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Sexual Violence, Typologies of the Feminine, and Otto Weininger Revisited: the Lustmord Pictures of George Grosz

Murtagh, Lauren

This thesis will examine the cultural construction and significance of the sexual murderer by exploring the theme of lustmord in the work of George Grosz. Enjoying a curious ubiquity during the early Weimar years, lustmord as artistic subject is frequently rationalized as modernist aesthetic strategy, political allegory, or Freudian pathology. Rather than compiling an encyclopedic survey of lustmord’s various iterations, I will focus principally on Grosz’s engagement with Otto Weininger’s magnum opus Geschlecht und Charakter, whose influence is frequently treated as something of an afterthought. While the Neue Sachlichkeit verists, Grosz among them, are conventionally considered the most acerbic critics of the excesses of the Weimar era, they often operated squarely within certain of the ideological frameworks that define it. I will therefore seek to determine to what degree Grosz reinforces (or departs from) prevailing ideologies regarding gender relations, sexuality, and lustmord itself. In many past studies of this theme, the First World War and its aftermath are taken to somehow legitimize the hostility inherent in the subject. According to such arguments, the artist merely substitutes domestic and gendered battlefields for military ones. However, many of Grosz’s lustmord pictures, as well as the sinister alliance of female sexuality with disorder and death in Grosz’s oeuvre coincide with or precede the war. While I will not ignore or refute the works’ potential political subtext, I will more closely examine the intellectual, philosophical, and pseudo-scientific groundwork that was laid well before the Great War. I will situate the subject within Grosz’s preoccupation with the sensational, his general misanthropy, the groundwork laid by Weininger, and public discourse on prostitution and the neue frau. I will assert that the war did not initiate explorations of lustmord from the shell-shocked artist, but merely altered the nature of the artist’s engagement with an already established subject. I will first discuss Oskar Kokoschka’s play (and later opera) Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen and accompanying drawings as ur-lustmord. Kokoschka was one of the first artists to engage with Weininger’s philosophy; his play puts forth a cosmic, metaphysical lustmord in which Woman ceases to exist the moment Man denies his own sexuality, thus disavowing her essence. I will then discuss Grosz’s treatment of the subject through the prism of Weininger’s characterology and conception of Woman as an exclusively sexual non-entity. I will trace the trajectory of the lustmord theme through Grosz’s oeuvre, including how it evolved from an independent subject in the prewar period to an oft-hidden leitmotif in innumerable wartime and postwar works. I will assert that Grosz’s engagement with the subject is unique among his contemporaries in that he treated the theme in a greater array of styles and across a far longer span of time than any other artist. I will also address the clandestine self-portraits that situate Grosz vis-à-vis the sinister, turbulent milieu that plays host to the lustmord subject. I will ultimately assert that Grosz constructs the sexual murderer as a victim of Woman and the power of her sexuality; he emphatically and almost invariably depicts men with a total lack of agency. I will also address the question of self-directed lustmord (the ultimate consequence of Woman’s sexual tyranny) in Grosz’s work. The sexual murderer is thus cast as an unwilling victim of compulsions which must be mastered; one way to do so is to eliminate the threat altogether via the lustmord. Perhaps more importantly, the grotesque corporeality of Grosz’s female nudes elicits repulsion rather than erotic interest, thus annihilating desire along with the works’ feminine subjects (effecting a mord of lust along with a lustmord).

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Elcott, Noam M.
Degree
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
September 3, 2013
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