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Malattia come metafora - Il cancro e la sua mitologia

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  683 ratings  ·  55 reviews
La malattia, questo "lato oscuro della vita"; Il cancro, questa "gravidanza demoniaca" che abita parassitariamente l'uomo moderno e devasta, corrompendolo, il suo corpo; L'etimologia del termine "cancro" e le varie concezioni storiche; le menzogne a chi è colpito da tumori ed il male come colpa, come verità da tenere occultata; la mitologia sedimentata nei secoli ed il rap ...more
Paperback, Nuovo Politecnico 114, 70 pages
Published 1979 by Einaudi (first published 1978)
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Riku Sayuj
In 1978, when Susan Sontag wrote Illness as Metaphor , a classic work, she wasa cancer patient herself. Butin spiteof that,it is not a book about being ill or about the travesties of being a cancer patient. In Sontag's words, it is 'not what it is really like to emigrate to the kingdom of the ill and live there, but the punitive or sentimental fantasies concocted about that situation'.

Her subject is not physical illness itself but the uses of the various diseases as a figure or metaphor for com
There’s really not a lot of point in my reviewing this book when Riku has already done such a wonderful job here His review is infinitely more comprehensive than this one will be.

Still, I just want to say that I really did enjoy this. I particularly liked the idea that the metaphors for TB and cancer are so differently understood in our culture. I was particularly struck by the idea that cancer is a kind of hardening of cells and that TB is a kind of liqu
Sontag, a cancer survivor at the time, wrote Illness as a Metaphor to explore and elucidate the metaphors used to describe serious illnesses like cancer and tuberculosis. Sontag argues that the metaphors and mythology created around these diseases make them seem evil and mysterious and very much like invincible predators, and hence sometimes prevent people from believing in conventional treatment to cure them. In addition, since cancer is seen as obscene, repugnant to the senses, and ill-omened, ...more
Mukherjee quoted from this book so many times in The Emperor of All Maladies that I decided to read it. Sontag is an overanalyzing intellectual – that I knew and was prepared for it, but I still didn’t really get this book. She cites tuberculosis an example of an old disease that was laden with myth and metaphor. It was considered the illness of the artist, brought upon by too much passion and sensuality. It was almost cool to catch it. That may have been so. But then Sontag moves to the present ...more
Sontag argues that a certain ideological cruelty resides in the metaphors commonly used to describe cancer and other illnesses. And when we let go of the metaphors, we can free ourselves (and those who are ill) from the tyranny of superstition, an over-excited imagination and blame.

On a personal level, I get this. She's suffered; we've all suffered or known others who've suffered. And on page 101, she says that her aim is to "alleviate unnecessary suffering." On the same page, she also says tha
Herein, Sontag presents an excising polemic on the use of cancer and tuberculosis as metaphors of evil in (respectively) the Romantic and industrialized eras of modern society. Unfortunately, this diatribe is neglectful of non-Western cultures and carries a certain sense of an overly-personal motive. Sontag grasps desperately at every little data point in history suggesting at her thesis. As a result, the author repeatedly rehashes concepts with a frequency that is tiring for a mere 85-page nove ...more
This is so interesting, I can't believe it took me so long to get around to reading it.

I started reading it after a day and a half of having being shut in my room with a cold, not really seeing anyone and feeling kind of dramatic. And it was really soothing. The stuff about cancer as metaphor for middle class repression and emotional restraint made me think a lot about people I know with potentially fatal/terminal/incurable illnesses who have gone on the Gawler diet or similar; my mum and her p
Opal McCarthy
sontag makes such fascinating perceptual leaps between illness/militarism/
the real culpability of metaphors in the way we survive:

'TB is often imagined as a disease of poverty and deprivation... in contrast, cancer is a disease of middle-class life, a disease associated with affluence, with excess' (15).

'Like all really successful metaphors, the metaphor of TB was rich enough to provide for two contradictory applications...It was both a way of describing sensuality and promoting the claims of pa
Ok, positives first: it's a smart, smart book. It's neat, tightly packaged, and makes some stunningly good observations. Susan Sontag doesn't let me down in the epiphanies department.

With that being said, Sontag's kind of a lazy writer. Like I get the sense that TB is this and cancer is that, but she doesn't do enough research to back up her claims. It's just like, claim, pseudo example, move down, second claim, etc. And that's something coming from me because I'm the laziest writer there is and
Hm. I was a little surprised at the argument presented by Sontag in this essay: that cancer, similar to TB in the 19th and early 20th centuries, is mythologized, often to the detriment of those who have the disease. She explains the argument for TB very well - the romantic idea of TB as the overexpression of passion and energy, the likes of which we see in common depictions of consumptive individuals. In fact, I was fascinated to see just how much of our current fashions come from mythologizing ...more
This book is an excellent historical analysis of the development of tuberculosis and cancer metaphors. The TB metaphors have largely died down (although understanding them is important to understanding literature at the times when they were in vogue) since treatments for TB were discovered. The cancer metaphors are much more current, despite this work being 30 years old. It provides a foundation for how we interpret illness, the sick, and society using the metaphor for cancer. Because we do desc ...more
This is a great and very thoughtful book - I only gave it 4 stars cos it feels out of date: for example, I wonder what she would have said about the current pink-ribbon fetishising / consumer movement around breast cancer?
It's great as an historical prompt, but for me, the most interesting points were:
- the contradictory nature of many of the metaphors - is this simply because they are metaphorical? or because of the range of cultural and historical contexts?
- the distinction between plagues (m
I'm not really sure what I was expecting, but I'm not really walking away from this book with much to say. It probably doesn't help that I read most of this well over a month ago, and I just now finished up the bit I had left...that kind of disconnect never helps the experience.

Admittedly, I knew very little about TB before reading this book, so I was pretty surprised to read about the whole romanticization of the illness, and just...really, how the illness shaped various parts of culture- I nev
Lisa Vegan
I read this when it was first published and I was in my mid-twenties. A lot of what she said about cancer & illness & health really resonated with me; my mother died of cancer when I was 11 and I’d known other people who had also died of cancer. But, society has changed quite a bit since then, in a positive way, so I’m not sure how much the material in here is still applicable. But, at the time, it seemed powerful and insightful.
Written in the late 1970's, a little of the cancer stuff is dated. She was so optimistic about a cure. But that's not the focus or point of her book. Her theme is how serious diseases become metaphors for a variety of things in the cultures surrounding them. I wondered what Sontag would think of our pink ribbon culture. She made much of the military metaphors surrounding cancer. She was also very aware of the blame the victim mentality. Its all your attitude, your beliefs, your emotional behavio ...more
Dorothee Lang
After coming across Susan Sontag's quote: “Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship...", I now looked for her book and started to read it. Didn't know that Sontag was going through a time of breast cancer, too. It makes it different to read the book. At her time, one of the additional therapies was... psychotherapy:
"At the time that Sontag was writing, the current alternative cancer treatment fad was psychotherapy for the patient's supposed "cancer personality". According to
Maureen M
I read this as part of a trilogy of illness/caregiving books that also included Virginia Woolf's essay "On Being Ill" and "No Saints Around Here," Susan Allen Toth's memoir of caring for her terminally ill husband. In that trio, this one suffered by comparison. I found some of her insights to be striking -- her various examples of the way society has deemed some diseases "romantic" and others threatening. But on balance, I thought her contrasts of attitudes toward TB and cancer were dated and ev ...more
romantic notions of tb, and how they fare up against cancer's imprint on modernity. oh, susan

Much of what Sontag says on how cancer is perceived doesn't seem to ring true today. It's quite depressing that it was ever true, or rather, that Sontag thought it to be true given the context.

"Ostensibly, the illness is the culprit. But it is also the cancer patient who is made culpable. Widely believed psychological theories of disease assign to the luckless ill the ultimate responsibility both for falling ill and for getting well. And conventions of treating cancer as no mere disease but a de
I finished this last night despite loudmouth and screaming alley lady. This was real interesting. The author takes TB and cancer and examines these illnesses as metaphors in literature. The root of the metaphor is mysterious causes. The book was written in the 80's so TB had passed through its unknown cause phase and had become less dramatized, though it still held to certain characteristics.

The thing that struck me the most was when Sontag claimed that TB metaphors had brought about a consciou
I've been meaning to read this for about a hundred years, so perhaps the anticipation--I expected it to rock my world as a reader and as a scholar--killed it for me a little. Or perhaps that was because it's getting pretty outdated (cancer narratives of the 1970s being similar and recognizable but nonetheless rather different from the cancer narratives of today). Or perhaps it's because I didn't realize it was going to be mostly about how tuberculosis and cancer are represented in literature? Th ...more
Marija Radoman
Published in 1978, “Illness As Metaphor” testifies to attitude towards cancer patients bringing out a specific history of aversion through examples from literature and philosophy. Even though the progression from pure psychological prejudgment to accurate scientific improvement in cancer treatment has certainly been made since 1978, this book retains its topicality.

The study exposes insightful analogy between two diseases, exploring the boundaries of their broader cultural and historical frame.
I only finished this in the wee hours of this morning--I need to reflect but I want to capture my first impressions & understandings. Sontag traces the language we use to discuss tuberculosis and cancer, with the former often referred to in romantic/aesthetized terms. In the case of both cancer and TB, Sontag argues, society has a notion that a type of personality is particularly prone to the illness, that the illness reveals something about the self and thus it can be cured if only the pati ...more
Jonna Higgins-Freese
There are some lovely one-liners (or one-paragraphers) and she makes such an important point: that illness is best understood not metaphorically, but as a perception of moment-to-moment experience. Metaphors are always (Adrienne, I know you're reading this, remember Sallie McFague) approximate -- pointing us in the right direction in some ways and in the wrong direction in others. Metaphors for illness can be devastating in the ways they point in the wrong direction. She uses cancer and TB as he ...more
How society uses disease and illness as a metaphor for social & political concerns. Illuminating. Yet:

"Only in the most limited sense is any historical even or problem like an illness. And the cancer metaphor is particularly crass. It is invariably an encouragement to simplify what is complex and an invitation to self-righteousness, if not fanaticism."
Mar 31, 2007 Stef rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: health workers, students, literarry types
the copy that i rread was orriginally published in 1978, which makes it's description of the perception of cancer out of date. nonetheless it's a good insight into the potential stages of illness perception and a good insight to the potential spaces around disease and illness when working with people/patients wo might have grrown up during/before the writing of this text as it illuminates a the social norms that potentially had an impact on them.

in another note, keep an eye out for the annie lei
The version I read of this classic didn't yet address AIDS, so I was pleased to see that an updated version does, as Sontag's main point is that the metaphor in question was one of shame; i.e., a person who has cancer somehow 'deserves' it by having a 'cancer personality' or having done something to cause the illness. The other illness she analyzes is TB. She confronts the assumption that illnesses are caused by mental states.

While some of the information in the book is now fairly out-of-date,
I read it in nursing school. I was way too young and started understanding things thanks to this book. I need to re-read it, but after the Magic Mountain.
Carolyn Siegel
A very curious concept about the relationship between language and illness. This being said, a little drawn out/repetitive.
Kudos to SS for pointing it out, presumably at a time when it wasn't being talked about quite as much, but I want to read more than "see this thing? it happens."
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Jewish American literary theorist, novelist, filmmaker, and feminist activist.
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“Depression is melancholy minus its charms.” 248 likes
“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” 101 likes
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