On Stifling a Transcendental Breath

An Italian Contribution to the Philosophy of Breathing


  • Michael Lewis




Agamben, language, voice, breath, animal, human, humanism, transcendental, empirical, masks, stifling, identity, invisibility, virus, pandemic


The article contends that respiratory philosophy has, thus far, laid predominant stress upon the empirical form of breathing, as opposed to the transcendental; or at least it has used breath precisely as an occasion to elide or deconstruct this very opposition. Breath is then conceived primarily as material, bodily, and natural: as binding us together with the animals and with all living things.

And yet this apparently benign ecological gesture is not without its deleterious side-effects: by contrasting this gesture with a more humanistic and transcendental conception of breath, inspired by Giorgio Agamben’s work on the voice, we might begin to gain some clarity as to the jarring contrast that sprang up between the friendly valorisation of a shared con-spiration that has characterised this young philosophy up to now, and the intense, even violent, hostility to the breath of the other which the developed world exhibited from at least 2020 to 2022.

We consider whether an overly empiricistic conception of breath and of the human might have played a part in this reversal of values. In conclusion, the article urges upon us a certain turn towards the transcendental form of the breath, and indeed to a certain human exceptionalism in this regard.


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How to Cite

Lewis, Michael. 2023. “On Stifling a Transcendental Breath: An Italian Contribution to the Philosophy of Breathing”. Poligrafi 28 (111/112):197-223. https://doi.org/10.35469/poligrafi.2023.413.