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Jews and Gender: Responses to Otto Weininger, edited by Nancy A. Harrowitz and Barbara Hyams; 341 pp. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995, $54.95 cloth, $24.95 paper.

“Every artist has been influenced by others and shows traces of that influence yet his significance for us is nothing but his personality. What he inherits from others can be nothing but eggshells,” said Wittgenstein, listing Weininger as a seminal influence on his work, “a seed out of which his plant grew.” Weininger’s influence fell on other leading cultural figures early this century such as Kraus, Kafka, Freud, Joyce, Lawrence, Canetti, Stein and others. This book aims to retrieve that influence and provide a broad interdisciplinary representation of new critical readings of Weininger’s legacy.

The fact and extent of Weininger’s influence seems puzzling: his fame stems from his misogyny and anti-Semitism. In Sex and Character Weininger claims that: humans are bisexual, a mixture of male and female; woman is nothing but sexuality; individuals must choose between the masculine and feminine elements within themselves; sexual abstinence is a precondition of spirit and genius; there can be no justification for sex even for procreation within marriage; furthermore, “the Jew is saturated with femininity and has little sense of good and evil.” How could an author with such odd and odious views exert any influence at all?

Yet Weininger was pivotal: his writing erases boundaries between discipline, genre, and nationality, revealing tensions and contradictions in Viennese and Western culture. So many ‘isms’ mark him as a patriarch of the tradition: [End Page 548] essentialism, transcendentalism, dualism, theism, and his belief in a rational self. Yet this is juxtaposed with postmodernist themes: deconstruction of sexual and gender dichotomies, rejection of essentialism concerning individuals, an emphasis on difference and the personal, the ethical primacy of practice over theory. His influence is felt in literature, philosophy, science, history, and because of Jehoshua Sobol’s play, The Soul of a Jew, in theatre.

Jews and Gender divides into three parts. The first introduces readers to Weininger research and provides new bibliographic information. To begin with, the editors offer us the necessary background with a concise critical essay on the history of Weininger reception. This is followed by Jacques Le Rider revisiting Weininger scholarship subsequent to the publication of his own book, The Otto Weininger Case. The section ends with Hannelore Rodlauer’s efforts to piece together fragments from Weininger’s education. The second section, “In Context,” focuses on Weininger in the context of his contemporaries. Allan Janik starts off with his examination of the riddle of Weininger’s influence on Wittgenstein. Next, Nancy Harrowitz sketches and discusses affinities between Weininger and his nineteenth-century forerunner Lomboroso. Then Steven Beller explores the surprising question of whether Weininger was a liberal in an ethos when European liberalism exerted immense pressure on Jews to assimilate the whole set of social, religious, national, cultural values of a community. Sander Gilman in turn traces connections between Freud and Weininger on questions of race and gender. In her essay on “Characterology,” Katherine Arens situates Weininger in relation to Austrian “scientific” racism. In his contribution, John Hoberman reflects on Weininger’s critique of Jewish masculinity, locating its source in the stereotypes prevalent in those times.

The third section of the volume looks at Weininger and his impact on modern literature. In “A Scientific Image of Woman,” Gisela Brude-Firnau discusses the way in which Weininger’s work can be seen as a contentious response to the women’s movement. Jeffrey Mehlman discerns Weininger in one of Apolinnaire’s major poems, “La Chanson du Malaimé,” where the anger against woman is quirkily actualized as a fury against the Jews. Gerald Stieg goes on to draw affinities between Kafka and Weininger. Then Marilyn Reizbaum, Natania Rosenfeld, and Elfriede Pöder explore in separate essays Weininger’s influence on James Joyce’s Ulysses by probing Bloom’s Jewish self-hatred, the figure of the womanly wandering Jew, and Molly as pure sexuality, respectively. Alberto Cavaglion proceeds to trace the appearance of Weininger’s thought in Italo Svevo’s novel The Confessions of Zeno, and Kristie Foell in turn examines the...

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 548-550
Launched on MUSE
1996-10-01
Open Access
No
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