Thursday, February 07, 2008

Disease and Metaphors: Sontag

Lonely office hours again, therefore I read. I’m reading Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors--a short book (or long bound essay) of 1989 vintage. With familiar candor and clarity, Sontag speaks of disease and the metaphors people use when forced to discuss the human body when it’s invaded or its organs morph out of control. On almost every page, Sontag does something that I admire: she draws out insight from something that's hopelessly worn or ordinary. (A couple of years ago, Sontag passed away from cancer.) Here's a snippet:
There are famous diseases, as there are famous countries…. AIDS did not become so famous just because it afflicts whites too, as some Africans bitterly assert. But it is certainly true that were AIDS only an African disease, however many millions were dying, few outside of Africa would be concerned with it. It would be one of those “natural” events, like famines, which periodically ravage poor, overpopulated countries and about which people in rich countries feel quite helpless. Because it is a world event—that is, because it affects the West—it is regarded as not just a natural disaster. It is filled with historical meaning.... Nor has AIDS become so publicized because, as some have suggested, in rich countries the illness first afflicted a group of people who were all men, almost all white, many of them educated, articulate, and knowledgeable about how to lobby and organize for public attention. AIDS occupies such a large part in our awareness because of what it has been taken to represent. It seems the very model of all the catastrophes privileged populations feel await them.
It's good to be blogging again. One more thing, I recommend that you read her short comment about September 11, 2001, just days after it happened. It was published in The New Yorker here. Scroll down NYKer page and please read.

3 Comments:

OpenID darvish said...

May God rest her soul and give her peace. She was indeed a wonderful and insightful writer.

Ya Haqq!

2/08/2008 9:43 PM  
Blogger UmmFarouq said...

Welcome back!
Hope you are not drowning in papers to grade, yet.

2/11/2008 5:54 AM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Thanks to you both. Yes, I got papers to grade. Summer blogging is more rewarding.

Sontag was insightful, and she seemed very principled.

2/11/2008 1:45 PM  

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