Susan Sontag

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In the following excerpt, what do you believe to be the author's attitudes toward and use of metaphor? "Illness is the night-side effect 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 prefer to use only 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. I want to describe, 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: not real geography, but stereotypes of national character. My subject is not physical illness itself but the uses of illness as a figure of metaphor. My point is that illness is not a metaphor, and that the most truthful way of regarding illness - and the healthiest way of being ill - is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking. Yet it is hardly possible to take up one's residence in the kingdom of the ill unprejudiced by the lurid metaphors with which it has been landscaped. It is toward an elucidation of those metaphors, and a liberation from them, that I dedicate this enquiry."

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This excerpt, the opening of Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor, is the reading sample from question 2 of CliffsAP English Language and Composition by Barbara V. Swovelin, which asks the student to analyse the use of metaphor and the author’s attitude towards metaphor. In this book, Sontag, having herself undergone lengthy treatment for breast cancer (which is not actually mentioned in the book), argues that the treatment of illness as a metaphor is harmful because (1) it contributes to stigmatization of the ill and (2) it gets in the way of focussing on the practical scientific aspects of dealing with disease. She herself, of course, in talking about kingdoms and passports uses metaphors to magnify the divide between the sick and the well, doing what she is putatively condemning.

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