Breathing in Psychoanalysis

“Whatever the breath does, follow it.” In recent years this has become a familiar instruction: yoga is offered in gyms and workplaces, mindfulness is studied in randomised controlled trials, practiced (and tracked) with apps, while psychotherapeutic approaches to trauma that include the body are leaving the fringes for the mainstream. The techniques are simple, but they are riddled with nothing less than that oldest of conundrums: the relationship between mind and body. In this talk we will take a historical approach to the act of breathing, and follow the breath, “whatever it does,” through the various ways body and mind have been imagined across psychoanalytic theories.

We will follow breath from the “hysterical coughing” of the first patient of psychoanalysis, Anna O., Freud’s analysis of the Wolf Man’s exhalations, his broken intimacy with otolaryngologist Wilhelm Fliess (with whom he frequently discussed the nose and sexuality), through the young experimentalist Carl Jung’s attempt to measure respiration in light of The Interpretation of Dreams, the addendums and reinterpretations of Freud by Otto Rank and Otto Fenichel, the medicalized psychosomatics of Franz Alexander and, finally, Wilhelm Reich’s x-rays of the rigid, barely breathing diaphragms of the heavily armoured individual.

We want to fully understand both the promise and limitations of embodied approaches to wellbeing which, as this talk will suggest, depends on remembering how breath, body, and mind, interact in ways that continually result in new relationships among all, as well as between each, of them.

Arthur Rose is a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow in English at Bristol University, where he is completing a project titled “Asbestos: A Matter of Time”. His publications include Literary Cynics: Borges, Beckett, Coetzee, Theories of History (with Michael J. Kelly) and Reading Breath in Literature (with Heine, Tsentourou, Saunders and Garratt).
Twitter: @eclecticpneumas
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Oriana Walker is an historian of medicine, currently a postdoctoral fellow at Humboldt University and the Berlin Center for the History of Knowledge. She is at work on a manuscript entitled A History of Breathing.
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