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Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its…
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Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors (original 1989; edition 2001)

by Susan Sontag (Author)

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1,033917,080 (4)24
In 1978 Susan Sontag wroteIllness as Metaphor, a classic work described byNewsweek as "one of the most liberating books of its time." A cancer patient herself when she was writing the book, Sontag shows how the metaphors and myths surrounding certain illnesses, especially cancer, add greatly to the suffering of patients and often inhibit them from seeking proper treatment. By demystifying the fantasies surrounding cancer, Sontag shows cancer for what it is--just a disease. Cancer, she argues, is not a curse, not a punishment, certainly not an embarrassment and, it is highly curable, if good treatment is followed. Almost a decade later, with the outbreak of a new, stigmatized disease replete with mystifications and punitive metaphors, Sontag wrote a sequel toIllnessas Metaphor, extending the argument of the earlier book to the AIDS pandemic. These two essays now published together,Illnessas MetaphorandAIDS and Its Metaphors, have been translated into many languages and continue to have an enormous influence on the thinking of medical professionals and, above all, on the lives of many thousands of patients and caregivers.… (more)
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Title:Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors
Authors:Susan Sontag (Author)
Info:Picador (2001), Edition: 1st, 192 pages
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Illness as Metaphor & AIDS and Its Metaphors by Susan Sontag (1989)

Recently added bybrenzi, private library, Joe.Olipo, char11, JarekSnders, kamintra, RossannaB, WormSquirm
Legacy LibrariesLeslie Scalapino, Susan Sontag
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“Modern disease metaphors specify an ideal of society’s wellbeing, analogised to physical health, that is frequently anti-political as it is a call for a new political order.”

Illness as Metaphor & AIDS and Its Metaphors is an eloquently incisive dissection of how diseases used as metaphors limit, twist, and bring forth several other meanings that can jeopardise and vaporise their medical definition. This, in turn, can have a strange, harmful effect to people who have these diseases and the people within their “communities.” More than that the usage of metaphors not only in a literary sense but also to the advantage of any political agenda (to alienate/isolate a minority, incite ridiculous fear to the public, et cetera), the romanticisation/stigmatisation of these diseases along their accompanied demise are fascinatingly magnificent additions to their history of metaphors throughout the years.

Sontag, although perhaps a bit repetitive here and there, is seamless: from tuberculosis as a fashion trend, a standard beauty in all its pale and sallow, gaunt glory, cancer as an overused metaphor (ex., as “unqualifiedly and unredeemably wicked”) which mentally affects patients with cancer and its further association to a type of extremism that causes displacement and discrimination (ex. “Islam is spreading like cancer”) to the AIDS epidemic in ‘80s US where it's labelled as the “gay plague” and how this perpetuated, exacerbated the already ingrained hatred and prejudice on top of the government’s intentional inaction. This painfully claimed a lot of lives. Sadly, bigoted beliefs still exist today in those who choose to be ignorant and stupid. And similar to what’s currently happening, there is a pattern of justified discrimination, this time of a racial kind, with the initial identification of COVID19 in Hubei, China. Asians—Chinese and people mistaken as Chinese (because of people’s narrow idea of what Asians look like and the lack of geographical knowledge)—are subjected to verbal abuse even physical violence across the globe. And this doesn’t stop there, people of colour also receive worse, little to no medical attention because of the implicit social hierarchy established particularly in western countries. This slim book does not end here, it inspects countless of metaphors I'm afraid to blabber about.

By the end, Sontag's polemic is unforgettably powerful and strikingly remains frighteningly relevant during this pandemic we are all in. It is despairing that she predicts these metaphors will be obsolete in the future, maybe it's indeed better, but it seems to me they only pile up like clothes in an otherwise already full closet, metaphors we use at our disposal without critically thinking of their lasting impact. ( )
  lethalmauve | Jan 25, 2021 |
I feel like this book would have been extremely amazing when it was first published, however, I am not sure it has 'aged' that well. It would be amazing to see a follow-up text, especially in relation to the AIDS epidemic today. ( )
  bound2books | Feb 12, 2017 |
Illness as Metaphor is highly polemical, and as such, is a suburb piece of polemic. Sontag, herself diagnosed with breast cancer at the time of the writing (a fact she does not disclose in the initial essay itself) compares eighteenth and early nineteenth century discourse about tuberculosis to present day language about cancer. Of course, "present day" for Sontag is 1977. This fact alone makes the book a compelling read -- simply considering how much the approach of Western medicine to cancer has changed in 30 years. Doubtlessly this essay itself has been a large contributor to this shift in thinking.

In a nutshell: Sontag argues that the word "cancer" has become little more than a metaphor for everything that is wrong and evil in the world, and this systemic demonizing of this illness in particular makes it all the more complicated for its patients, and fosters a range of stigmas that are virtually invisible to anyone not dealing with cancer themselves.

Reading the counterpoints and rebuttals to Sontag's thesis is compelling secondary reading as well. All together, a thorough inquiry into Sontag's propositions yields a much broader awareness of the "cancerous" language and metaphors we still use rather flippantly today."
1 vote jamesshelley | Nov 22, 2015 |
Illness as metaphor is a long essay by Susan Sontag about the way we write and think about TB and cancer. The essay is extremely well-researched, citing many instances of the use of these two diseases in metaphorical sense. With references to earlier diseases and epidemics, such as the Plague, Sontag argues that the way we talk about cancer can be explained by reviewing the way people used to talk about TB, before its mystery was solved. Once the mystery, viz. its cause, is discovered, fear dissipates and the disease is brought back to human proportions. Cancer, the cause of which is still unknown, is still largely seen as a great enemy, shrouded in mystery. The comparison and description works very well on the level of the disease and its effect on people, but the final section, section 9, is much less successful. In this section Sontag tries to stretch the metaphor to express the state of the social order or politics. This section seems much less well researched, and quite ineffective.

Written ten years after Illness as metaphor, AIDS and its metaphors explores the same question is largely the same way, using the same methodology. However, the result is not the same. Section one is a capitulation of the earlier essay, so the essay about
AIDS and its metaphors doesn't really start until section two.

While Susan Sontag was a cancer patient herself, her writing about AIDS would not be as engaged. However, a bigger problem is that in 1988, very little was understood about AIDS, even less than about cancer when Sontag wrote about it. As a result, she mainly refers to AIDS, and spends little time on HIV. Writing about TB and cancer in Illness as metaphor, the author could cite sources going back to the Middle Ages, but in 1988, very few literary works, fiction or non-fiction, were published, and supposedly her analysis is largely based on the language use in the media. The author does give any moment's though to the idea that that media might be influenced by her own earlier publication. AIDS and its metaphors lacks the thoroughness and inquisitiveness of Illness as metaphor. In the former, the author seems to be almost dogmatic, whereas in the original work the essay was largely explorative. ( )
  edwinbcn | Jan 2, 2012 |
This collection of two essays examines the social consequences of disease and illness. Cancer, tuberculosis, AIDS and other fatal ills affect the sufferers not only medically but redefines their social position. Guilty by association, the sufferer is ostracized by society, in the mild case in order to avoid the contagiousness of ill luck, in the harsher cases to dissociate society from the supposedly immoral conduct of the sufferers. Man as a sense-making animal seeks to explain the causes of suffering. The simplest explanation remains the wrath of the gods. Only in recent times has medicine revealed the triggering mechanisms of most diseases.

Susan Sontag's own cancer illness triggered this vocal examination of the social consequences of different illnesses. It is outward physical degradation that stigmatizes and isolates the sufferer, who is often also accused of having brought the illness upon himself by his own behavior - which in turn can cause a violent counterattack. See also for example Fritz Zorn's Mars in which the author accuses his parents of having triggered the growth of his fatal cancer.

Sontag's second essay about AIDS is much stronger, as HIV positive patients suffer a lot more from the stigma of having engaged in socially deviant behavior than cancer victims. Her appeal to distinguish the illness and the sufferer and lifting social pressure remains as valid today as it was during the 1980s, even though we are fortunately past the AIDS scare. ( )
  jcbrunner | Apr 6, 2011 |
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This LT work is an omnibus edition of two distinct books by Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor (1977/78) and AIDS and Its Metaphors (1989). Please do not combine either of the distinct books with this omnibus edition. Thank you
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In 1978 Susan Sontag wroteIllness as Metaphor, a classic work described byNewsweek as "one of the most liberating books of its time." A cancer patient herself when she was writing the book, Sontag shows how the metaphors and myths surrounding certain illnesses, especially cancer, add greatly to the suffering of patients and often inhibit them from seeking proper treatment. By demystifying the fantasies surrounding cancer, Sontag shows cancer for what it is--just a disease. Cancer, she argues, is not a curse, not a punishment, certainly not an embarrassment and, it is highly curable, if good treatment is followed. Almost a decade later, with the outbreak of a new, stigmatized disease replete with mystifications and punitive metaphors, Sontag wrote a sequel toIllnessas Metaphor, extending the argument of the earlier book to the AIDS pandemic. These two essays now published together,Illnessas MetaphorandAIDS and Its Metaphors, have been translated into many languages and continue to have an enormous influence on the thinking of medical professionals and, above all, on the lives of many thousands of patients and caregivers.

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Penguin Australia

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