stranger to happiness. It was only later that his personality changed.
- In the autumn of 1901, Weininger approached Sigmund Freud with an outline for Sex and Character. Seemingly
unimpressed by Weininger's arguments, Freud refused to recommend publication, and advised Weininger to spend "ten
years" gathering empirical evidence for his assertions. "The world", Freud said, "wants evidence,
not thoughts". Weininger retorted that he would prefer to write ten other books in the next ten years.
Weininger once said in a letter to Swoboda: "How could I possibly prove facts. Facts can
only be indicated."
What Freud didn't tell Weininger was that he himself planning to publish on the subject of bisexuality.
- Shortly after the publication of his book Weininger said to a friend "There are three possibilities for
me - the gallows, suicide, or a future so brilliant that I don't dare to think of it".
- Sexologist Ivan Bloch noted that the urge to affirm a "masculine culture" was leading even some heterosexual
men to renounce women in horror. Such people, according to Bloch, almost belonged to a "fourth sex".
He saw the philosophy of Schopenhauer as the intellectual fountainhead of this pathological fear of the feminine,
and the work of August Strindberg and Otto Weininger as its most full-blown expressions.
- Despite the unpleasant associations Weininger's name must have had for him and despite his own distaste for
Weininger's theories, Freud always acknowledged Weininger's gifts. After his suicide, Freud described him as a
"slender, grown-up youth with grave features and a veiled, quite beautiful look in his eyes; I could not help
feeling that I stood in front of a personality with a touch of the genius".
- The metaphysics of sexual love and feminine psychology, observed Richard Nordhausen in the Münchener
Neueste Nachrichten, had never been treated with such monstrous brutality or acuity as in Weininger's book.
"But", he said, "one must must, must read this book".
- George Worth, in his book Ways to Love (1940) said that Sex and Character was "an unparalleled
crime against humanity".
- August Strindberg contributed twice to Die
Fackel's discussion of Weininger. The first was a letter of July 1903 from Strindberg to his German translator
Emil Schering. Here Strindberg informed Schering that Weininger had sent him a copy of Sex and Character,
which Strindberg had found to be a "frightening" book that had "probably solved the hardest of all
problems". To Weininger himself, Strindberg sent a postcard offering heartfelt thanks for at last solving
the "Woman Problem". Strindberg's letters were followed by his obituary of Weininger. In this deeply-felt
tribute, Strindberg said that only the mentally retarded would doubt the superiority of the male sex over the female:
all the spiritual and material riches of humanity had been created by males. Woman's love for man, Strindberg opined,
was "50% animal heat and 50% hate". Woman was negative and passive, whereas man was positive and active.
Otto Weininger had rediscovered and reported this "well-known secret" in his "virile" book.
This discovery of the "essence and nature of woman", Strindberg surmised, had cost Weininger his life.
- The reviewer for the Deutsches Volksblatt (identified only as Dr. H. F.) was less enthusiastic and censured
Weininger for drawing untenable conclusions. "The rose had its thorns but was still the empress of flowers",
he remarked. Women, too, for all their flaws, were not the amoral, soulless beings described in Weininger's treatise.
After providing a fairly comprehensive overview of the argument of Sex and Character, the reviewer concluded:
"Only prophets and philosophers can be so gruesome".
- A very early notice in the Neues Wiener Tageblatt described Sex and Character as "very stimulating,
educational and despite everything, full of truths". Another anonymous reviewer in the Weiner Allgemeine
Zeitung described the book as "one of the most noteworthy and most original books ever written."
- The European literary intelligentsia of the fin de siècle did not always agree with Weininger but they
treated Sex and Character with great respect. Ford Madox Ford described the English translation of the work
as "the most important, as it is the most singular, of contributions to the modern literature on the sex question".
Ford reminisced that around 1906, in the men's clubs of England and in the cafés of France and Germany --
" . . . one began to hear singular mutterings amongst men . . . The idea was that a new gospel had appeared.
I remember sitting with a table full of overbearing intellectuals in that year, and they at once began to talk
-- about Weininger. It gave me a singular feeling because they all talked under their breaths."
- Weininger's literary influence was not confined to Central Europe. In the United States, the poet William Carlos
Williams decided to marry a woman he did not love because he had learned from Sex and Character that sexual
affinity, rather than love, was the most important bond between Man and Woman. Also influenced by Weininger's conviction
that a man with sufficient power of will could develop into a genius, Williams believed that it was only his weakness
for women that prevented him from attaining genius.
- In her well-known work, The Female Eunuch, the feminist scholar Germaine Greer describes Sex and
Character as "a remarkably rigorous and committed book by a mere boy". Greer says that "the
most chastening reflection is that Weininger was simply describing what he saw in female behavior around him .
. . All the moral deficiencies Weininger detected masqueraded in Victorian society as virtues. Weininger is to
be credited with describing them properly". Greer then agrees with Weininger's contentions on the illogicality
and emotionality of Woman but argues that these traits, instead of being disadvantages, are actually advantageous.
Alluding to Weininger's belief that the absolute female lacks an ego, Greer exclaims: "If women had no ego,
if they had no separation from the rest of the world, no repression and no regression, how nice that would be!"
Greer illustrates most perfectly with this comment that even the most masculine
of women (herself) have almost no masculinity in them at all. The truly masculine ego wishes to overcome itself,
but the feminine ego wishes to annihilate itself - or rather, wishes to be annihilated. Man wishes to go forth and conquer death, but Woman will never even enter
into the world. - K.S
- Some philosophers believed that there was some method to Weininger's madness. The German-Jewish Marxist philosopher
Ernst Bloch (1885-1977), for example, said that Weininger was driven by "the most vehement misogyny known
- Ludwig Wittgenstein grew up in Vienna and his adolescence
coincided with the period when the Weininger "cult" was at its height. He wrote in 1931 in a private
notebook that he had never "invented" a novel line of thought. "I have always taken over from someone
else", he observed, appending a list of his sources of intellectual stimuli, which included physicists Ludwig
Boltzmann and Heinrich Hertz, cultural critic Karl Kraus
(who was one of Weininger's main supporters), architect Adolf Loos, historian Oswald Spengler, and philosophers
Arthur Schopenhauer, Gottlob Frege, and Otto Weininger.
- Wittgenstein enthusiastically recommended Sex and Character to his peers. When philosopher G. E. Moore
reacted critically, Wittgenstein responded: "I can quite imagine that you don't admire Weininger very much,
what with that beastly translation and the fact that W. must feel very foreign to you. It is true that he is fantastic
but he is great and fantastic."
- SUGGESTED READING -
I. Works by Otto Weininger
II. Other Reading
- Sex and Character, (Download the English translation)
Geschlecht und Charakter : Eine prinzipielle Untersuchung. Reprint of 1st ed (1903). Munich: Matthes &
- Über die letzten Dinge (On Things Ultimate). 2nd ed. Edited by Moriz Rappaport. Vienna: Wilhelm
- Taschenbuch und Briefe an einen Freund. (Notebook and Letters to a Friend) Edited by Arthur Gerber.
Leipzig: Tal, 1919.
- Lucka, Emil. Otto Weininger - Sein Werk und seine Persönlichkeit
3rd ed. Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1921.
- Otto Weininger: Sex, Science
and Self in Imperial Vienna by Chandak Sengoopta, 2000
- Monk, Ray. Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. New York: Free Press, 1990.
- Swoboda, Hermann. Otto Weiningers Tod (Otto Weininger's Death). Vienna: Deuticke, 1911.
- Abrahamsen, David. The Mind and Death of a Genius. New York: Columbia University Press, 1946.
- Le Rider, Jacques. Der Otto Weininger: Wurzeln des Antifeminismus und Antisemitismus. Translated from
the French by Dieter Hornig. Vienna: Löcker Verlag, 1985.
- Harrowitz, Nancy A and Hyams, Barbara (eds). Jews and Gender: Responses to Otto Weininger. (Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 1995), pp. 35-58.]
Most of the books written about Weininger are unashamedly mob-minded character assassinations produced by standard
academics. A good example of this is Jews and Gender, Responses to Otto
Weininger eds. Nancy A. Harrowitz and Barbara Hyams, and The Mind and Death of a Genius by David Abrahamsen,
listed above. This academic literature is full to the brim of accusations that Weininger is racist, anti-Semitic,
sexist, misogynist, antifeminist, homosexual, cowardly, unoriginal, a plagiarist, schizophrenic, a loser, a Jewish
self-hater, sadistic, sexually perverted, politically motivated, . . . and so on. Nevertheless it
is interesting to read the views of these academics in that they provide an extreme contrast by which Weininger's
ideas can be more fully appreciated.
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Kevin Solway: e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org