We’re reading the first chapter from Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile Or Die, extracts from the fiction part of Sophie Petit-Zeman’s analysis of the NHS Doctor, what’s wrong?, an extract from Lia Mills’ In Your Face, and the ending of Paul Zweig’s memoir, Departures, as the basis for a discussion on the way cancer is represented in literature.

But of course we can hardly discuss this without reference to Susan Sontag’s book Illness as Metaphor. As summarised on the SusanSontag.com website, we see that the book is seen by many to show that “the metaphors and myths surrounding certain illnesses, especially cancer, add greatly to the suffering of patients and often inhibit them from seeking proper treatment. By demystifying the fantasies surrounding cancer, Sontag shows [apparently – ed.] cancer for what it is — just a disease. Cancer, she argues, is not a curse, not a punishment, certainly not an embarrassment and, it is highly curable, if good treatment is followed.”

Of course, we do not have to go along with Sontag’s analysis. But it’s important to get to grips with what she says about how cancer is represented. For starters, there’s an extract from the book here http://www.susansontag.com/SusanSontag/books/illnessAsMetaphorExcerpt.shtml

And an interesting perspective from her son here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/04/magazine/04sontag.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1

But of course everyone ought to read the book itself if you can.

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