Sontag, reconsidered

25 May 2009

Two ways metaphor can be of use during times of ill-health.

Own the metaphor/metaphor as social force.

Sontag wrote about how the dominant cultural ideology imposes meaning onto disease, transforming it – and the patient – into a cultural object. But it’s also more than possible for the patient to be the creative subject, actively deploying metaphor as a weapon or tool in his/her own self-definition of health and its absence. One step beyond that: when politics intersects with individual trouble, c.f. here C Wright Mills and how individual  troubles turn into public issues, metaphor can be a social force, too.

Manage the ultimate life paradox through creative metaphor.

Sontag and Cousins were so right in approaching ill-health and disease with as wide ranging and clearheaded insight as possible, even if that means looking foolish or departing from convention (or conventional authority, bound up in the drama of the white coat). But even the most benign of health troubles carries with it another layer of meaning, a confrontation with which I think is ultimately unavoidable: that being the fact of our own mortality. And that seems to me to inhabit a land that can best be given shape and contour through metaphor, rather than its absence.

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One Response to “Sontag, reconsidered”


  1. […] feel anger and how unfair it is. And you do feel powerless. It is, yes, unmanning. I wrote this and this, while I was trying to work out all this a while […]


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