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  • Writer's pictureCorbin Allardice

Commonplace Book 5: Otto Weininger

(Note: The present entry consists of Varshe's translations and adaptations from Sex and Character (Geschlecht und Charakter) by the Austriant-Jewish Philosopher Otto Weininger. As will become readily apparent, Weininger's primary concerns were the deficiencies of both women and Jews in regards to his idealized model of the (German) male subjectivity. Weininger is perhaps most known now, at least to me, because Kafka, too, was obsessed with his writings, with the disappointing or subversive links between Jewish masculinity and (supposed) femininity. Unlike, Varshe (so far as I am aware), Weininger formally converted. And the two share a strong predilection for Christian texts. Also like Varshe, Weininger committed suicide at a young age. It is clear that Varshe must have felt a strong, and deeply personal, afinity for Weininger, one which surely pained him as Weininger's work both validates and metaphysically underpins Varshe's sense of his own essentially inferiority and unworthiness. The English translations of Weininger I use are taken from this 1906 edition, which, unfortunately if unsurprisingly, does not name the translator.)


It is only when the desire for pleasure conquers the desire for worthiness that a human being has fallen

(Sex and Character, XIV Woman and Mankind)


Hot der dursht tsu fargenign dershtikt in mentshn dem viln tsu vert--iz der mentsh a gefalener

Nur wenn der Wille zur Lust den Willen zum Wert besiegt, dann ist der Mensch gefallen

(Geschlecht und Chakter, XIV Das Weib und Die Menschheit)


Duty is only duty to oneself, duty of the empirical ego to the intelligible ego

(Sex and Character, VII Logic, Ethics and the Ego)

Es zenen faran nor flikhtn tsu zikh aleyn, di flikhtn fun’m empirishn ikh tsum transtsendentn

Es gibt nur Pflichten gegen sich, Pflichten des empirischen gegen das intelligible Ich

(Geschlecht und Charakter, VII Logik, Ethik un das Ich)


Self-pity is a feminine characteristic; and, perhaps, a Jewish one?

(Moyshe Varshe adapting Otto Weininger)


Rakhmones hobn af zikh aleyn iz a vayberishe mide; un efshe a yidishe?

»Mitleid mit sich selbst« ist eine eminent weibliche Eigenschaft

(Geschlecht und Charakter, IX Männliche und weibliche Psychologie.

Note: I could not find Varshe’s formulation in Weininger, although perhaps

I missed it. While Weininger does link both femininity and Jewishness

and self-pity and Jewishness, the closest quotation I could find translates

to “Self-pity is an eminently feminine characteristic.”)


At base, love is a desire to sell off, and thereby atone for,one’s own sins; such a desire is immoral.

(Moyshe Varshe adapting Otto Weininger, specific source unknown)

In tokh iz libe a kheyshek oystsukoyfn di eygene zindikayt--aza kheyshekh iz unmoralish.


Like the woman, the Jew is--nothing. He can therefore become anything. He is just like a parasite, taking on a different appearance for each [infested] body. Internally, he is--[multiple and] polyvalent.

(Moyshe Varshe adapting Otto Weininger)*

Vi di froy iz der yid--gornisht. Ken er vern altsding. Er iz glaykh tsu a parazit, vos nemt on af yedn kerper an ander oyszen. Er iz inerlekh--filbadaytend.


Referring to:


The congruity between Jews and women further reveals itself in...the mode in which, like women, because they are nothing in themselves, they can become everything…[the Jew can become], like the parasite, a new creature in every different host, although remaining essentially the same...Internal multiplicity is the essence of Judaism

(Sex and Character, XIII Judaism)

Die Kongruenz zwischen Judentum und Weiblichkeit scheint eine völlige zu werden, sobald auf die unendliche Veränderungsfähigkeit des Juden zu reflektieren begonnen wird...lassen sie nicht von den Juden wie von den Frauen es gelten: sie sind nichts, und können eben darum alles werden...wie der Parasit, der in jedem Wirte ein anderer wird, und so völlig ein verschiedenes Aussehen gewinnt...Innerliche Vieldeutigkeit, ich möchte es wiederholen, ist das absolut Jüdische, Einfalt das absolut Unjüdische.

(Geschlecht und Charakter, XIII Das Judentum)


The Jew lives, like the woman, solely within the family; the Jew has no individuality and therefore the idea of aristocracy, which consists in the preservation of borders between personality-monads, is foreign to him. The Jew is no monadologist. For the Jewish Spinoza, personalities are but modalities of the one real, infinite substance which is not subject to individuation.

(Moyshe Varshe adapting Otto Weininger, trans. Corbin Allardice)

Der yid lebt, vi di froy, nor in der mishpokhe; der yid hot nit keyn individualitet, un deriber iz im oykh fremd der aristokratizm, velkher bashteyt in ophitn grenetsn tsvishn perzenlekhkaytn-monadn. Der yid iz nit keyn monadalog. Far’n yidishn shpinoze zenen perzenlekhkaytn nor modusn fun der eyntsiker realer, umendlikher substants, vos iz nit untergevorfn keyn shum individuatsion.


Referring to:


The true conception of the State is foreign to the Jew, because he, like the woman, is wanting in personality; his failure to grasp the idea of true society is due to his lack of a free intelligible ego. Like women, Jews tend to adhere together, but they do not associate as free independent individuals mutually respecting each other’s individuality...

The pairing instinct is the great remover of the limits between individuals; and the Jew, par excellence, is the breaker down of such limits. He is at the opposite pole from aristocrats, with whom the preservation of the limits between individuals is the leading idea. The Jew is an inborn communist. The Jew’s careless manners in society and his want of social tact turn on this quality, for the reserves of social intercourse are simply barriers to protect individuality...

Spinoza showed his Jewishness and the limits that always confine the Jewish spirit in a still plainer fashion; I am not thinking of his failure to comprehend the State or of his adhesion to the Hobbesian doctrine of universal warfare as the primitive condition of mankind. The matter goes deeper. I have in mind his complete rejection of free-will—the Jew is always a slave and a determinist—and his view that individuals were mere accidents into which the universal substance had fallen. The Jew is never a believer in monads. And so there is no wider philosophical gulf than that between Spinoza and his much more eminent contemporary, Leibnitz, the protagonist of the monad theory, or its still greater creator, Bruno, whose superficial likeness with Spinoza has been exaggerated in the most grotesque fashion.

(Sex and Character, XIII Judaism)


Of the divine in man, of “the God who in my bosom dwells,” the true Jew knows nothing...For the God in man is the human soul, and the absolute Jew is devoid of a soul.

(Sex and Character, XIII Judaism)**


Der yid farshteyt nit di neshome; er aleyn hot nit keyn neshome.

Von dem Göttlichen im Menschen, dem »Gott, der mir im Busen wohnt,« weiß der echte Jude nichts...Denn was im Menschen von Gott ist, das ist des Menschen Seele; der absolute Jude aber ist seelenlos.

(Geschlecht und Charakter, XIII Das Judentum)


A genius is a man who achieves clear consciousness of his own ego and, therefore, of all that is outside ego. Thus, true individuality is true universality; and the genius suffers more than anything, for he suffers with and in everything.

(Moyshe Varshe adapting Otto Weininger)

A genyaler mentsh iz der, vos hot dergreykht klor bavustzayn fun zayn ego, un derfar, fun alem vos iz nit-ikh. Den der ekhter individualitet iz der ekhter universalizm; der genyaler mentsh laydt mer fun ale, vayl er laydt mit ale un in ale


Referring to:


There is in the psychological disposition of the man of genius that which makes it impossible to use other men as a means to an end. And this is it: he who feels his own personality, feels it also in others...The highest individualism is the highest universalism...And the genius suffers most because he suffers with and in each and all.

(Sex and Character, VIII The “I” Problem and Genius)

Auf die psychologische Verfassung kommt es an, welche es unmöglich macht, den anderen Menschen als Mittel zum Zweck zu gebrauchen. Und da fand sich: wer seine Persönlichkeit fühlt, der fühlt sie auch in anderen...Der höchste Individualismus ist der höchste Universalismus...Und der Genius leidet am meisten, weil er mit allem und in allem leidet.

(Geschlecht und Charakter, VIII Ich-Problem und Genialität)


Belief is the acknowledgement of everlasting life, entering into a real relationship with Being. The Jew believes in nothing--not in God and not in the Devil; he is an essentially impious person. Being a Jew is comfortable; he considers his misfortune--his unbelief--to be a virtue. He does not look for God.

(Moyshe Varshe adapting Otto Weininger)

Gloybn heyst bashtetikn dos eybike lebn, arayntretn in an emeser batsiun tsum zayn. Der yid gloybt in gornisht--nit in got, nit in tayvl; er iz in eytsem a nit-frumer mentsh. Zayn a yid iz bakvem; zayn umglik, zayn umgloybn batrakht er az a mayle. Er zukht nit got.


Referring to:


The true peculiarity of the Jew reveals itself best in his essentially irreligious nature...Faith is that act of man by which he enters into relation with being, and religious faith is directed towards absolute, eternal being, the “life everlasting” of the religious phrase. The Jew is really nothing because he believes in nothing.

Belief is everything. It does not matter if a man does not believe in God; let him believe in atheism. But the Jew believes nothing; he does not believe his own belief; he doubts as to his own doubt. He is never absorbed by his own joy, or engrossed by his own sorrow. He never takes himself in earnest, and so never takes anyone else in earnest. He is content to be a Jew, and accepts any disadvantages that come from the fact.

(Sex and Character, XIII Judaism)

Am tiefsten wird die Erkenntnis des eigentlich-jüdischen Wesens erschlossen durch die Irreligiosität des Juden...Der Jude ist der ungläubige Mensch. Glaube ist jene Handlung des Menschen, durch welche er in Verhältnis zu einem Sein tritt. Der religiöse Glaube richtet sich nur speziell auf das absolute Sein. Und der Jude ist nichts, im tiefsten Grunde darum, weil er nichts glaubt.

Glaube aber ist alles. Mag ein Mensch an Gott glauben oder nicht, es kommt nicht alles darauf an: wenn er nur wenigstens an seinen Atheismus glaubt. Das aber ist es eben; der Jude glaubt gar nichts, er glaubt nicht an seinen Glauben, er zweifelt an seinem Zweifel. Er ist nie ganz durchdrungen von seinem Jubel, aber ebensowenig fähig, völlig von seinem Unglück erfüllt zu werden. Er nimmt sich nie ernst, und darum nimmt er auch keinen anderen Menschen, keine andere Sache wahrhaft ernst.

(Geschlecht und Charakter, XIII Das Judentum)


Genius is something which great men take upon themselves; the greatest duty, the greatest pride, the greatest misfortune becomesthe greatest fortune. A man is a genius if he wants genius. Genius is universal responsibility.

(Moyshe Varshe adapting Otto Weininger. This text is a condensation and collage of Sex and Character, VIII The “I” Problem and Genius)

Genyalitet iz dos, vos groyse mentshn hobn af zikh genumen; di greste ufgabe, der grester shtolts, der grester umglik vert dos greste glik. A mentsh iz genyal ven er vil genyalitet. Genyalitet iz universale farantvortlikhkayt.


The Jew has no humor; he has satire. His erotics is one of sentimentality. Hence, humor passes from the eternal and the absolute to the temporal and empirical; erotics--from the empirical to the eternal. The Jew, like the woman, has no trans-empirical ego.

(Moyshe Varshe adapting Otto Weininger.)

Der yid hot nit keyn humor; er iz satirish. Zayn erotik iz sentimental. Den humor geyt oys fun’m eybikn, absolute, tsum tsaytlekhn, empirishn; erotik--fun empirishn tsum eybikn. Der yid, di di froy, hot nit keyn iberempirishn ikh.


Referring to:

The erotics of the Jew are sentimentalism, and their humour is satire...The Jew who does not set out, like the humourist, from the transcendental, and does not move towards it, like the erotic, has no interest in depreciating what is called the actual world, and that never becomes for him the paraphernalia of a juggler or the nightmare of a mad-house. Humour, because it recognises the transcendental, if only by the mode of resolutely concealing it, is essentially tolerant; satire, on the other hand, is essentially intolerant, and is congruous with the disposition of the Jew and the woman.

(Sex and Character, XIII Judaism)

Die Erotik des Juden ist sentimental, sein Humor Satire...Der Jude, der nicht vom Übersinnlichen kommt wie der Humorist, und nicht zum Übersinnlichen will wie der Erotiker, hat kein Interesse, das Gegebene geringer zu werten: darum wird ihm das Leben nie zum Gaukelspiel, nie zum Tollhaus. Weil der Humor höhere Werte kennt, als alle konkreten Dinge, und sie nur listig verschweigt, ist er seinem Wesen nach tolerant; die Satire, sein Gegenteil, ist ihrem Wesen nach intolerant und entspricht darum besser der eigentlichen Natur des Juden wie der des Weibes

(Geschlecht und Charakter, XIII Das Judentum)


All mental illness is the result of the unbearable suffering which is part and parcel of [true] consciousness. The genius who has gone mad does not want his genius, he wants happiness instead.

(Moyshe Varshe adapting Otto Weininger.)

Ale meshugas iz a rezultat fun di undertreglekhe laydn, vos zenen farbundn mit bavustzayn. Der genyaler mentsh, vos iz meshuge gevorn, vil nit zayn genyalitet; anshtot dem vil er glik.


Referring to:


The reason why madness overtakes so many men of genius—fools believe it comes from the influence of Venus, or the spinal degeneration of neurasthenics—is that for many the burden becomes too heavy...The genius which runs to madness is no longer genius; it has chosen happiness.

(Sex and Character, VIII The “I” Problem and Genius)

Aus keinem anderen Grunde auch — Toren glauben dann an die Nachwirkungen der Venus oder an die spinale Degeneration des Neurasthenikers — verfallen so viele geniale Menschen dem Irrsinn. Es sind diejenigen, denen die Last zu schwer wurde...Das Genie, das zum Irrsinnigen wird, will nicht mehr Genie sein; es will statt der Sittlichkeit — das Glück.

(Geschlecht und Charakter, VIII Ich-Problem und Genialität)


*-Varshe’s term for “Jewish multiplicity” (filbadaytend) is a clear calque translation (which is not to say incorrect or “foreign”) of Weininger’s term (Vieldeutigkeit). Both terms could be rendered, more or less, as “multiplicity, polyvalence, ambiguity.” It is worth noting that Varshe uses a verbal adjective where Weininger uses a noun. It’s also interesting to note that this English translation uses “Aryan” where Weininger uses “Non-Jewish,” although he does use Aryan (Arier, arisch) elsewhere in the text.

**- Notably, Varshe effaces Weininger’s distinction, however tremulous, between “the absolute (or true) Jew” and “the Jew.” Moreover, he uses the markedly Jewish neshome (soul) rather than zel or even gayst.

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