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Goethe Yearbook


“Goethe, Faust, and Motherless Creations” reads the life and work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe alongside the material culture of motherless creations, the automata, androids, and golems that his contemporaries imagined and created. Automata and androids are motherless in the sense that men create them, and they represent an attempt to usurp women’s primary role in reproduction. The manufacture of automata and androids and the pursuit of natural philosophy put male inventors and scientists in reproductive roles, for they sought to overturn the boundary between life and death. Examining Goethe’s relationship to the artificial life forms of his period sheds light not only on the role parentage plays in Faust, a text replete with references to rebirth and reproduction, but also the author’s relationship to discursive debates around what contemporaries called Erzeugung or generation. Homunculus in Faust II satirizes the idea of surrogacy; surrogate motherhood dominates discussions about obstetrics and gynecology in the Goethezeit, when men increasingly took control over these advancing fields. The essay argues finally for a link between the pseudo-science of Faust and discursive debates around women’s ostensibly ancillary roles in procreation, even if the author himself seems to prefer organic to mechanical processes in building life.

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Wendy C. Nielsen, “Goethe, Faust, and Motherless Creations.” Goethe Yearbook 23 (2016): 59-75.