A Falling Star - the sovereign self in Otto Weininger

12 February 2009, 17:00 - 19:00


CRASSH and HPS are delighted to host Louis Sass for this lecture which, for this occasion, brings the regular HPS seminar to CRASSH. 


'Individuality is the fall of man, and its symbol is the falling star.'
(Weininger, OLT 149)

My lecture offers a case study of a one-dimensional view of the self, one that attempts to postulate the ideal of an autonomous, even sovereign, reflective self or ego that would separate itself from both the body and the social world.  The theorist in question is Otto Weininger, a once-famous figure from fin-de-siecle Vienna whose notorious book, Sex and Character, appeared in 1903. Weininger influenced many luminaries of early 20th-century culture, all of whom viewed him as having the qualities of genius - these include August Strindberg, D W.Lawrence, Oswald Spengler, Hermann Broch, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

My focus will be on the most abstract and foundational level of Weininger's theorising, which is his post-Kantian or hyper-Kantian conception of the essential nature of human consciousness and the transcendental ego. I shall discuss Weininger's affinities with, as well as divergences from, the thought of Kant, Fichte, and the German idealist tradition in general.  My focus will be on the inherent contradictions, both logical and existential, which Weininger's extreme, one-dimensional view seems to have entailed, and which may have contributed to his suicide at age 23.  Weininger's work and life can be seen as a fable of the impossibility, and ultimate unlivability, of a mode of being that would reject the embedded and embodied nature of human selfhood.