Reproduction without polarity in the work of Johann Wilhelm Ritter
The theories of reproduction that emerged at the end of the eighteenth century exhibited a range in experimental thinking about concepts of gender and sexuality. This essay focuses on the work of a writer who proposed an unusual alternative to polarity-based ideas of reproduction. Johann Wilhelm Ritter (1776–1810) was a physicist and friend to the German Romantics and someone whose writing also shares many interests with German Naturphilosophie. The essay discusses how, inspired by ideas from the alchemical tradition, Ritter challenged conventional thinking about reproduction in two significant ways: by linking it to the idea of rotation, and by using the figure of the androgyne to understand reproductive models in terms of triads, rather than oppositional pairings. A further objective of this essay is to consider which aspects of the alchemical tradition proved the most useful for Ritter's experimental thinking and to show how he integrated them with reflections on contemporary scientific developments around 1800.