Womb Narratives: Tales of a Secondary Sex Organ in German Literature and Culture

German Studies Association Annual Conference

3-6 October 2019

Portland Oregon

“[The womb] is a mystery place, profoundly invested with allegorical and, therefore, cultural and political significance.” (Caroline Rupprecht, Womb Fantasies, 2013)

In the 20thand 21st-century German-speaking context, the uterus has been a site of deep ideological contestation,from Nazi-implemented programs of forced sterilization to divergent sets of reproductive policies developed in East and West Germany. In today’sFederal Republic some of the strictest laws governing the use of reproductive technology in the Western world are in force, including a ban on domestic surrogacy. Turning to allegory, post-War German-language writers and filmmakers have used the womb (Schoßor Mutterleib) as a means of conceptualizing both Heimat (Boa and Palfreyman) and German history (Rupprecht).

Against the backdrop of long-standing cultural associations of the (non-pregnant or sexually unsated) womb with a wide range of physical and psychological ailments (e.g. the ancient Greek concept of “the wandering womb” and the modern diagnosis of “hysteria”), twentieth and twenty-first century feminist theorists have approached the pregnant womb as an alternative to phallocentric modes of thought (e.g. Irigaray’s plea for pregnancy and birth narratives as a means of overcoming the androcentric nature of language, and Ettinger’s concept of trans-subjectivity or “the matrixial”). Despite these engagements the question of the non-pregnant womb remains strikingly open.

These theoretical developments have coincided with the ongoing expansion of reproductive technologies: invitro-fertilization, cryopreservation, surrogate gestation, genetic testing, and most recently, genetic editing. Such technologies have opened up new possibilities for post-menopause, post-chemotherapy and same-sex parenthood, but have had implications along class lines and (in particular in the case of transnational commercial surrogacy) added new dimensions to existing transnational economic relations. Alongside and often driving these debates about reproductive technologies are concerns surrounding race, class, gender and sexual orientation that continue to challenge existing perceptions of pregnancy, motherhood and childlessness.

We invite papers that consider the role of German-speaking authors and filmmakers in ongoing cultural debates relating to the womb. Possible questions for consideration include:

What is the relationship between depictions of the womb (and other womb-like spaces) in the contemporary German-language context (for example, the surrogate mother) and earlier womb-related discourses?

What are the potential effects of narrating stories of/through the womb? In what ways have German-language writers and filmmakers engaged with the non-pregnant womb? What non-pregnant (e.g. menstrual, sexual, medical, post-menopausal) womb narratives have been or are being told?

How do womb narratives address the multi-faceted subjectivities that emerge when considering pregnant bodies?

How do contemporary conditions such as advances in science, globalization, and neoliberalism influence artistic engagements with the womb?

Please send abstracts of around 400 words and a short bio to Claire E. Scott ([log in to unmask]) and Claire Ross ([log in to unmask]) by February 1, 2019.

Claire A. Ross

PhD Candidate

Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures,

Washington University in St. Louis, MO 63130, USA

The German Studies Call for Papers List
Editor: Sean Franzel
Assistant Editor: Olaf Schmidt
Sponsored by the University of Missouri
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