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Illness As Metaphor And AIDS And Its Metaphors

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  1,499 ratings  ·  105 reviews
As a cancer patient in the 1970s, Susan Sontag wrote 'Illness as a Metaphor' to show how the metaphors and myths surrounding certain illnesses, especially cancer, add greatly to the suffering of the patients. The second essay extends the argument to the AIDS pandemic.
Paperback, 180 pages
Published 2002 by Penguin Classics (first published 1978)
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Jessica
Feb 12, 2009 Jessica rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who has a filthy, horrible disease
Recommended to Jessica by: ariel, et al
A part of me thinks you shouldn't be allowed to write a book that's just your random, personal opinion about something, even though a bigger part of me wishes that that were my job.

I can see how this book was probably really important when it came out, and I'll bet it's done a lot of great things for people's thinking about illness. But although I did really love a few bits of it, on the whole I didn't like this much, even though I was expecting to. I was never totally sure whether this was beca
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Hadrian
This has obvious personal significance to me. As someone who has been through (and beaten) a severe illness, and seen friends go through other ailments, the main points of the book are incisive.

Life-threatening diseases are bad enough to deal with, of course. I won't go on about that. But one thing I've certainly noticed, and which Sontag expounds on at length, is how people impose different stereotypes upon you based on what disease you have. There's also the awful business of 'blaming the vic
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Elliot
I've been nursing a somewhat healthy intellectual crush on Susan Sontag for the past few months. Actually, I don't know how healthy it is. All I know is that I want to read everything she wrote, and now.

As with On Photography, the strength of this publication doesn't lie in its ability to full convince you of the 10,000 (sometimes vaguely contradictory) arguments that Sontag makes. Closing the cover of this book, I remained skeptical of exactly how one could conceive of disease without the use o
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Brodie
Personally I found the first essay, Illness as Metaphor, to be more thought provoking than the second one. In part, while a dodgy argumentative strategy, I found the comparisons and contrasts between tuberculosis and cancer to be very interesting, particularly as I had not read that much about TB in the 19th century.

Sontag's main argument is that our capacity for metaphorical thinking, while mostly a wonderful thing, is generally counter-productive when it comes to thinking about disease. She re
...more
Cher
Sontag does the world a wonderful favor and reminds it that illness can be just a malfunction of the body. When faced with her own cancer struggle, she discovers via the reactions of others, that much spiritual or psychological weakness is projected onto her by others. The mind/body connection, she argues, is not a thing to ignore, but it is important to be able to extricate a person's illness from their character, to examine the cultural metaphors the illness signifies to the populace. Her foll ...more
Michelle
I've always had a certain disdain for Sontag. My understanding is she was quite closeted as a queer through most of her life, and was the subject of much criticism from the AIDS movements with which she also had many personal connections. AIDS and Its Metaphors has a very poor understanding of how thoroughly homophobia, racism, and poverty saturated every aspect of AIDS as a political and psychic construction. But it is beautifully written, and although very limited her core theses are helpful a ...more
Blake Charlton
i read this book determined to ignore the dated (and perhaps simply uninformed) portrayal of the biology and sociology of cancer and HIV/AIDS. this was not easy. those who have made in depth study of these subjects will find a near infinite number of objections.

however, if you can excuse these limitations, you will see that the idea at the center of this thesis was--and sadly to some extent still is--revolutionary. writing as a medical professional, i can say that most of us have trouble recogni
...more
Andrew
Language in service of ideology, the danger of metaphor, the struggle to expose the material truth behind the veils of capitalist society. All the vintage Sontag topics are here, and all of them are fantastic. A short book with a punch that should give pause not only to anyone discussing the nature of disease, but also the reading public in general-- how easy it is to fall prey to our own stories about the world.

The comments on AIDS are especially trenchant, and, unlike many books of critical th
...more
Jessica D. Bicking
I've came to this one right after reading Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, right after reading paper after paper after doctor's diary on the handling of death in the hospital situation.

Cancer has been eating through my family for as long as I can remember. I think I must have been to a funeral every two years since I was 5 (The year between being the one for the bad news, of who is gonna go next). You get used to death; it is in your thoughts and you make peace with it early on. I've never bee
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Mia
These essays had a couple of interesting points, but it didn't feel like they progressed in any logical order. Sontag's ideas are presented in what felt to me like an unstructured manner, and this lessened some of the impact of the ideas. Perhaps if I had read either of these essays at the time when they were written, back when there was more mysticism and prejudice surrounding cancer and AIDS (not that there is none now, there was just more in the '80s) these essays would have been more impactf ...more
verbava
не знаю, чи мала б ця книжка нагоду стати явищем в українському культурному житті – все-таки речі, про які пише зонтаг, уже чи не дуже актуальні, чи доволі банальні, чи просто занадто суб'єктивні, щоб спровокувати серйозну дискусію довкала. однак навіть якщо якийсь шанс і був, то видавець зітнув йому голову, а потім для певності пробив груди погано обструганим осиковим кілком. і провернув кілька разів. ну, щоб уже точно.
куррва, де вони примудряються знаходити перекладачів, які так ненавидять мов
...more
Fiona
I actually want to give this book a rating of 2 and a half stars. It is quite positively more than a just "okay" piece of non-fiction. The subject matter interested me very much, these are indeed two important essays, and I felt satisfied with the way Sontag delivered certain parts of her discourse, however this is a book I must disappointedly state did not meet my needs and failed to live up my expectations since it has such a huge reputation and continues to be so highly-acclaimed. Specificall ...more
Donna
We are discussing the power of metaphors in two separate classes at the same time — Advanced Theory and Medical Anthropology — and the counterpoint between the two is fascinating. Sontag’s book, while certainly dated, is an excellent examination of the military metaphors that surround the “battle for cancer,” with “rogue” cells “invading” the body. She deftly weaves together excerpts from popular literature to bring these issues to the forefront of your thinking. As my Medical Anthropology lectu ...more
M. J.
Sontag wrote Illness as Metaphor while she was being treated for cancer and AIDS . . . 10 years later. Both point out that the metaphors we used about these diseases add greatly to the patient's suffering. In "Illness" Sontag pointed out that the way we regard cancer often prevents people from seeking and receiving the best possible care.
When an illness is regarded as a death sentence, be it syphilis, TB, cancer of AIDS, all too often the patients are regarded as somehow deserving it because of
...more
verbava
а сам текст непоганий. у мене навіть є улюблений фрагмент – про традиції зображання святих:
All the debunking of the Cartesian separation of mind and body by modern philosophy and modern science has not reduced by one iota this culture's conviction of the separation of face and body, which influences every aspect of manners, fashion, sexual appreciation, aesthetic sensibility—virtually all our notions of appropriateness. This separation is a main point of one of European culture's principal icono
...more
Philipp
Not sure what I think of this - two books in one, the first about the metaphors of cancer and tuberculosis, the second one about the metaphors of AIDS. Both books seem to be worried about the militarization of the treatment of both cancer and AIDS, as in "the war on cancer"/"the war on AIDS" and all that follows of these ways of thinking (including calls for internment of HIV-positive people etc.).

The first book on tuberculosis/cancer is more outdated than the second - I rarely encounter many po
...more
Miss
Sontag has some interesting points to make and I really enjoyed her descriptions of the metaphors of TB and her conclusion that the TB-ideal of a skinny, pale and sickly looking person still prevails today. All other parts of the book don't seem over-scientific. It is really obvious that she was emotionally involved in the topic of cancer. Some of her conclusions are clear, others seem a bit far-fetched. I agree with her that cancer stands for death and slow decay and that it terrifies the masse ...more
Yara
If you're at all interested in diseases or the power of language and metaphor, this is a fascinating read.

It's just a shame that AIDS and Its Metaphors is largely... Not about AIDS, but about influenza, polio, cholera, and other diseases. Then again, Sontag wrote this piece when the US epidemic was still at its peak, so she didn't have the benefit of hindsight on this one.
Zöe Yu
I love her essays about illness and AIDS. She was the only heroine in my mind. I can not forget her words"can not image even one I am no longer alive"
Ruth
At one point in this incisive work, the author quotes Byron as saying "I should like to die of a consumption . . . because the ladies would all say, 'Look at that poor Byron, how interesting he looks in dying.' "

There you have a kernel of thought that is discussed at length, in various guises, throughout this incredibly thought-provoking book. Sontag explains how illnesses of all types are always joined by accompanying metaphors; for example, how tuberculosis carried the accompanying air of rom
...more
Robert Moscalewk
Sontag's account of the kind of metaphoric thinking lurking behind diseases and their subsequent political representations is certainly liberating, there's no doubt about that, and somehow Sontag's style of writing seems to be made exactly for that: it is not cold and distant, it shows sympathy and, most of all, the coolness of those who know things and smile whenever children start talking about things they do not understand. And it's true, Sontag knows things better than most of us and she sho ...more
Наталія
Мені неодноразово доводилось чути що всі людські хвороби спричинені явищами якщо не метафізичного порядку, то психосоматикою. Така риторика навколо недугів все ще у тренді не тільки серед пересічного населення, але і серед дипломованих лікарів, розпальцьованих психологів, розумних науковців і не завжди розумних проповідників.
Як і в біблійні часи, хворобу часто приймають як покарання за гріховний спосіб життя, відхід від канонів «здорової» поведінки, результат згубних звичок тощо. Але і хвороби
...more
Jonna
Others have summarized, so I will not, but instead will just record the quotes and ideas that grabbed me:

"Twentieth century women's fashions (with their cult of thinness) are the last stronghold of the metaphors associated with the romanticizing of tuberculosis in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries." (29)

"the idea that people are made more conscious as they confront their death." -- the idea of how interesting the sick are (30)

TB understood as a disease that isolates/individualiz
...more
Jacob Kovacs
Of Sontag's work, I've also read Regarding the Pain of Others. This is more exposure than I'll generally have to the work of a single author, but I'm still not sure how I feel about her.

Stylistically, I think she's a pleasant read, and worthwhile for that reason. Her writing is dense with images, conversational but serious, and makes frequent, ambitious claims that demand your participation (in assessing whether you'll accept them and proceed).

When it comes to content, though, I find her insig
...more
Derek Emerson
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 cance
...more
Nina
It was interesting to learn about the cultural history of tuberculosis and cancer and the meaning that society projected onto these two illnesses in her first essay. Knowing that Sontag had cancer when she wrote the first essay, I found her intellectual treatment of the subject with such emotional distance a little unsettling and frustrating at first - though I convinced myself to get over it and that it is not fair for me to expect a more personal perspective from her just because she happened ...more
Claire
I can't believe how old this book is (nor did I realize how long it had been on my "to read" list--since before Goodreads existed). It is an intriguing romp through literature and its references to 'disease,' 'TB,' 'consumption,''cancer,''syphilis,' and 'AIDS.' Actually there was less citation of AIDS references than I expected.

The pattern of organization is not always clear, and sometimes it seems like a typescript of note cards; however, some interesting points are made along the way. Among ot
...more
Melissa Jarmel
AIDS and Its Metaphors really should be read soon after Illness as Metaphor. In IAM, Sontag beautifully correlates the previous perception of tuberculosis with the current perception of cancer, and how literary metaphors and the support of this line of thinking in our culture affects the inflicted. It was definitely interesting to read about tuberculosis from a historical standpoint, especially since I don't think our current education really explores what this was like and how far we've come.

W
...more
Ashley
I never quite know what to make of Sontag's writing. On one hand, these two essays provide easily quotable nights into the language used around health and illness-- especially cancer, tuberculosis, and AIDS. Sontag outlines the ways in which the unexplained disease stands in for society's anxieties. She also explains how cancer inherited only some of the characteristics ascribed to TB while "insanity" got the "good" traits (e.g. artistic temperament). On the other hand, Sontag's books always jum ...more
Amy
I was curious about Susan Sontag because for a while, a bunch of the novels that I was reading featured forewords written by her. I had been advised that her fiction is terrible and she is much stronger at essays.

This first part of this book was written while Sontag was being treated for cancer. She talks about TB and cancer and the different stereotypes about personalities who are diagnosed with each. (TB affects the sensitive and sensual, cancer for the repressed and hard) She also cites examp
...more
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Jewish American literary theorist, novelist, filmmaker, and feminist activist.
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“A large part of the popularity and persuasiveness of psychology comes from its being a sublimated spiritualism: a secular, ostensibly scientific way of affirming the primacy of spirit over matter.” 12 likes
“Abuse of the military metaphor may be inevitable in a capitalist society, a society that increasingly restricts the scope and credibility of appeals to ethical principle, in which it is thought foolish not to subject one's actions to the calculus of self-interest and profitability. War-making is one of the few activities that people are not supposed to view 'realistically'; that is, with an eye to expense and practical outcome. In all-out war, expenditure is all-out, unprudent--war being defined as as an emergency in which no sacrifice is excessive.” 6 likes
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