Otto Weininger (April 3, 1880 – October 4, 1903) was an Austrian philosopher. In 1903, he published the book Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character) which gained popularity after Weininger's suicide at the age of 23. Today, the book is generally viewed as misogynistic and antisemitic in academic circles; however, it continues to be held up as a great work of lasting genius and spiritual wisdom by others.
In the autumn of 1901 Weininger tried to find a publisher for his work Eros and the Psyche - which he submitted to his professors Jodl and Müllner as his thesis in 1902. He met Sigmund Freud who, however, did not recommend the text to a publisher. His professors accepted the thesis and Weininger received his Ph.D. degree. Shortly thereafter he became proudly and enthusiastically a Protestant.
In 1902 Weininger went to Bayreuth where he witnessed a performance of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal which left him deeply impressed. Via Dresden and Copenhagen he made his way to Christiania (Oslo) where he for the first time saw Henrik Ibsen’s liberation drama Peer Gynt on stage. Upon his return to Vienna Weininger suffered from fits of deep depression. The decision to take his own life gradually took shape in his mind; after a long discussion with his friend Artur Gerber, however, Weininger realized that “it is not yet time”.
In June 1903, after months of concentrated work, his book Sex and Character - a fundamental investigation - an attempt “to place sex relations in a new and decisive light” - was published by the Vienna publishers Braumüller & Co. The book contained his thesis to which three vital chapters were added: (XII) The Nature of Woman and her Relation to the Universe, (XIII) Judaism, (XIV) Women and Humanity. While the book was not received negatively, it did not create the expected stir. Weininger was attacked by Paul Julius Moebius, professor in Leipzig and author of the book “On the Physiological Deficiency of Women”, and accused of plagiarizing. Deeply disappointed and tortured by doubts Weininger left for Italy.
Back in Vienna he spent his last five days with his parents. On October 3, he took a room in the house in Schwarzspanierstraße 15 where Ludwig van Beethoven died. He told the landlady that he was not to be disturbed before morning since he planned to work and then to go to bed late. This night he wrote two letters, one addressed to his father, the other one to his brother Richard, telling them that he was going to shoot himself.
In October 4, Weininger was found there wounded, and he died in Wiener Allgemeines Krankenhaus at half past ten that morning.
Otto Weininger was buried on the Matzleinsdorf Protestant Cemetery in Vienna. The epitaph by his father translates:
A significant part of his book is about the nature of genius. Weininger argues that there is no such thing as a person who has a genius for, say, mathematics, or music, but there is only the universal genius, in whom everything exists and makes sense. He reasons that such genius is probably present in all people to some degree.
In a separate chapter, Weininger, himself a Jew who had converted to Christianity in 1902, analyzes the archetypical Jew as feminine, and thus profoundly irreligious, without true individuality (soul), and without a sense of good and evil. Christianity is described as "the highest expression of the highest faith", while Judaism is called "the extreme of cowardliness". Weininger decries the decay of modern times, and attributes much of it to feminine, and thus Jewish, influences. By Weininger's reckoning everyone shows some femininity, and what he calls "Jewishness".
Weininger shot himself in the house in Vienna where Beethoven had died, the man he considered one of the greatest geniuses of all. This made him a cause célèbre, inspired several imitation suicides, and turned his book into a success. The book received glowing reviews by August Strindberg, who wrote that it had "probably solved the hardest of all problems", the "woman problem".
Nobody who had once seen his face could ever forget it. The big dome of his forehead marked it. The face was peculiar looking because of the large eyes; the look in them seemed to surround everything. In spite of his youth, his face was not handsome, it was rather ugly. Never did I see him laugh or smile. His face was always dignified and serious. Only when he was outdoors in spring did it seem to relax, and then become cheerful and bright. At many concerts he would shine with happiness. In the most wonderful moments we spent together, particularly when he talked about an idea in which he was interested, his eyes were filled with happiness. Otherwise his face was impenetrable. One could never - except to the last few months - find in his face any hint of what was happening deep within his soul. The taut muscles would often move, and sharp wrinkles would appear on his face, as if they were caused by intolerable pain. I asked for the reason, he controlled himself at once, gave a vague or evasive answer, or talked about other matters, making further questioning impossible. His manners would occasionally elicit surprise, and often a smile, since he cared little for traditions and prejudices. The influence of his personality seemed strongest at night. His body seemed to grow; there was something ghostlike in his movements and there would be something demoniac in his manner. An when, as happened at times, his conversation became passionate, when he made a movement in the air with his stick or his umbrella as if he were fighting an invisible ghost, one was always reminded of a person from the imaginary circles of E. Th. A. Hofmann.
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