8 Following


Currently reading

Financial Intelligence: A Manager's Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean
Karen Berman, John Case, Joe Knight
The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen
Edward Copeland, Juliet McMaster
Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader
Carmen Acevedo Butcher

Illness as Metaphor and Aids and Its Metaphors

Illness as Metaphor and Aids and Its Metaphors - Sontag's essay on "Illness as Metaphor" is often mentioned in books dealing with cancer and other illnesses. She was an exceptionally well read person who could create a unified message from a wide range of sources, and this essay shows her skill in accomplishing that feat. Her writing is also both scholarly and accessible, but you need to be fully alert to keep up with her thinking.This essay was written in 1977 and it is starting to show its age. Sontag herself points out that changes in cancer treatments are being made, but what she does not anticipate is how people's attitudes toward cancer will change. In the 1970s she describes a world in which cancer is not mentioned and those afflicted feel shame, although for no reason. Sontag wrote this during her own battle with cancer, from which she eventually died. She knows of what she speaks.But as I fill the CarePages with stories of my 4-year-old son's battle with cancer with nearly 500 people, we can see how the climate has changed. Many people are very public with their story and serve as a catalyst for change in research on one hand, and an inspiration to others facing the same challenge. This is not to say we do not see people still not knowing how to address this menace, but as a whole our society has thankfully progressed in the 30 years since Sontag wrote this.However, her real point is to attack the use of illness as a metaphor. We see this use all the time, from Communism being a cancer on society in the 1950s to terrorism being a cancer in our global security today. Sontag rails against the use of this metaphor."But the modern disease metaphors are all cheap shots. The people who have the real disease are also hardly helped by hearing their disease's name constantly being dropped as the epitome of evil. Only in the most limited sense is any historical event or problem like an illness. And the cancer metaphor is particularly crass."On the surface her argument makes sense, but in another way we can see she fails to acknowledge why cancer is used in such a way. It is because of the power of cancer and our inability to stop it on a regular basis. As opposed to cheapening the metaphor, it instead puts everything else in the shadow of cancer. We can think of no greater way to discuss evil, but this actually makes sense since cancer is evil. One can turn to Siddhartha Mukherjee's recent "biography" of cancer, so called because of the living, evolving nature of this intelligent and deadly disease.So while Sontag's essays will likely lose value due to change in societal shifts, its most timeless argument is really just one side of the coin. A coin toss is more likely to beat the odds and land on the opposing side of Sontag's thoughts.