ILLNESS AS METAPHOR by Susan Sontag
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ILLNESS AS METAPHOR

KIRKUS REVIEW

Susan Sontag has written a small, liberating book that could become the cancer patient's Common Sense. First TB, then cancer, she perceives, have stood for enormities. Because their causes appeared to be multiple and were (as yet) unknown, because they struck at individuals, they were regarded as mysterious afflictions and construed, according to the fashions of their times, as diseases of passion thwarted (TB) or passion repressed (cancer). But while TB conferred a romantic, even spiritual distinction on its victims (Mimi, Byron, Little Eva), and became the sign of a superior nature, the dark side of creativity, a pretext for idleness and travel--cancer, viewed no less as "a form of self-expression," or self-caused, draws the opprobrium attached increasingly in our time to repression of emotion. Freud's cancer, Wilhelm Reich contended, "began when Freud, naturally passionate and 'very unhappily married,' yielded to resignation." And in his train, studies of the so-called psychological causes of cancer continue to proliferate--though, as Sontag points out, who does not sometimes despair? Cancer has also become, by association, a public enemy, identified variously with environmental pollution, urban blight, Watergate, the Jews (by the Nazis), "the white race" (by SS, she confesses, during the Vietnam War). "The modern disease metaphors are all cheap shots," demoralizing to patients, dangerous--a call to violence--in political discourse. Only when cancer is better understood will it "be possible to compare something to a cancer without implying either a fatalistic diagnosis or a rousing call to fight by any means whatever a lethal, insidious enemy. Then perhaps it will be morally permissible, as it is not now, to use cancer as a metaphor." The persuasive simplicity of the argument, and its reach, also call to mind Tom Paine.
Pub Date: June 16th, 1978
ISBN: 0312420137
Page count: 196pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1978




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