The Breathing Self: Toward a History of Respiration
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CitationWalker, Oriana Katharine Noor. 2016. The Breathing Self: Toward a History of Respiration. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation examines human breathing as an historical object. In particular, it traces how changing theories and practices of breathing were at once experiences and techniques of the self. Unlike historical studies of breathing theories and practices to date, this work focuses on a broad cross section of scholarly, scientific, and popular British and American sources spanning the late seventeenth through the mid-twentieth centuries. It questions two common assumptions about breathing and how breathing ought to be studied. First, this study shifts focus away from the frequent preoccupation with breath (or air, or oxygen) to breathing as gesture, expression, or process. Second, it challenges the assumption that there is such a thing as normal, regular, universal breathing.
Evidence of the possibility of a radically different experience of breathing comes from early English printed texts of the seventeenth century that are used to describe the breathing body before biomedicine and modern physiology; this body does not breathe only with the lungs, which entails a particular view of the body’s expression. A major theme of the dissertation is this relationship between the breathing body and its expression. The relationship of breathing, the will, and expression is described using sources from the end of the nineteenth century when psychology was establishing itself as an experimental science different from philosophy and “pneumatology”; at this moment the breathing body was not understood to be able to change itself. As the will was being discredited as a psychological category, the arrival of new texts and practices from India and China inspired a move away from the idea of immutable, “normal” respiration and opened the possibility of practicing breathing for the sake of change. The relationship of breathing and the will is finally considered in terms of the practical context of techniques of resuscitation in the twentieth century, when different models of breathing and volition led to the development of two very different forms of resuscitation and mechanical ventilation.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:33840722
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