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Fuzzy ladies and corporate girls

Notes on:
Reiner Stach, “Kafka’s Egoless Woman: Otto Weininger’s Sex and Character”

Kafka, Weininger and “depersonalized” women

Stach discusses Kafka’s women, suggesting they were in large part casted by Weininger, of whom Stach seems to have a rather knee-jerk impression.

Stach suggests Weininger’s “hypostatization of the feminine” is a ruse to shield his study from “social reality,” making it “impervious to empirical observation or experience.” Stach characterizes it as “specious rationalism” and as “brutally systematic.”

Citing Weininger: “…woman has no conception of truth” (S&C, 287); is non-moral (S&C, 197); “knows no self-doubt” (S&C, 196). [But she knows when she is being cheated, when she is right, and though she may never really be “at a loss,” sometimes she may suffer a loss of identity, though never her role (these are not the same).]

Freedom, necessity, and causality are unknown to women; thus, they lack not only all insight into their own ‘destiny’ (to be a woman), but also the capacity to arrive at such an insight through analytical, logical thinking.

[The advantage to humankind, if not always to men themselves, of these appreciations and capacities has been somewhat exaggerated. Ask any woman.]

Each feminine display of affection is at once erotic and maternal. Yet these components are compatible since both ‘types’ represent both the desire to merge as well as the deindividualized arbitrariness of this desire: on the one hand, ‘the absolute mother’ whose love is independent of the personality of her child or the husband she has accepted as a child, and on the other, the ‘absolute whore,’ whose promiscuity is likewise indiscriminate.

“It quickly becomes clear that his [Weininger’s] schematization of female deficiency is a theoretical system with striking similarities to the practice of Kafka’s literary characterization of women.” Stach goes on “to reveal a profound affinity between Kafka’s portrayal of the Feminine and Weininger’s model of female deficiency…”

Aspects of anti-feminine resentment formulated in Weininger:

First, that masculinity is law, measure, rule, territory—entities that are threatened by, are antagonistic to, whatever is without order, exceptional, unbounded. The feminine draws the masculine beyond its own limits and is, in the language of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, the agent of ‘deterritorialization’ itself. Second, that antifeminine resentment is totalitarian and paranoid…. Weininger’s line of reasoning devolves into fantasies of annihilation that throw a grim light on the motives behind his brutal system: the essence of woman, the substratum of the feminine, must be obliterated.

[In note 17 (p. 277) in support of the preceding line, Stach cites Weininger: “And if all femininity is immoral, women must stop being women and become men.” But how can “femininity” be immoral when no individual woman can be? Recall, Weininger says women are amoral, viz., morality does not apply to them any more than it applies to non-rational fauna or flora. This is at the core of his moral theory. So if femininity evinces immorality it must be so not because it is intrinsically immoral but because it displaces rational agency but only when it appears where it should not, when rational agents, or those capable of being such, shirk their responsibility—impossibly demanding though it may be—when they partake of the feminine shade, as it were, from the fierce sun of reason. And who are the principle rational agents in question? Largely men. It is femininity in men that Weininger hones in on. It is men who require becoming men. (Those few women who might be gathered in this net are in the ambiguous position (from the conventional male moral perspective) of being free to choose a side and yet not really having to choose: male morality is optional for them. Even the most “unmoral” option of slipping back and forth between male and female standards is open to them for the simple reason that a native feminine morality is not founded on hard and fast rules or based ultimately on the hegemony of reason, but on a more fluid, situational perception of what is needed for life to flourish.)

We have to ask in what sense Weininger’s system is “brutal”? It is directed at men. Impossibly phantasmic the system, maybe, laughably inappropriate to men as we fear them to be, believably, (something like this, we suspect, is what Wittgenstein hinted at in his letter to Moore when he described Weininger as “fantastic”)… but brutal?]

Stach turns now to a deft discussion of Brunelda in Kafka’s Amerika and the usher’s wife, Leni, and the girls of the court in The Trial, finding in them all consummate Weiningerian portraits.

The figures become more and more abstract; an amoral, unconscious, sexually aggressive entity progressively emerges in their place, and not only at the cost of their discursive and social dimension, but of their human individuality as well. At the end of the chain their individuality is entirely done away with and femininity expresses itself only in gestures and in the collective practice of the horde.

An essentialist portrait: “The historical, fearful question of essence—What is woman before her socialization?—is replicated here in an image whose clarity omits nothing: corporeality, lust for life, sexual aggression, animalistic collectivity.” [Supposing, for the sake of argument, woman, really is all these things, only let’s, if we can, excise the negative connotation of all these terms. The connotations need not accompany the bare descriptions. The pill may not be so bitter that it needs artificial sweetening. We can concede that Weininger may well have intended the connotations. They were topical and far from being his inventions… But there is some indication he was actually striving to transcend them. Acknowledgment of must precede development from

But whatever Weininger may have been thinking, what exactly is wrong with “corporeality, lust for life, sexual aggression, animalistic collectivity, etc…”? Specifically with animals? collectivity? aggression? sex? lust for life? and corporeality? Every one of these notions, except perhaps for unvarnished aggression, has now, and had in Weininger’s day, its respectable defenders. Even aggression, transmuted a little as “assertiveness,” can be made presentable in civilized company. Clearly, Stach takes it for granted his readers will pickup on the negativity implied. I, for one, sympathize deeply with some paeans to the beauty, wonder, and relative moral purity of animals. How often do we hear the words “united” or “solidarity” used in aspiration to collectivity? A sex life of some sort is reputed to be, not only inevitable, but downright healthy. Living to the fullest? Who today complains about that? Corporeality? Well, our entire hedonistic culture seems premised on it. (True, hedonism in some quarters was once taken for an unsavory notion, but we can scarcely suggest that today without some embarrassment.) What, pray, is wrong—or should be taken by us as wrong—with these very earthy predicates? What about them can still after a century or so unnerve us, mostly men, as though we, like recently reformed alcoholics were in some danger of recidivism?

…unless we are admitting that something of Weininger’s ahistorical essentialism still very much haunts us. If so, it seems a more constructive thing to do with our time to probe a bit into why we are so persistently vulnerable. We might do better to attempt an understanding of that and not dismiss it through a fear we ought not to be feeling.]

In The Castle, the two nameless girls at the inn, as his other female characters, “…are not centered on an individual ego but, rather, on a general and transsubjective entity: feminine language is the language of the body.”

In these characters, which Stach examines closely, he finds that Kafka is pushing the depersonalization of the feminine to an extreme, seducing his reader into making the final inferences. They belong to “an intermediate realm between humans and animals”. Later, “They remain without depth and without the possibility of developing further.”

There is the motif of “filth” running through Kafka and its association with coitus.

But Weininger’s ontological conclusion that women represent nothingness because they are without an ego too clearly bears the marks of self-placating rationalization. His conclusion covers over the fact that women’s ‘amorphousness,’ which supposedly fills the gap left by the lack of female identity, is more frightening than a presumed feminine nothingness could ever be. Kafka’s female characters show that the male figures must ward them off as in flight from something that is too strong, too ubiquitous, completely different. The feminine horde and aggressive female corporality transform the woman into something suprapersonal and natural by destroying her identity: the feminine no longer appears as [169] tangible adversary, nor as simple deficiency, but as an engulfing viscous medium that the male ego can no more avoid than a swimmer can avoid water. …The theft of feminine identity avenges itself: whatever is without form can adopt any form and gains new power from its previous lack.

After quoting Nietzsche on women—her “beast-of-prey suppleness” (Beyond Good and Evil, p. 169, Kaufmann trans.)—Stach concludes that for Kafka,

…women bond into sibling groups and series, which prefigure the mingling of the sexes, the liquefaction of all form, dissolution and decline. Kafka’s erotic fantasies reveal that he, like Weininger, feared this dissolution of boundaries as something irreversible and deadly.

[He did and, for better or worse, most men do. The fear is real and deep-seated and no amount of dismissive pathologizing should convince us that it is something that has a cure.]

Notable notes from Stach’s footnotes:

6 The only document about Kafka’s lasting interest in Weininger is a letter from 1921, in which he asks the writer Oskar Baum for the manuscript of his lecture on Weininger (L 276)

10 It is remarkable that this argument stripped of its polemical force, is today the basis for a possible sublation of sexual alienation: universal bisexuality as the basis for the communicability of sexual experiences. Cf. Christian David, ‘On Male Mythologies of Femininity,’ in J. Chasseguet-Smirgel (ed.) Psychoanalyse der weiblichen Sexualitat (Frankfurt a. M., 1974), p. 71.

20 Originally Brunelda was a singer, a private erotic allusion which refers to a medical lecture that Kafka attended in Jungborn in 1912. There, a doctor asserted ‘that breathing from the diaphragm contributes to the growth and stimulation of sexual organs, for which reason female opera singers, for whom diaphragm breathing was requisite, are so immoral.’ (L 81; see also D 477).

21 In the work of Franz Jung one finds a startling formulation which most concisely characterizes this somatic dominance: a woman screams ‘coldly, as if behind any core of humanity’ (Das Trottelbuch [Berlin, 1918], p. 23).

28 Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, abridged edition by Helmut Werner (New York: The Modern Library, 1962), trans. Charles Francis Atkinson: ‘The feminine stand closer to the Cosmic. It is rooted deeper in the earth and it is immediately involved in the grand cyclic rhythms of Nature.’ (p. 354).

Posted by luno in Kafka, sex differences, Weininger (Thursday September 22, 2005 at 1:05 pm)

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