I wish to follow Kant in positing the existence of a soul as the unifying and central conception, without which any explanation or description of psychic life, however faithful in its details, however sympathetically undertaken, must be wholly unsatisfying - Otto Weininger
Otto Weininger was a Kantian. This means that he was essentially an Idealist. He was also a Christian who conceived an account of man's fall from grace. His ideas explain the mechanics of man's fall and subsequent sexualization.
After man's spiritual fragmentation and loss of Spirit came his encounter with the female in all her forms. For Weininger, the genders are in a perpetual state of spiritual warfare, and it is imperative that man comes out on top in the conflict. The only alternative is absolute ruin. First comes the destruction of authentic masculinity as it exists in men and women (masculinity that ultimately strives to reunite with Spirit), and then the destruction of Spirit itself, which Weininger believed was embodied in man alone. In this regard Weininger's teachings correspond closely with those of the English mystic poet William Blake.
For Weininger and Blake, women are the ultimate source of all human pathology. Male violence and crime are but visible symptoms of a malignancy far more elusive and sinister.
This metaphysical fact about active masculinity versus passive femininity goes unrecognized because on the stereotypical level (on the domestic and social theaters created by men) women appear animated and hyper-extrovert. This gives the impression that woman are self-motivated, willful beings. This is, however, merely an optical illusion.
Understanding this predicament demands we transcend simplistic attitudes. It is not a case of women being inferior to men. Women, within reason, are capable of achieving great spiritual and intellectual heights. However, Weininger's point is that these aspirations are due to the infusion and urge of Animus or masculine will. This will animates woman as long as she inhabits a world established by masculinized men. A sane civilization governed by feminized women isn't conceivable or possible, and ones dominated by women easily come to ruin. So it was with the ancient Hittite Empire, which collapsed the moment it was ruled by scheming, sorcery-obsessed queens, and so it will be with western civilization unless we revision the role of the female will and female psyche along the lines suggested by Weininger and Blake.
For Weininger, a woman's entire raison d'etre is the will of man, as it directs her being. Indeed, he maintains that all aspects of femininity, including a woman's sexual persona, are derivative of Animus or male will. A woman becomes a willful, rational being only through her encounter with men in the male world. By embodying masculine dispositions she gives meaning to her existence, a spiritual meaning and direction otherwise completely absent from her psyche.
This is why concepts of female emancipation, superiority or independence are, to Weininger, merely irrational myths. The willfulness in a female toward independence is invariably a masculine will, embodied due to the presence and influence of men. In other words, a woman's defensiveness against the male world is an attribute of the very thing she mistakenly wishes to negate and ruin. If such a perverse will is acted upon by a woman, alone or in concert with other misguided women, destruction and insanity will be the only outcomes. Such women wish to castrate that which they secretly covet, and from which all life emanates.
This is a difficult concept for most people to embrace, especially for inmates of today's feminized world. However, Weininger is quick to explain. The life a woman experiences is due, he says, to the investment of Animus, as it manifests personally, domestically and socially. Woman in turn embodies and reflects man's vital will, allowing it to define itself and intensify. According to Weininger, this passive, specular quality of women is their main virtue. However, in worse case scenarios this quality becomes the cause of an attraction versus repulsion dynamic in women, more conspicuous and pronounced when she is in the presence of genius types.
As a result of her role as reflector, a woman can choose to subvert the reciprocal transference process, thereby causing the male will to be misdirected or completely undermined. Weininger has a great deal to say about this dynamic and the subversion of male will. The retraction of the male will, he explains, ultimately leads to the voiding of meaning for women as well as for their victims. In a sense, the failure of women in regards their sovereign duty toward men, incurs a second fall from grace.
As decades pass, Weininger's words become increasingly prophetic. His vision gets to the heart of why a state of decay exists throughout the world, and why dysfunction exists within the hearts and minds of men and women who, ironically, enjoy greater material affluence than ever. His perceptive analysis of gender dynamics serves as a mirror in which both sexes can see themselves lucidly. By facing the truth about their differences and similarities, the age-old rivalry and long cycle of forgetfulness, conflict and destructiveness can finally be brought to its end.
Among the philosophers, the opinions of Aristotle must first be considered. He held that in procreation the male principle was the formative active agent, the “logos,” whilst the female was the passive material. When we remember that Aristotle used the word “soul” for the active, formative, causative principle, it is plain that his idea was akin to mine.
- Otto Weininger (Sex and Character)
Otto Weininger was an Austrian philosopher, critic and writer. He was born under the astrological sign of Aries on April 3, 1880. He committed suicide on October 4, 1903. According to reports, he believed his life's work had been completed and that his vision of truth was absolute. Consequently, he preferred not to continue experiencing the lurid carnival of the world. He died in an apartment once used by the composer Ludwig van Beethoven, whose music Weininger adored.
- 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)
- 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!"
Note: 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 to history".
- 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."
Michael Tsarion (2012)