Chapter 8. Breathing what? Solidarity!

Isn’t it weird to claim that in one breath dark hermeneutics owes much to deconstruction and in the same breath it uses breath as a theoretical apparatus for language? Because breath and breathing is related to speaking, to language and that in turn is related to thinking.1 Does dark hermeneutics repeat the hermeneutical phonologozentrism? Is this now the short circuit which ends all talking about object-oriented ontology, poetics without human subjects etc.? Can philology now breathe a sigh of relief again? 

A short answer: no. I am sorry. I will continue the journey and also try to tackle the real short circuit of respiration, language and thought. For this I have to breath under water (again). This means breathing not with water in my mouth but breathing surrounded by water, what will bring me ultimately to writing, textuality and literarity.  

In his early writings Friedrich Kittler writes about breath. Those early writings evolve around a special place the “Rimsinger Baggersee”2 and therefore constitute a biography which is wet, written and related to breathing for every swimmer must know how to breathe to not drown. 

Kittler himself connects the question of respiration with psychoanalysis approaching breath hermeneutically and (un-)consciously. For him breathing comes ultimately before every other act, oral or anal.3 “With its first breathe human life begins outside the uterus. If you will, the infant reenacts the transition to life of a terrestrial animal.”4 Reproducing here implicitly one of Sándor Ferenczi’s theory of dreams about water indicating not only the trauma of birth but also the terrestrial diaspora of all animals yearning for the aquatic,5 Kittler could be connected to Astrida Neimanis concept of “bodies of water”. 

But for now, I would like to keep breathing on land before deep diving into the aqueous element. Why? Because breathing single handedly deconstructs the pre-assumptions of psychoanalysis, ignoring that breathing comes before everything else and therefore before the self-sustaining of the individual6, before eros and thanatos. Breathe even includes eros and thanatos in its procedure of inhaling (life, eros) and exhaling (death, thanatos).

Why psychoanalysis did not deal with breathing is explained by its (ontological?) status as an “involuntary reflex”.7 While Nutrition implies practices of eating and food sourcing7 and excretion comes with a morality, breath works in a different way: it has not to be trained or learned or regulated. But one can make breathing artificial by implementing special breathing techniques. Those techniques do not have their use in getting enough air to keep existing and being a living organism, the aim at something else. They are hermeneutical techniques par excellence as they aim at something which must be gained through breathing. Therefore, breathing is also related to mediality. It mediates something and that something is more than air. And this “more than” is rooted in the unconsciousness, in the real, while eating and defecating is related to the imaginary and symbolic order (because they have a morality and/or practices to follow): 

“Therefore, in eating and shitting consciousness is in play and therefore psychoanalysis not as a theory of objective stages of development, but as a theory of the anamnetic accessible, can ask back to the orality and anality of the individual, but not back to the respiration.”8

Respiration does not need intersubjective relationships.7 It is “asexual, which does not mean, that there is no pleasure to experience.”7 Music is Kittler’s example. And he is aware of the possibilities which lie in the some breathing techniques leading to orgasm or hallucination. But while Kittler is claiming that “nicotine and hashish are the respiratory twins death and ecstasy”,7 one could say, that breath does not need any twins and therefore no material substitutes. 

But either way the conclusion is very interesting: “From eating and shitting all idiosyncrasies originate, whereas respiration is equally entitled to everyone, being not individually modifiable by others – parents –, thus social or general in the most original way.”9

Breathing makes all human beings equal. Let’s push things a little bit beyond the anthropocentric romanticism of social equality. The poet Gustav Sjöberg discusses in his book “zu der blühenden allmaterie. über die natur der poesie”10 an averroistic poetics11 Deconstructing the “poetological dispositif”12 which follows the “Aristotelian distinction” between form and matter, Sjöberg argues for a nature-philological writing.13

What this writing connects to breath is the possibility of being common or shared. Nature-philological writing is not individual as respiration is not idiosyncratic. It is also anti-capitalist as well as breathing: nutrition does constitute ownership respiration does not.14

Sjöberg uses the term “possible intellects” regarding to the concept of the “unity of intellects” by Averroes. For Averroes all humans share a common intellect as they share respiration. 

With Sjöberg I think of a possibility to integrate a concept of solidarity within dark hermeneutics which also reaches out to non-human/more-than-human beings. He asks: “could it be imaginable, to free the term “unity of intellects”/”possible intellects” of its anthropocentric foundation?”15 

To tackle the anthropocentric view on an Averroistic poetics Sjöberg asks: “what does it mean, the poetry is not written by individual human beings, but within a “unity of intellects” (possible intellect M. B.) and out of it, as a contingent, continuously changing articulation of a pre-linguistic/verbal linguistic/verbal and post-lingustic/verbal community, including the organic and anorganic world?”16 

One might want to change the word articulation with enunciation and connect pre-linguistic, linguistic and post-linguistic to Lacan’s terms of “le langage”, “la langue” and “lalangue” to differentiate the modes of speaking/ language. Please keep in mind – as far as I understood – that Sjöberg is more interested in writing than in speaking. Turning to Giordano Bruno Sjöberg unfolds his term of nature-philological poetics.17 Its mode is the montage or we could use a more botanical term as for Sjöberg every human should be an inverted plant: grafting. Jacques Derrida uses the term in his book dissemination regarding Gaston Bachelard’s book about water and dreams.18 Grafting means making cuts on the white paper. Citations are inserted into these cuts. A new text emerges from it. At the same time, this process is not controlled but, as it were, dispersed.

No wonder, Sjöberg understands writing as planetary gardening, a tradition Derrida seems to follow and also to undermine. But breath is what connects us to the planetary garden especially in the figure of a respiratory metabolism. But Sjöberg is not a naïve romanticist but a Marxist referring to the power of the capital which already has its “invisible hands” on the planetary garden as well as on poetry. Capital and labor are the key concepts which have to be criticize.19 To do so poetry should vegetate.7 writing should be “become plant” as one could speak with Deleuze and Guattari. For me respiration is the key of undermine a capitalist interpretation of labor and therefore a re-interpretation of writing as well as understanding what is written (dark hermeneutics). One cannot accumulate breath. One has to share the air. Breathing is not an act of labor, even if it is work. Breathing is ultimately equal and writing is breathing in solidarity. 

  1. Kittler 2015, 17 []
  2. Ibid., 9 []
  3. Ibid., 17. []
  4. Ibid., translation M.B. []
  5. Neimanis 2017, 132 []
  6. Kittler 2015, 18 []
  7. Ibid. [] [] [] [] [] []
  8. Ibid., translation M.B. []
  9. Ibid. translation M.B. []
  10. Sjöberg, 2020 []
  11. Ibid., 24ff. []
  12. Ibid., 17 translation M.B. []
  13. Ibid. 18 []
  14. Kittler 2015, 19 []
  15. Sjöberg 2020, 25 []
  16. Ibid., 24 []
  17. Ibid., 37 []
  18. Derrida 1995, 226 []
  19. Sjöberg 2020, 41 []

By Martin Bartelmus

Martin Bartelmus is a Postdoctoral Scholar of German Literary, Media, and Cultural Theory at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. He studied German Literature, Philosophy, Political and Social Studies at Julius Maximilians University Würzburg and received his PhD in Media and Cultural Studies as part of the DFG graduate program “Materiality and Production” from Heinrich Heine University. His PhD-Thesis is entitled Cultural Born Killer: Poetics of Killing around 1900. Before joining the department of German Literature at Heinrich Heine University for his current postdoctoral position, he worked as a curator for the Museum of Natural History of the Benrath Palace and Park Foundation and as a freelancer for the Julia Stoschek Collection. He is interested in Animal and Plant Studies, killing in literature and film, French theory, Object-Oriented Ontology, and literature without humans.

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