ILLNESS AS METAPHOR and AIDS AND ITS METAPHORS <i> by Susan Sontag (Anchor: $8.95) </i>
Written while the author was undergoing treatment for cancer in 1978, “Illness as Metaphor” examines an abuse of language. Susan Sontag demonstrates how the imagery associated with tuberculosis, syphilis and, especially, cancer reveals societal attitudes toward the maladies and people who contract them. An unclear understanding of the diseases and their effects produces inappropriate language, which further impairs perception. The result of this vicious cycle is a tendency to regard illness as a result of some moral failing, and to blame the ill, rather than comfort them.
Ten years later, Sontag discovered similar misperceptions being applied with even greater vehemence to AIDS and people with AIDS. She probes the assumption of guilt that underlies most discussions of “the modern plague” and concludes that the ignorance surrounding cancer and AIDS (and the hatred and fear that ignorance engenders) constitutes an indictment of a debased and cruelly uncaring national consciousness, rather than a measure of the diseases’ destructive power. These bracing, clear-sighted essays confirms Sontag’s reputation as one of the most astute cultural observers writing about contemporary America.