Janina Wellmann, The Form of Becoming: Embryology and the Epistemology of Rhythm, 1760–1830
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Embryos have never looked more alive. Over the past several decades, developmental biologists have revealed flurries of embryological activity at multiple scales using sophisticated microscopes and various cell and molecular markers. Among many other phenomena, we now know that the differentiation of cell types, the segmentation of the vertebral column, and the relative sizes of body parts during embryogenesis all rely on layered oscillations of gene expression, protein synthesis, and cell division.1 The challenge is how to integrate these patterned temporalities, which often vary from specimen to specimen, into a holistic understanding of embryonic development. How can life be orderly and yet constantly in flux? And how do we resolve this generative tension?
For biologists and artists alike at the turn of the nineteenth century, the answer to what gave “form” to any process of becoming was rhythm. In The Form of Becoming (translated by Kate Sturge from the original German monograph Die...