Saturday, August 23, 2008

Otto Weininger

There is a very informative profile in Nextbook of the fascinating (and totally nutty) fin de siecle Viennese writer and thinker Otto Weininger, author of the notorious classic of misogyny and anti-semitism Sex and Character. I had mentioned him before here. This in particular cracked me up, he rather reluctantly concedes that women are not "animals or plants"...

It is when Weininger turns fully to the subject of Woman that the book begins its long slide into extremism. He proclaims Woman to be nullity itself: incapable of reason, creativity, or spiritual aspiration; sexually insatiable (“under the spell of the phallus”); psychologically incoherent, desiring nothing more than her own subordination to man—“a hollow vessel covered for a while in makeup and whitewash.” Although in a later chapter Weininger concedes that women are not “animals or plants,” but in fact “human beings,” they qualify for this distinction only in the most rudimentary, basely biological way. In a passage devoted to acknowledging the “meanness and inanity” that may appear in individual men, he nonetheless concludes that “the most superior woman is still infinitely inferior to the most inferior men.”

Link via complete review which has some more links.


Anamay said...

Notorious misogynism indeed!Although such writings bear no scientific relevance, yet they seem very true in general...obviously with some exceptions.

Alok said...

Hehe.. what do you mean by "very true in general"?

His book was pseudo-science and obviously prejudiced but he was surprisingly very influential to a lot of great philosophers and writers. you can check his wikipedia page for more.

Anonymous said...

I have not read the book, so thanks for the pointer.

But, personally, reading the review, I do not see this as misogynism, per se. Before being tacked with being a relativist or a sophist, the concern brought up seems like the author's desire for emancipation of Woman from the virtual subjugation of Woman by Man and, equally, Woman being subservient to the beck and call of Man. Ofcourse, "we all would not be found guilty of the same,"(ahem) but this is still very prevalant in society.

Thus far, we remain within the context of the misogyny of the age - the misogyny of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, and a thousand after-dinner boors.

I myself personally feel, but do not feel with certainty, as these are all in the realm of notions - one for another, that Woman will always be inferior to Man while within the clutches of society, but if Woman is able to detach from society and rise above it then Woman has capability of rising above Man through such an experience - as imagining a state of penury is different from actually being penurious to understand the essence of poverty. Or something of the sort.

Weininger’s misogyny is eccentric. His extremism leads him, at times, to sound rather like a radical feminist. He will have nothing to do with the sentimental veneration that imprisons women while pretending they are more virtuous than men. He wants to debunk what he sees as the great lie written into the traditional narratives structuring relationships between men and women. Love itself is a form of imprisonment. And "all eroticism, even the most sublime, remains a threefold immorality: selfish intolerance for the real empirical women, who is merely used as a means to an end . . . and who is therefore denied an independent life of her own."

This variant is different with the absolute hatred of women (for example, i've a friend who feels women are inferior because "the bible says so", per him - i myself found this out later while in drunken session with him, i don't know how I can be friends with him now, but I try. :-) ). Such a variant is misogynism in misandry.

Alok said...

"if Woman is able to detach from society and rise above it"

yes this is what most of the progressive views on gender have in common too. this idea that gendered identity is to a large extent constructed by society, through its structures and institutions. "Women are not born, they are made", as Simone de Beauvoir said and this goes for Men too.

I have not read his book either just read a long discussion about it in a book called Wittgenstein's Vienna. He is actually on the other pole - he sees Man and Woman as two ideals. Now if he only used some label other than Man or Woman his arguments would have been easier to swallow. There is obviously a case against sensuality, shallow pleasure-seeking, automatic behavior, passive identity and other things he talks about but to ascribe all these to "Female" is nonsense. He thinks a woman can free herself only if she is able to negate her femininity, which is practically impossible. He said similar things about "Jews" too - that they are "feminine". So for jews and women the only alternative according to him is to commit suicide, and he himself led by example.

If he had labeled those personality traits in a gender-neutral manner his ideas would have made sense then and my guess is that's how his admirers read him.