Saturday, June 27, 2009

Another anatomy dream

Salvador Dali (1904-1989), The Anthropomorphic Cabinet, 1936
When I told Michael Sappol that I had used an image from Dream Anatomy (which he curated) to illustrate my post on Freud's Dissection Dream, he gratiously replied, "I am delighted that I could help in any way to stock Quigley's Cabinet..." He then brought to my attention another anatomy dream discussed in the introduction to Body Parts: Critical Explorations in Corporeality. French scholar and promoter of physical health Edmond Desbonnet (1867-1953) overheard some servants in another household complaining about their master. The chef threatened to put a purgative in the sauce, the chauffer would cause the car to break down, and the gardener would kill one of his favorite plants, all of which would of course disrupt the domestic tranquility of the household. That night Desbonnet dreamed his own body was in revolt. "All at once, in the middle of the night," he wrote, "I felt a terrible unlatching: my head opened up and, miraculously, my brain came out! It stood on two fine and nervous little legs and waved around two long, thin arms. It stepped down to my chest, knocked three times on my thorax, which opened as if it were enchanted." His brain summoned his heart and lungs with a shrill voice, then they gathered up the stomach and intestines. "Immobile with fright, I saw my organs withdraw to the corner of the bed," he describes. They laid out their grievances to one another: the overworked brain threatened to soften, the overtaxed heart promised palpitations, and the lungs and intestines plotted disease. When Desbonnet awoke, he understood himself to be the "master" of his bodily domain and that the parts could subvert the whole. To prevent his organs from conspiring against his health, he thereafter devoted a portion of his daily exercise regimen to these neglected sections of his body. "And since then, all is going admirably," he concludes, "I feel like I'm in my twenties again, I breathe with full lungs, I am happy to be alive."
Yoga (which does give the internal organs their due) and blogging make me feel alive! Thanks for pointing out the great story, Michael. In addition to being a historian at the National Library of Medicine, Sappol is the author of A Traffic of Dead Bodies: Anatomy and Embedded Social Identity in Nineteenth-Century America, which is next on my reading list.

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