On the Emergence of Sexual Difference in the 18th Century: Economies of Pleasure in Herder's Liebe und Selbstheit1

By Holzhey, Christoph F E | German Quarterly, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

On the Emergence of Sexual Difference in the 18th Century: Economies of Pleasure in Herder's Liebe und Selbstheit1


Holzhey, Christoph F E, German Quarterly


Auch in der Freundschaft ist Ein Theil immer der thätige, der andre mehr beihelfend und leidend: jener männlich, dieser weiblich; oft umgekehrt nach Geschlechtern. Einklang ist in dieser Ehe der Seelen weder angenehm noch nutzlich, noch moglich.

The Enlightenment, which enthusiastically propagated man's universality and humanity's progress, also produced a "profound transformation," even "revolution" in views on sex and gender (Schiebinger 189 and 206, Trumbach). Not only did the polarization of the sexes increase dramatically, but it also acquired a new quality. While sex previously had joined a series of other categories-such as age, color, region, and diet-to determine a subject's humors, temperament, and position within a continuous socio-cultural hierarchy of beings, it came to mark a fundamental distinction by the end of the 18th century. The two sexes became incommensurable, each capable of its own perfection, and at the same time complementary, that is, each was conceived as lacking and becoming complete only through union with its complement. This transformation is intimately linked to the construction of heterosexuality that occurred most forcefully by way of medical discourses on homosexuality during the 19th century, but arguably began already in the early 18th century (Trumbach). Historical research has highlighted how a variety of discourses sought to ground a radical gender binary in nature by opposing men and women on every level, including their anatomy, physiology, psychology, and moral character (Hausen, Honegger, Schmersahl). Biological essentialism, as it was analyzed by much 20th-century feminist criticism, can thus be said to originate in the 18th century.

That the tight, causal connection of sex and gender should have a fairly short history would seem to support the influential distinction between (biological) sex and (socio-historically constructed and variable) gender. Yet this distinction has also been questioned by the theoretical and historical argument that "sex is as culturally constructed as gender" (Butler T). Judith Butler's Gender Trouble refers in particular to Thomas Laqueur, who identifies a shift in the 18th century from a "one-sex/flesh model" (in which woman is an imperfect version of man, into whom she could conceivably transform) to a "two-sex/flesh model" (in which male and female bodies differ in every respect). While many cultural, political, even epistemological reasons can be given for this shift, Laqueur insists that scientific discoveries about the body and its sex were not among them. In view of his and Londa Schiebinger's account of pre-modern conceptions of gender as a cultural and cosmological category more fundamental and primary than sex, one could say that the priority of gender over sex-or of culture over nature-carries over to the production of opposite sexes. "Gender shaped sex" (Schiebinger 161) not only in antiquity, but also in modernity, so that one can conclude that sex "was always already gender" (Butler 7).

Although the 20th century did much to unsettle the enormously successful grounding of gender and sexuality in nature, it did not return to a pre-modern continuity of beings. If gender shapes sex, critiques of both essentialism and the assumption of a pre-discursive sex binary must indeed be ineffectual. The more fundamental issue is the radical disjunction between opposite genders (or other categories). The 18th-century break with the continuity of gender prior to its foundation in sex, is here of particular interest. The point is not to find a pure, absolute origin, but on the contrary to exploit the transitional character of this historical moment in order to recover traces of the preceding, continuous taxonomy and the rationale for excluding it together with alternative options.

My opening quote indicates that Johann Gottfried Herder's essay liebe und Selbstheit (1781) belongs precisely to this moment. By noting that gender ("mannlich"/"weiblich") is often aligned inversely to sex ("umgekehrt nach Geschlecht"), it makes clear that gender is not (yet) reduced to sex. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

On the Emergence of Sexual Difference in the 18th Century: Economies of Pleasure in Herder's Liebe und Selbstheit1
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.