Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors Paperback
by Susan Sontag
Part of the Penguin Modern Classics series
Sontag wrote Illness as Metaphor in 1978, while suffering from breast cancer herself.
In her study she reveals that the metaphors and myths surrounding certain illnesses, especially cancer, add greatly to the suffering of the patients and often inhibit them from seeking proper treatment.
By demystifying the fantasies surrounding cancer, Sontag shows cancer for what it is - a disease; not a curse, not a punishment, certainly not an embarrassment, and highly curable, if good treatment is found early enough.
Almost a decade later, with the outbreak of a new, stigmatized disease replete with mystifications and punitive metaphors, Sontag wrote Aids and Its Metaphors, extending the argument of the earlier book to the AIDS pandemic.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 192 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 05/12/2002
- Category: Literary essays
- ISBN: 9780141187129
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Review by edwinbcn
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 aboutAIDS 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.