Replicating Venus: art, anatomy, wax models and automata
19 : Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
Open Library of Humanities
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (unless stated otherwise) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Copyright is retained by the author(s).
The modern history of machines that mimic humans — automata, artist’s dummies, mannequins, mechanical dolls, poupées, robots, androids, bionic men and women — is long and varied. Since the birth of the Enlightenment, these adaptable machines have been a testing ground for that perennial question: what does it mean to be human? Eighteenth-century varieties reflected the rise of materialism and conceptions of the body as machine; nineteenth-century automata provided writers and artists with a way of negotiating conflicts between individual desires and social constraints; other automata embodied an industrializing machine age and its new technologies; fin-de-siècle androids manifested a modern privileging of logic and system over individual volition or free will; still others were formed out of eugenicist dreams of human perfection. Of course, there are many other possibilities here, for automata have had as many uses as they have had forms. For all their variety though, they invariably appear at the intersection of science and the arts: from René Descartes’s seventeenth-century musings on clockwork humans and ‘beast-machines’ to the eighteenth-century materialist Julien Offray de La Mettrie’s deliberations on Vaucanson’s famous artificial duck; from the master of macabre Edgar Allan Poe’s writing about Kempelen’s celebrated chess-playing ‘Turk’ to the American inventor Thomas Edison’s nursery rhyme uttering dolls; and from the Maschinenmensch of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to the suburban gynoid of The Stepford Wives. These automata have also inspired influential theoretical work, from Freud’s essay on ‘The Uncanny’ (1919) to Donna Haraway’s Simians, Cyborgs, and Women (1991), as well as a considerable body of literary and cultural history. [...]
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Except where otherwise noted, this item's license is described as This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (unless stated otherwise) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. Copyright is retained by the author(s).