Ludwig Wittgenstein read the book as a schoolboy and was deeply impressed by it, later listing it as one of his influences and recommending it to friends. However, Wittgenstein’s deep admiration of Weininger’s thought was coupled with a fundamental disagreement with his position. Wittgenstein writes to G. E. Moore: “It isn’t necessary or rather not possible to agree with him but the greatness lies in that with which we disagree. It is his enormous mistake which is great.” Elsewhere Wittgenstein put the same point by saying that if one were to add a negation sign before the whole of Sex and Character, one would have expressed a great truth; that is, he did not disagree with Weininger point by point but as a whole.
I was for some time fascinated by fascism as well as all kinds of paranoid fantasies. Definitely can I say that among other things, Atzmon’s book had helped me to overcome that and move on, perhaps to abstract to a higher level. And I wouldn’t disagree if others call Atzmon an anti-semite. I don’t know if he would himself. Interestingly, my ultimate insight into a certain brand of political conspiracy theory has been the same as Wittgenstein’s (and Žižek seems to agree with him) insight into Weininger, namely, that “if one were to add a negation sign before the whole […], one would have expressed a great truth”. Or, morally, if one were to question one’s culturally inherited values, one might discover that the undermining of old institutions might in many instances be more than anything a liberation, if perhaps one in disguise. Conservatives will always see evil in what others might perceive as people working together towards greater freedom for all. Perhaps a similar negation sign should be cautionarily added to the writings of Gilad Atzmon as well. For as much as his engagement with these subjects helped myself in moving from particularity towards universality, his content is oftentimes hard to distinguish from more straightforward cases of rightfully ostracised political writers.
Below follows a chapter from Gilad Atzmon’s book “The Wandering Who?”. Particularly, it is a chapter about Otto Weininger, whom I have seen quoted in such places as talks by Slavoj Žižek as well as in Richard David Precht’s “Liebe: Ein unordentliches Gefühl”.
For the last decade I have been drawing many of my insights from a man who has been totally eradicated from Western academic and scholarly discourse. Considering the influence he exerted in the first half of the twentieth century, this complete disappearance certainly raises some questions. Wittgenstein considered him to have had a major impact on his life. James Joyce drew upon him when writing Ulysses . He inspired Robert Musil and Hermann Broch. One can easily trace his thoughts in Lacan and Heidegger. Freud was also interested in his ideas. Even Hitler supposedly mentioned him, admitting: ‘There was one decent Jew, and he killed himself.’ This man was Otto Weininger, and although he was one of the most influential thinkers of the first four decades of the twentieth century, few are still familiar with his thoughts or have even heard his name. Weininger was an anti-Semite as well as a radical misogynist. He didn’t like Jews or women, yet, as you might have already suspected, he was a Jew himself and, insofar as historical research can disclose such truths, an effeminate one.
Weininger was an aphorism artist. Many of his statements can’t be taken seriously. Some of his anti-woman and anti-Jewish rants evoke the image of a naughty schoolboy struggling to understand the concept of adulthood. Yet Weininger is an astonishing thinker. His to admit to the man’s brilliant talent. Simply put, there is far too much wisdom in Weininger for us to cast him aside without looking.
There is a personal side to my admiration: Weininger helped me grasp who I am, or rather who I may be, what I do, what I try to achieve and why my detractors invest so much effort trying to stop me.
Weininger published Sex and Character , his one and only book, in 1903. It was presented as a philosophical study of sexuality. A ferocious attack on the concept of femininity, it nevertheless isn’t only women Weininger appears to despise – he presents Jews as degraded beings as well, and Englishmen as effeminate characters. Weininger is nothing less than outrageous. Some of my female associates who began reading the text dismissed it before they reached the end of the first paragraph. Yet I insist that almost every sentence in Weininger’s book should be considered thought-provoking literature. Weininger hates almost everything that fails to be Aryan masculinity. His tendency toward mathematical formulation is slightly childish, and no doubt dated. He makes some categorical mistakes. At the same time, he induces deep ideological, essentialist and metaphysical thinking.
Weininger’s point of departure is far from original. Man and woman, he says, are merely types. In other words, the individual appearance is basically a manifestation of a mixture of the two types. Every individual is a compound of two sexual types in different proportions. Some men are more masculine than others, and some women are more feminine than their sisters. This idea is obviously supported by basic physiological observations as well as sophisticated genetic and biological study.
Weininger doesn’t stop there, however. He moves on to formulate the ‘law of sexual attraction’: ‘For true sexual union it is necessary that there come together a complete Male and a complete Female.’ The bond between a man and a woman results in a unity of maleness and femaleness to which the two partners mutually contribute. In practice, Weininger speaks here of the complementary between men and women. Each partner contributes toward the formation of a greater femininity and masculinity. If Tony is 55 percent male and 45 percent female, and Sue is 45 percent male and 55 percent female, the sum of their added maleness and femaleness results in a perfect unity of 100 percent male and 100 percent female. In other words, as far as sexual attraction is concerned, we can expect Tony and Sue to be highly excited about each other. Their union brings together a complete unity of man and woman. They also have a lot in common for Tony has a lot of woman in him and Sue, similarly, possesses a lot of man in her.
Needless to say, Weininger’s reference to human beings as statistical objects is slightly bizarre as well as problematic. When we examine the people around us we do not see mathematical figures or clear-cut divisions between masculinity and femininity. We, instead, a complementary relationship is very explanatory. Tony is attracted to Sue not only for her feminine qualities, but because he finds in Sue his missing masculinity. Similarly, Sue celebrates the discovery of her lacking femininity. According to Weininger, we are most attracted to those who bring us closer to this unity.
Naturally, we would expect the bond between extreme masculinity and extreme femininity to result in a high degree of sexual attraction. However, as Weininger points out, this attraction is coupled with very little cross-gender understanding: ‘The more femaleness a woman possess the less will she understand a man … So also the more manly a man is the less will he understand women.’ The reasoning is clear: the more femaleness a woman possesses, the less maleness is present in her physical and psychological makeup. Assume, for example, that Mark is the ultimate macho man, 99 percent male, and Deborah is very feminine to a similar extent. Their sexual intensity might be explosive beyond belief, yet the quality of their communication beforehand or afterward will be nil. With 1 percent femininity, Mark can never understand Deborah, and vice versa. Mark will probably turn his back to Deborah as soon as the intercourse is over. He falls asleep and she ends up upset.
This idea is shocking in its simplicity, but its implications are powerful. It leaves the Left’s discourse in ruins. For if Weininger is correct, comprehension of the other is conditioned by a form of self-realisation. The notion of empathy and otherness so enthusiastically embraced by the post-Second World War Left falls apart. If I can understand my beloved only inasmuch as I possess enough of her in me, it follows that we can only understand the other as long as we have enough of the other in us. This insight may explain why the Left, along with the entire discourse of multiculturalism, collapsed after the events of 11 September 2001. The lack of empathy with Arabs and Muslims amongst so-called ‘progressive’ liberals can be accounted for by the fact that they had very little Arab or Muslim in them, in fact, they may have very little in them except themselves.
Such a reading may explain why the Western Left failed to grasp the transformation within the Arab world. As much as the Left claims to support the Arab masses’ uprising against their pro-American tyrants, it somehow found it hard to admit that what we see in the Arab World is not exactly a Socialist revolution. In Weiningerian terminology, the Left has failed to read the situation in the Arab world because it has very little in common with Arab culture. The Left was doomed to fail on that front.
This concept of possessing different psychological characteristics is further explored by Weininger in his treatment of the genius. For him, it is obvious that the genius isn’t merely a gifted being. Genius isn’t talent, nor is it a quality that can be learned or developed. The genius is rather ‘… a man who discovers many others in himself. He is a man with many men in his personality. But then the genius can understand other men better than they can understand themselves, because within himself he has not only the character he is grasping, to understand man means to have equal parts of himself and the opposite in one.’
In a way, the genius is a person who hosts a dialectic dynamism that allows the rich prospects of the world to come alive. To a certain extent, Weininger hints here at the positive qualities of schizophrenia, ideas that were further explored by Lacan years later. The genius is always telling us something about the world that we didn’t know before. The scientist observes the material world, and the philosopher looks into the realm of ideas. The artist derives insight by looking into him or herself: ‘In art, self-exploration is exploration of the world…’.
Weininger argues that the genius is a subject to the ‘strangest passions’ and ‘most repulsive instincts’, but that those passions are opposed by other internal characters. For example, ‘Zola, who has so faithfully described the impulse to commit murder, didn’t commit murder himself because there were so many other characters in him.’ Zola, according to Weininger, would recognise the murderous impulse better than the murderer himself, rather than merely being subject to it. The ability to persuasively depict a fictional character is attributable to the fact that the character and its oppositions are well-orientated within the artist’s psyche.
Weininger’s appeal, for me, has much to do with this idea. In my fictional writing I have given birth to some charming yet appalling Israeli protagonists, all of them doomed people speeding toward a concrete wall. I write about people who never manage to live with the terms they have imposed upon themselves, people who never find their way home. In my fiction one meets people who cannot escape their fate. In my political and ideological writing, I try to establish a philosophical pattern that can enlighten the complexity of Jewish-ness. I search for the metaphysical mechanisms that make Israel and the Jewish world so different . In my early days I believed myself to be an autonomous thinker, positing himself in a detached, Archimedean surveying position. Thanks to Weininger, I realised how wrong I was – I was not detached from the reality about which I wrote, and I never shall be. I am not looking at the Jews, or at Jewish identity, I am not looking at Israelis. I am actually looking in the mirror. With contempt, I am actually elaborating on the Jew in me.
The Jew in me is not an island. He is joined by hostile enemies and counter-personalities who have also settled in my psyche. There are, inside me, many characters that oppose each other. It isn’t as horrifying as it might sound. In fact, it is rather productive, amusing and certainly revealing.
Following his own paradigm, Weininger argues: ‘People love in others the qualities they would like to have but do not actually have in any great degree. So we only hate in others what we do not wish to be and what, notwithstanding, we are partly. We hate only qualities to which we approximate, but which we realise first in other persons … Thus the fact is explained that the bitterest anti-Semites are to be found amongst the Jews themselves.’
According to Weininger, some Jews oppose in others that which they despise in the bitterest anti-Semite, cannot be held free of accretion of Jewish-ness, even in his art.’ I would argue that, for Weininger, Jewish-ness isn’t at all a racial category, but a mindset that some of us possess and a very few of us try to oppose.
Isn’t that merely to repeat Marx’s treatment of Jewish identity, explored in his famous essay ‘On The Jewish Question’? Marx equates Jews with capitalism, self-interest and money-grubbing. For him, capitalism is Judaism, and Judaism is capitalism. The Jews have liberated themselves to the point where Christians have become Jews. He concludes ferociously: ‘The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.’ Judging Marx’s ideas in the Weiningerian frame of reference may suggest that Marx’s analysis is the outcome of Marx being Jewish himself. In other words, Marxism is the outcome of Marx’s capacity to oppose the Jew within.
As we can see, Weininger has provided us with a pretty useful analytical tool. He is granting us insight into the subject of hatred and self-hatred, going as far as arguing: ‘The Aryan has to thank the Jew that through him, he knows to guard against Judaism as a possibility within himself.’ In other words, antagonism towards others can be grasped as a manifestation of self-contempt. Thus the Nazi hatred toward anything even remotely Jewish could also be explained as a form of hostility towards the Jew within.
But if hatred is, at least partly, a form of self-negation, I have to admit that my own personal war against Zionism and Jewish identity politics could be seen as a war I have declared against myself. Taking it a step further, we may all have to admit that fighting racism for real primarily entails opposing the racist within.
Otto Weininger was just twenty-three when he committed suicide. One may wonder how he knew so much about women. Why did he hate them so? How did he know so much about Jews, and why did he hate them so? The answer can be elicited from Weininger’s thoughts, though not from his own words. He hated women and Jews because he was a woman and a Jew. He adored Aryan masculinity because he probably lacked that quality in any significant amount in his own being. This revelation probably led Weininger to kill himself, just a month after the publication of his book. Very likely, he had managed to understand what his book was all about.