The Life of Breath: History, Texts, Contexts
Tue 10 July @ 9:00 am - Thu 12 July @ 5:00 pm
10-12 July 2018, Durham
Breathing is a basic physiological process, yet also has deep cultural, spiritual and personal meaning. However, although breath and breathing are such resonant and urgent subjects, they have never been the subject of systematic cultural or literary study. This three-day invited conference will provide an intensive forum to bring together international scholars whose research spans the classical, medieval, early modern, Romantic, Victorian and modern periods to work on a major new essay collection will play a key role in advancing the work of the Life of Breath project.
The imaginative worlds of literature from the classical period onwards demonstrate the complex significance and symbolic power of breath and breathlessness across time, illustrating both cultural shifts and continuities. Breath and breathlessness are flashpoints in a range of discourses, complex terms linked both to ideas of health and life and to their converse, illness and death. Breath can signal the most fundamental aspects of human existence – and the most ephemeral.
Lectures and papers will focus on the intellectual, cultural and literary history of breath, breathing and breathlessness, in order to tease out the origins and development of cultural attitudes and understandings, and to probe the imaginative and affective power of ideas connected with breath over time. Discussion and dialogue will also be informed by the clinical, sociological and empirical work of other members of the project team. While the structure of the conference and volume will be chronological, a particular aim will be to tease out connections, contrasts and continuities across time, with a view to speaking to current experience, both normal and pathological.