Synopses & Reviews
Turn-of-the century Vienna is remembered as an aesthetic, erotic, and intellectual world: the birthplace of Freud and psychoanalysis, the waltz, and novels of Schnitzler. The contexts of this cultural vibrancy, Chandak Sengoopta argues, were darker and more complex than we might imagine.
This provocative, enlightening study explores the milieu in which the philosopher Otto Weininger (1880-1903) wrote his controversial book Sex and Character. Shortly after its publication, Weininger committed suicide at the age of twenty-three. His book, which argued that women and Jews were mere sexual beings who lacked individuality, became a bestseller.
Hailed as a genius by intellectuals such as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Kraus, Weininger was admired, not for his prejudices, but for his engagement with the central issues of the timeand#8212;the nature and meanings of identity. Sengoopta pays particular attention to how Weininger appropriated scientific language and data to defend his views and examines the scientific theories themselves.
and#8220;Sengoopta presents a learned, modest and sensible account of Weiningerand#8217;s major work. . . . It is a major contribution to the literature on this extraordinary icon of early twentieth-century Vienna.and#8221;
and#8220;[Sengoopta] takes Weiningerand#8217;s scientific interests seriously, and in a series of finely crafted readings locates Weiningerand#8217;s concerns within a constellation of fields ranging from experimental psychology to research on sex glands, and the study of homosexuality.and#8221;
“Sengoopta, in his highly informative study, convincingly shows that Geschlecht und Charakter is a ‘serious, comprehensive, and emotionally charged ideological critique of modernity in general and of womens emancipation in particular.”—Volker Depkat, H-Net Reviews Andreas Killen - German-Studies Review
and#8220;[This] study contributes to our understanding of Weininger by locating him more precisely in the context of late nineteenth-century medicine and biology. Sengoopta clarifies the historical standardand#8212;especially scientific, but also moraland#8212;against which to read Weininger, and he makes this peculiar writer comprehensible by providing a realistic sense of his scientific frame of reference.and#8221;
and#8220;Sengoopta has done something I would have considered impossible: he convinced me, by tracing the roots of Weiningerand#8217;s thought, that it was worthwhile to read his book about a man I had considered unworthy of serious study. . . . I would hazard the conclusion that, despite his rabidness, Weininger articulated some main currents of thought . . . and that his work is relevant today as a jumping off point for explorations of issues that still concern us.and#8221;
and#8220;Sengoopta, in his highly informative study, convincingly shows that andlt;Iandgt;Geschlecht und Charakterandlt;Iandgt; is a and#8216;serious, comprehensive, and emotionally charged ideological critique of modernity in general and of womenand#8217;s emancipation in particular.and#8217;and#8221;
The year 1900, fin de siand#232;cle, in Europe evokes polar thoughts: on the one hand, sensational slashers and femmes fatales, destitute and dangerous new urban districts, criminal violence and sexual excess; on the other, science and reason triumphant, a near arrogant confidence in progress, the emergence of new expert knowledge. The tensions between these poles take on the character of a single myth, a story of origins, essences, and destinies that Scott Spector tells through a focus on Vienna and Berlin. Together, these two cities stand for the and#147;New Metropolis,and#8221; crucial sites in the development of modern conceptions of gender and sexuality, also of political emancipation movements these conceptions inspired. Vienna and Berlin witnessed the birth of the science of sexology, the earliest articulations of homosexuality as an identity, the concomitant movement to abolish persecution of sexual minorities, and the and#147;first-waveand#8221; feminisms of the turn of the century. These cities also, and simultaneously became host to fantasies of violence associated with liminal figures: the pervasive image of the dangerous and erotic femme fatale, reports and fictions of sexual murder, along with the violent underworld of prostitution, and the surprising and forceful reemergence of the blood libel, representations of homosexual rings or secret associations. Spector shows how these prurient fantasies were given life in high culture (literature and philosophy), science (especially sexology, urban sociology, and criminology), and popular culture (including pulp novels as well as sensational court cases reported in the popular press). Among the characters populating Spectorand#8217;s account are Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (homosexual emancipation leader), Karl Kraus (playwright, poet, satirist), Otto Weininger (misogynist, anti-Semitic medical philosopher), Robert Musil (master novelist of violent fantasy), Rosa Mayreder, and other feminists, and Georg Simmel (sociologist of the city). As a contribution to modernist studies and European cultural history, Spectorand#8217;s book will win awards, and as a contribution to the history of sexuality, criminology, psychology, and ideas, it will find classroom use eventually. Itand#8217;s pathbreaking, and itand#8217;s great reading.
About the Author
Chandak Sengoopta is a senior lecturer in the history of medicine and science at Birkbeck College, University of London.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Why Read Otto Weininger Today? And How?
1. The Education of Otto Weininger
2. Weininger's Worlds: Identity, Politics, and Philosophy in Central Europe
3. Man, Woman, Text: The Structure and Substance of Geschlecht und Charakter
4. The Biology of Sex and the Deconstruction of Gender
5. Normalizing the Homosexual
6. Deconstructing Femininity: The Psychology of Hysteria
7. Impregnation and Autonomy: The Political Physiology of Motherhood
8. Echoes, Analyses, Critiques: Responses to Weininger