Endless breath? The pipe organ and immortality

Francis O’Gorman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract / Description of output

The fantasy of never running out of breath has long been alluring. But in the nineteenth century, the idea acquired a distinctive form of material reality. The pipe organ, existing at least from the ancient Greeks, has often been described as figuratively having lungs. But with the adoption of water/gas then electric-powered organ blowers in the nineteenth century, the organ, theoretically, could provide that which nothing else could: breath that could go on for ever. This essay explores two forms of poetic and narrative reflection on the new powers of the organ’s lungs. First, it considers writing that responded to the apparent instrument of endless breath by reinforcing the organ’s association with the eternal. Second, the essay examines writers who thought precisely the opposite and who acknowledged that, if new organ blowing technology implied unexpendable breathing, the reality—amid failed turbines, broken wind supplies, and insufficient power—reminded the listener of the grave.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Life of Breath in Literature, Culture and Medicine
Subtitle of host publicationClassical to Contemporary
EditorsDavid Fuller, Corinne Saunders, Jane Macnaughton
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9783030744434
ISBN (Print)9783030744427, 9783030744441
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2021

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine
ISSN (Print)2634-6435
ISSN (Electronic)2634-6443


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