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Otto Weininger: Sex, Science, and Self in Imperial Vienna [Hardcover]

Chandak Sengoopta
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Book Description

July 1 2000 The Chicago Series on Sexuality, History, and Society
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 time—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.

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Review

“Sengoopta presents a learned, modest and sensible account of Weininger’s major work. . . . It is a major contribution to the literature on this extraordinary icon of early twentieth-century Vienna.”
(S.A.M. Burns Annals of Science)

“[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 standard—especially scientific, but also moral—against which to read Weininger, and he makes this peculiar writer comprehensible by providing a realistic sense of his scientific frame of reference.”—David S. Luft, <I>Central European History
(David S. Luft Central European History)

“[Sengoopta] takes Weininger’s scientific interests seriously, and in a series of finely crafted readings locates Weininger’s concerns within a constellation of fields ranging from experimental psychology to research on sex glands, and the study of homosexuality.”—Andreas Killen, <I>German-Studies Review
(Andreas Killen German-Studies Review)

“Sengoopta, in his highly informative study, convincingly shows that <I>Geschlecht und Charakter<I> is a ‘serious, comprehensive, and emotionally charged ideological critique of modernity in general and of women’s emancipation in particular.’”—Volker Depkat, <I>H-Net Reviews
(Volker Depkat H-Net Reviews)

“Sengoopta has done something I would have considered impossible: he convinced me, by tracing the roots of Weininger’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.”—Hannah S. Decker, <I>ISIS
(Hannah S. Decker ISIS)

About the Author

Chandak Sengoopta is a senior lecturer in the history of medicine and science at Birkbeck College, University of London.

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Otto Weininger (1880-1903) is a notorious figure in modern European history. Read the first page
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4.0 out of 5 stars Still unaccounted for... July 6 2002
Format:Hardcover
"The genius is not the product of his age, is not to be explained by it, and we do him no honour if we attempt to account for him by it." -- Otto Weininger, Sex and Character, Part II, Chap 5.
...but explain him by his age is exactly what Sengoopta tries to do for Weininger. The book helps to situate Weininger in the scientific millieu of his time, as the Harrowitz and Hyams collection (-Jews and Gender: Responses to Otto Weininger-) earlier tried to do against a literary backdrop, and though we are grateful for these efforts, both fail to come terms with the seriousness of Weininger's philosophy. They repeat many of the usual dismissive assessments, either by trying to explain him as an unpleasant social phenomenon or personal pathology. We are still waiting for a genuinely philosophical exposition of Weininger's importance to moral philosophy in general and gender-based moral theories, in particular. We strongly suspect, for example, that radical feminism will one day discover a curious allegiance with Weininger. (Janik's -Essays on Wittgenstein and Weininger- in places, however, hints in a more thoughtful direction.)
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still unaccounted for... July 6 2002
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"The genius is not the product of his age, is not to be explained by it, and we do him no honour if we attempt to account for him by it." -- Otto Weininger, Sex and Character, Part II, Chap 5.
...but explain him by his age is exactly what Sengoopta tries to do for Weininger. The book helps to situate Weininger in the scientific millieu of his time, as the Harrowitz and Hyams collection (-Jews and Gender: Responses to Otto Weininger-) earlier tried to do against a literary backdrop, and though we are grateful for these efforts, both fail to come terms with the seriousness of Weininger's philosophy. They repeat many of the usual dismissive assessments, either by trying to explain him as an unpleasant social phenomenon or personal pathology. We are still waiting for a genuinely philosophical exposition of Weininger's importance to moral philosophy in general and gender-based moral theories, in particular. We strongly suspect, for example, that radical feminism will one day discover a curious allegiance with Weininger. (Janik's -Essays on Wittgenstein and Weininger- in places, however, hints in a more thoughtful direction.)
3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A poor quality work redeemed by its topic March 8 2009
By Blik - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is a PhD written about another man's PhD thesis. Otto Weininger's thesis is original and interesting, whether you agree with its theories or not. This one has a sneering tone, and has little originality. I gave it two stars because the topic Sengoopta picked is good.
8 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars chandak sengoopta's otto weininger, a critique April 18 2001
By jane k johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
dr. sengoopta's well researched book is the strange story of otto weininger, a jew, who wrote a treatise that 'proved' women and jews did not possess a rational and moral self; that they did not deserve or need equality, not to mention liberty, that only male aryans should be in charge of society. imagine a jew that hitler called 'wise'(though it is doubtful he ever read him) a jew that was throughly discredited following world war two as a racist and misogynist. then why read him? dr. sengoopta not only gives the reasons weininger is important in the understanding of ideas current in his time, but how to read him. afterall, this strange little man influenced (though not persuaded) freud, kafka, ludwig wittgenstein, the racist politics of vienna's mayor, karl leuger as well as literary figures such as james joyce and ford maddox ford, probably his most important contribution. his dramatic suicide, in beethoven's home, no less, made him the era's 'tragic genius'.(a concept karl kraus, the jewish critic, concurred). afterall, this was the age of arthur schnitzler (THE ROAD TO THE OPEN) when jewish intellectuals were attempting to find a role in viennese culture. for weininger it was an attempt to become GERMAN (he loved wagner)-the extreme path to the open. by becoming a protestant he would not only reject multicultural austria but become more german than the most ardent pan german. his only book, SEX AND CHARACTER, was his phd dissertation-an attempt to analyze the differences between men and women by the use of biology,science, psychology and humanistic social reform. a fanatic follower of kant, weininger believed only aryan men possessed a hyperemperical soul while desiring to resolve the woman question by redefining hysteria and devaluing motherhood. in his attack on women and modernism weininger saw the jews as the symbol of mammon, modernism and the feminization of culture. weininger's ideal society was a sterile dystopia where women would lose their sexuality and deserve to be politically equal...of course the human race would die out, but in pure kantian thought this minor difficulty would not matter, for weininger believed that sexual desire-and feminine beauty is only a creation of man's love-forces man to degenerate. the only true love is plutonic in the tradition of dante's beatrice. one of the more enlightened aspects of weininger is his belief in universal bisexuality, "sexual intermediacy", that is to say, all humans are a mixture of the masculine and the feminine in differing degrees. however, the most gifted woman can only be 50% masculine, thus inferior to the most effeminate male. weininger even proposed a mathematical formula to achieve the perfect conjunction. yes,even he realized that despite his ideal society males WOULD seek out women and mate...one could only hope to achieve the most satisfactory results through science. most of weininger's thought is absurb if not discusting to modern readers. Little gems such as 'all women are amoral',"are logically insane', "men have better memories","women can not differenate between feeling and thought", that they have no soul,and on and 0n AD NAUSEAM. perhaps even more repulsive is his racist ideas. naturally he swallowed houston chamberlain, artur de gobineau, wagner and schopenhauers antisemetic drivel and adapted it to his treatise. was this self-hatred? not according to dr. sengoopta, sengoopta believes since weininger's father was antisemetic that it is doubtful weininger had any jewish idenity to start with. weak in some areas but well read in the science of his day, weininger's book is a melange of science, biology, philosophy, cultural politics and personal anxiety. ironically, despite his contempt for women in the reproduction of the species woman is supreme. even weininger recognized bachofen's dictim: "the father is always a juristic fiction, whereas motherhood is a physical fact". with all his intellectual twists and turns weininger could never explain away woman's power over life, men and creativity.
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