Otto Weininger (1880-1903)

Otto Weininger (1880-1903) studied philosophy at the University of Vienna, receiving his doctorate in 1902. A year later he published his magnum opus, Sex and Character, which impacted dramatically on the European scene at the time, not the least because of Weininger’s suicide in the same year, shooting himself in Vienna in the house where Beethoven died at the age of 23. Sex and Character was translated into English in 1906, and by 1925 had gone through 26 editions. Its vision of sexual identity is grand and metaphysical and largely premised on the idea of the fundamental bisexuality of life – both at the level of bodies and individual cells. All individuals are thus composed of a mixture of a male and female substance – a “permanent bisexual condition” of varying proportions – with the male substance being active, conscious and logical, the female passive, unconscious and alogical. A Jewish convert to Christianity, Weininger analysed jewishness in terms of feminine qualities, and the anti-semitic aspects of these arguments were later taken up by Nazi ideologues.