Sex, science, and self in imperial Vienna : Otto Weininger and the meanings of gender / by Chandak Sengoopta.
Otto Weininger (1880-1903) is a well-known figure in European cultural history. A young Jewish intellectual of Vienna, Weininger committed suicide after publishing a single book, Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character, 1903), in which he attempted to resolve the Woman Question by discovering the ontological significance of femininity and, subsidiarily, of Jewishness. Many intellectuals of the era admired the work immensely, despite its extreme misogyny and antisemitism. More recently, historians and cultural critics have approached Weininger's treatise as a useful compendium of turn-of-the-century antifeminism and antisemitism. This dissertation explores Weininger's complex views on gender and race, placing them within the multiple, interrelated contexts that they drew upon and reacted against: feminist and antifeminist politics; Immanuel Kant's notions on morality and the self; physicist Ernst Mach's critique of the classical concept of the self; new, experimental trends in psychological research, biological theories of sex; medical ideas on psychopathology, sexual deviance, and reproductive biology; and Viennese debates on personal, sexual, and racial identity. Weininger emerges from this analysis, not as a marginal figure, but rather as a participant in the most significant cultural and intellectual debates of fin-de-siecle Vienna. Certainly, Weininger's analyses and cultural prescriptions frequently diverged from that of other intellectuals of his time and place, but his cultural anxieties and his choice of sources and issues were recognizably mainstream. This dissertation demonstrates the multiplicity and diversity of the sources Weininger drew upon: cultural criticism, psychology and psychoanalysis, Kantian ethics, biology and medicine. Particular attention is paid to the different strategies guiding Weininger's appropriation of scientific and medical discourse. The voice of science resonates throughout Geschlecht und Charakter: Weininger's resolution of the Woman Question incorporates themes and ideas from sexual biology, medical sexology, psychoanalysis, and reproductive biology. When read in the contexts of these diverse discourses and Weininger's biography, Geschlecht und Charakter serves as a lens for the elucidation of the complex discursive relations between science, philosophy, and cultural politics in turn-of-the-century Vienna.
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