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Durham University

Department of English Studies


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Publication details for Dr Peter Garratt

Garratt, Peter (2019). Out of Breath: Respiratory Aesthetics from Ruskin to Vernon Lee. In Reading Breath in Literature. Rose, Arthur Palgrave Macmillan.

Author(s) from Durham


This chapter examines the roles played by respiration—as physiological process, and embodied response—in the development of aesthetic theories at the end of the nineteenth century, traced from Ruskin to Vernon Lee. Late nineteenth-century attempts to define aesthetic experience in terms of its attendant physiological reactions still drew on breath’s immaterial poetic associations (air, wind and spirit) while being alert to the way respiratory control shifts easily between voluntary and involuntary modes of experience (will/automation). Lee’s idea of aesthetic experience envisages a complex, perhaps mystifying, action of involvement with works of art, dependent upon physiological, sensorimotor and respiratory movement. Exploring her understanding of empathetic identification, and relating it to current models of enactive cognition, the chapter recovers an entangled art and science of breath in nineteenth-century aesthetic theory.

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