Basic Instinct -or- I've Got You Under My Skin

Need for Love and Sexual Healing-or-Paradigm of the Grotesque Body in Dreams

It is abundantly clear by now, by reading my past "Fieldnotes of a Dream Researcher" (my facebook page), that the "grotesque body" paradigm figures prominently in my ideas about erotic dreams and dreaming. The grotesque body is the "genealogical result" (read historical) of the "battle of the sexes", this failure of love can be seen from numerous perspectives. The dream interpretation below provides seven such perspectives that can all be considered part and parcel of the "medical humanities". For it is from this voice of the medical humanities and the "philosopher physician", that we need to restore and heal the dream of love on our planet.

Dreamer: Angela, 30, North American female

In this dream I was attempting to remove shells (similar to mussel shells) from under my skin on my thighs (front above the knee and upward). At first it was difficult because the skin was thick, but as I continued rubbing, the skin became thinner and I was able to remove the shells (I remember a slimy swooshing sound as I removed each shell). The most difficult object to remove was not a shell but something similar to a doll's head (It was not very large, no hair and a black face). I recall having trouble with it and could not remove it in the same manner as the shells. With some effort I was able to remove it and a feeling of satisfaction followed. This dream affected on me for almost a week, nausea and a general feeling of disgust followed as I recalled the details.

Mr. Hagen's Reply: 

Do you have any associations out of your daily life that might help explain the dream?

Angela's Reply:

I was moving out of my sister's house because she was getting divorced. I was also in a relationship which I wanted to get out of.

Mr. Hagen's Reply: Anatomy of Disgust in a Nutshell -or- Sexual Healing

Your dream seems to focus on the "Anatomy of Disgust". I am including 7 research perspectives to view your dream. These perspectives include poetic, aesthetic (beauty), zoological, anthropological, feminism, psychoanalytic and biotopographic (life writing).

7 Perspectives on Dreams of Love, Sex and the Erotic

1. Poetics of Space -or- The Grotesque Body

The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, in "The Poetics of Space", devotes a whole chapter to the symbolic meanings of shells. The expressions "going into" or "coming out" of your shell are existential daydreams which express the need for a protected space. Primitive humans metaphorically viewed the human body as a shell or vessel while the soul was represented by the inner mollusk. Your feelings of disgust can be viewed philosophically especially from the perspective of aesthetics (i.e. art).

The grotesque in art, and literature have received a good deal of attention. Wolfgang Keyser Das Groteske (The Grotesque), sees in the romantic grotesque a nightmarish image of the "world going to pieces". The grotesque is found in the works of Rabelais, Poe and Kafka. The grotesque in dreams as far as I know has received little attention.

The qrotesque continues to survive and inhabit our dreams and our nightmares. Mikail Bakhtin Rabelais and His World uses the parts of the body to promote folk understanding of the grotesque body. Your feelings provides an interpretive point of departure to understand how the grotesque operates in dreams when intimate relationships fail, leaving only grotesque sensations, thoughts and memories. You are not alone, many dreams received by the International Institute for Dream Research from around the globe speak of the "grotesque body".

2. Aesthetic Perspective: Love's Body -or- The Birth of Venus

From an aesthetic perspective the Italian artist Sandro Botticelli's (ca 1445-1510AD) painting of the "Birth of Venus" depicts the goddess Venus rising out of a shell fanned by the winds. In mythology Venus was the Roman goddess of love and beauty. From an artistic point of view, your dream seems to represent your feminine feelings of disgust and ugliness and your attempt to remove these.

Norman Brown Love's Body (1966), traced the role of erotic love in human history. Basically, eroticism, or "Love's Body" was seen as the philosophical key to connecting the human to the (Vitruvian) cosmic universe. As a philosophical message of counter-culture, it was the perfect fit, the right message at the time of the sexual revolution of the 60's, the hippie movement and "make love not war" era.

3. Zoology (Study of animal life) - Animal Attraction and Basic Instinct

The zoologist Desmond Morris has written numerous books including "Intimate Behavior" which outlines the natural history of intimate physical relations, the word intimacy being a euphemism for sexual intercourse. The fact is that the shells are "under your skin." People can "get under your skin" therefore, your attempt to remove them may symbolize and personify the failure of love, beauty, and intimacy. Morris's book was translated into the German and has an interesting connection to the dream, in that the book is titled; "Liebe geht durch die Haut" (Love goes through the skin).

From a "animal" attraction perspective, also known in my own words as the "hormone theory of love", the popular culture film "Basic Instinct" stars detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) and beautiful CatherineTramell (Sharon Stone) which fits the philosophical idea of animalistic lust and desire. Tramell is able to get under the skin of Curran, however Curran is hip to the game, and in "making love" to Tramell, is up to the task of getting under hers as well.

4. Is beauty only anthropologically skin deep? -or- Hey Jude took a Wrong Turn

The anthropologist Mary Douglas in "The Natural Symbol" and "Purity and Danger" provides for an understanding of your dream in its individual as well as collective meanings. The skin in folk psychology is the "place" where we conceptualize touch. In the not to distant past (and still today) disease that attacked the skin in grotesque ways such as leprosy and syphilis were understood by some as allegories of "the wages of sin." Modern folklore has displaced these ideas onto AIDS.

It occurs to me that the Beatles lyrics in "Hey Jude" provide a popular culture clue to your dream of love gone wrong. "Hey Jude, don't be afraid You were made to go out and get her The minute you let her under your skin Then you begin to make it better." Listen to Hey Jude.

5. Once Upon a Feminist Dream -or- You've Lost that Loving Feeling

Arthur Clayborough "The Grotesque in English Literature" provides a Jungian oriented theory of the grotesque. The Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood who recognizes the folktale as the literary archetypal foundation of Western narratives, provides a Canadian "proto"-feminist perspective. As a student of Northrop Frye, Atwood would most likely acknowledge that the dream is a place where the collective archetypal imagination finds expression. Atwood's novels include "The Edible Woman" and "Bodily Harm"; these seem to address some of the feelings and sentiments of your dream. Atwood believes, that Canadian women (especially) suffer from the "Rapunzel syndrome". It is interesting that the doll's head which you also remove from your dream body has no hair (Rapunzel having long golden hair). Therefore, no archetypal literary way to be rescued?

In the U.S. the American poet Anne Sexton, who committed suicide in 1974, wrote Transformations a subversive adaptation of Grimm's fairy tales from a woman's perspective, in which she addresses the abuse, commodification and alienation of women. The Americanized version of Cinderella does not end on a happy note. Sexton writes: "Cinderella and the prince, lived they say, happily ever after, like two dolls in a museum case never bothered by diapers or dust, never arguing over the timing of an egg, never telling the same story twice, never getting a middle-aged spread, their darling smiles passed on for eternity. Regular Bobbsey Twins." Your dream does not tell the same story as Disney's Sleeping Beauty's Once Upon a Dream or Cinderella's theme song A Dream is a Wish that Your Heart Makes. From this music perspective, I think that The Righteous Brother's You've Lost that Loving Feeling may have said it best.

6. Psychoanalytic Perspective: Tales of the Dream of Love and Hate

The psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva in Tales of Love as well as Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia attempts to relate the poetic (metaphoric) language of love and hate. By extracting yourself out of your sister's house as well as out of your relationship you seem to have successfully removed the physical objects of your disgust, contempt and hate.

Ian Suttie in "The Origins of Love and Hate", tracing the psychological roots of patriarchal culture and male sentiment, sees anti-feminist (read misogynistic) feelings as a primary cause of hate in the Western world. Seen from a psychoanalytic poetic perspective, your dream reads like the erotic poetics of hate, aka misandry. From the perspective of men haters and women haters, the IIDR interpretation The Holy Prostitute provides further insight.

7. Biotopographic Perspective: I've Got You Under My Skin -or- Sexual Healing 

The International Institute for Dream Research (IIDR), looks in part to popular culture and media for clues to understanding dreams. The 1978 British film "Rapunzel Let Your Hair Down" uses the noir style narrative in which the prince is portrayed as a detective and Rapunzel as a good girl (needing to be rescued from a lesbian protector) who has been turned into a junkie living at the top of a black tower. For more about Film Noir see my article Dreams and Film Noir at this website. Many dreams such as yours that involve the battle of the sexes (read IIDR article "Film Noir and the Battle of the Sexes") develop into recurring dreams, such as found in the IIDR dream interpretation Groundhog Day.

Perhaps a few final notes, first the lingering nausea that you feel for days perhaps finds an existential psychological explanation in Jean Paul Sartre's Nausea. Second, the Cole Porter song "I've Got You Under my Skin", became a signature song for Frank Sinatra and fits the problem found in your dreams. Third, again from a popular music perspective, what you seem to be really looking for, is what Marvin Gaye called Sexual Healing. Two books that provide perspective on the trauma and the healing aspects; Patricia Garfield, "the healing power of dreams", and Trauma and Dreams, by Deirdre Barrett (ed).

Further literature; 

  • Sonia Mycak, "In Search of the Split Subject: Psychoanalysis, Phenomenology and the Novels of Margaret Atwood"
  • William Ian Miller, "The Anatomy of Disgust"


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