The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities presents
The Intellectual and Literary History Public Seminar Series


Getting Steinached: Scientific Respectability and Popular Disseminations of Sex Research in Interwar German Film

In the socially progressive and politically tumultuous interwar period, researchers in the German-speaking lands were world leaders in the study of sex. Increasingly, sexologists such as Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin and Eugen Steinach in Vienna were turning not only to photography as a seemingly more ‘scientific’ evidential medium than the narrative patient histories upon which they had once relied, but also the cutting-edge technologies of film. Followers of Freudian psychoanalysis likewise began to explore the potential of cinematic media at this period. Historians have noted the lack of research on how photographs function ‘as mediators between scientific and popular culture’ (Tucker, Nature Exposed, 2005). Extending this impetus to moving images, this paper will focus on two films, one documentary and one fictional, that deal with questions of deviant sexualities and personalities in ways that aligned with the important Weimar-era genre of the social hygiene film. The Steinach-Film (The Steinach Film, 1923), a documentary detailing Viennese physiologist Eugen Steinach’s pioneering sex organ transplant experiments into the workings of the sex hormones, explores the physiological basis for a potential ‘cure’ for homosexuality and other ‘intermediary’ sexual forms. G W Pabst’s Geheimnisse einer Seele (1926), written by Freudian followers including Karl Abraham and Hanns Sachs, presents a thriller narrative as a means of popularizing the still-new methods and theories of psychoanalysis. This paper argues that sexologists and psychoanalysts not only worked with filmmakers to disseminate their research and methods to broader publics, but also used this medium to help secure the scientific respectability of their fledgling disciplines.

Katie Sutton is a senior lecturer in German and Gender, Sexuality and Cultural Studies at the Australian National University. She is the author of The Masculine Woman in Weimar Germany (Berghahn Books, 2011), and her second monograph, Sex between Body and Mind: Encounters between Psychoanalysis and Sexology in the German-Speaking World, 1890s-1930s, forthcoming with University of Michigan Press in December 2019, examines the dialogic and competitive relationships between sexual scientists and Freudian analysts in the production of modern ideas about sexual subjectivity, pathology, and normalcy. She has published widely on early 20th-century German trans and queer histories, including articles in Journal of the History of Sexuality, German HistoryGerman Studies Review and the collection Sexology and Translation: Cultural and Scientific Encounters across the Modern World (ed. Heike Bauer, Temple UP, 2015).

Image: Measuring the male body. Screenshot from The Steinach Film (dir. Curt Thomalla, 1923), courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archives, Australia.

4pm Thursday 24th October 2019
Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower
The University of Queensland, St Lucia

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Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower, UQ St Lucia