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“…living, walking, talking, thinking, being, eating and drinking is an endless joy…“

Notes on Brenda Wineapple, Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein.

Stein judges her cousin Bird as lacking in moral courage.

It takes very much courage to do anything connected with your being unless it is a very serious thing.

from notes, “yes I say it is hard living down the tempers we are born with.” The idea makes it into the opening lines of The Making of Americans.

Gertrude pressed Otto Weininger’s book into the hands of others “almost as if it were a handbook of her own views.”

Weininger’s plea for tolerance of homosexuality [because, in some degree, universal] suggested as a possible attraction for Stein.

Both Stein and her brother, Leo, were initially drawn to Weininger’s book. She clearly agreed with Weininger’s contention “that most women should content themselves with conventional lives, submit cheerfully and perpetuate the race.” Wineapple adds of Stein, “But of course she still believed, as Weininger did, that there were exceptions—herself for one.”

[The dialectical complexity of those “exceptions” for Weininger, as for Stein, is passed over. Moreover, Weininger, in saying these things, was describing what women do, not prescribing what they should. The maleness quotient in them is another matter. But the insertion of value here comes only after we have a perspicuous picture of reality. Most women will content themselves with perpetuating the race. Weininger lamented this. Stein accepted it—allowing for exceptions. But this optional aspect of feminine moral experience is why Weininger considered women amoral (not immoral). There is no corresponding moral latitude for men. If there were not also a feminine element in men, the normative question would have a tidy answer. But there is.

The subject (of sex and gender) has the gravity of a black hole. Everything is sucked into it. Little light escapes. We determine its presence and features by the distortions of surrounding space.]

Weininger’s classification of character began to saturate Gertrude’s MOA notebooks…

In promoting Weininger, Stein was sending a message to her American friends.

Alice as Weiningerian “pure prostitute.”

Stein recommends Weininger to all her friends.

The Making of Americans was full of insights on character inspired by Weininger.

She invokes Weininger to proclaim Alice as “the finer purer flame of the prostitute.”

[Recalls what Weininger says about the important cultural function of the prostitute.]

Stein uses Weiningerian terms to describe Nina of Montparnasse, lover of Leo, as of the maternal controlling type.

Her famous remark, “In this time the only real literary thinking has been done by a woman.”*

*Editor’s note: See, for example,William Gass’s essays on Stein for an appreciation of this comment.

Wineapple discovered an unsigned typescript with all the marks of having been Stein’s work in the papers of one of Stein’s friends and correspondents. It is included in the Appendix and appears to have been written for submission to the Journal of the American Medical Association some time between October 1901 and early 1902. (This assures us it could not have been under Weininger’s influence. By the time she could have read Weininger, she was well beyond medical school.)

Entitled, “Degeneration in American Women,” the short paper attempts to explain statistical evidence showing that birth rates in America were well below those in many European countries. (The hotly discussed topic at the time was freighted with issues of race and immigration, more perhaps than any medical ones.) She cites “voluntary sterility” as the direct cause, that is, the increasing use of contraception and abortion. Feminist encouragement of delayed motherhood and smaller families, and a general lack of faith in the natural order of things were ultimately to be blamed. Stein writes:


All this of course leads to a lack of respect both for the matrimonial and maternal ideal for it will only be when women succeed in relearning the fact that the only serious business of life in which they cannot be entirely outclassed by the male is that of childbearing that they will once more look with respect upon their normal and legitimate function.

“Of course,” she goes on to say, allowing for herself,

it is not meant that there are not a few women in every generation who are exceptions to this rule but these exceptions are too rare to make it necessary to subvert the order of things in their behalf and besides if their need for some other method of expression is a real need there is very little doubt but that the opportunity of expression will be open to them.

The propagation of life in abundance appeared to Stein to be, of itself, a noble enough role.

The American population seems to have completely lost site [sic] of the fact that the exercise of ones [sic] normal functions of living, walking, talking, thinking, being, eating and drinking is an endless joy of a healthy human being.

[Leaving aside the intriguing possibility she was being at least a little ironic, how different, yet complementary, this view of material existence is from Weininger’s skyscraping one.* She was writing this at the same time in Baltimore that Weininger was composing his book in Vienna.

*Editor’s note: Luno, with his Kierkegaardian tendencies, is prone to read with a suspicion of multiple layers of irony. Sincerity, he once wrote, in anyone not an idiot, is always tainted.

We can argue that the “opportunities” for expression available to the “exceptions” are more scarce than Stein perhaps realizes. That, in fact, conventional society makes it exceedingly hard for the exceptions, those not suited to the norm, and that, unless they are in addition to being unsuited also exceptionally strong characters and more than a little fortunate, as perhaps Stein herself was, much of alternative value to self and society will be lost or not develop.

That said, Stein’s view remains a remarkable corroboration from what might at first seem an unlikely source of Weininger’s “half-baked,” “lunatic,” retrograde, etc. ideas…

Norms and mores may change but the forces that make them do not. The forces that make norms norms are again at work in the contemporary reaction to such ideas. Having evolved away from a once “natural” attitude toward gender roles, through, in part, the increased personal liberty afforded us by technological advancement and the realization of the destructiveness of untrammeled maleness, we consider ours a more toward condition. Attitudes such as those of Stein and Weininger appear quaint, if not pernicious, to many. But condescension is our own special liability, itself born of the fear that things may change yet again in a direction we have at present no appetite for.

Underlying are still biological determinations that as yet govern not more nor less than they always have. Perhaps the time will come when we will be in a position to—either from sober willfulness or sheer velleity—alter those determinations. When that happens, we may indeed come to understand “emancipation” in a whole new way. We shall be free, if we dare, to stop being “man,” “woman,” or—“human” altogether and become whatever new category of being we invent.*

*Editor’s note: It is this that inspires Luno’s vision of humanity as doomed, if it does not come to a stop in a more prosaic, less imaginative, manner sooner. He is not altogether certain that he laments this as much as he does that we might evolve to that point without thought. The romantic notion that thought, itself, consciousness, “the of necessity pained realization that one’s own fragile presence in the world” might suffer obsolescence is, he concedes, a veil of strangeness beyond which he cannot discern meaning, let alone judgment or feeling.

When the whole of the universe of facts out of which sprung evanescent consciousness returns again to an unwitnessed state of affairs, we will not be in a position to consider anything…

That all this might happen without our even having noticed it is a tragedy, though I cannot succeed in telling you why…**

**Editor’s note: The value he sees in Weininger and Stein’s quaintness is precisely this: their having called to our attention what was then, still is, but may not always be, obvious. Rendering the obvious about us is, he likes to think, the special task of genius. Invention, good or bad, must start from such a rendering. Luno adds, “and yes it is supposed to be a little humiliating to require needing to be reminded.” He dares not speculate that it ever gets beyond that start. Not content to be left out in the contest of remarking on the patent, he cannot imagine that women will ever be “outclassed” by men at the very business of living. “What constructiveness we discern in maleness is incidental and a distraction from its real obsession—which is the pursuit of truth, i.e., death. Stein’s instincts were sure.”

Which brings us to the subject of male criminality. To be dealt with in painful detail when we come to June Stephenson’s work.]

Posted by luno in Stein, philosophy and sex, motherhood, Weininger (Monday September 8, 2008 at 12:59 pm)

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