Thursday, October 11, 2007

Destructive Metaphors

I am writing a column about the kinds of metaphors that I consider destructive, root metaphors that have so taken hold of us that they provide a world view. The main example I give is the one that uses war as a metaphor for curing diseases, especially cancer. Every day I read in the obituaries that someone fought a valiant fight against cancer. Or waged a courageous battle. I have many objections with this metaphor: the enemy is elusive and war is such a hateful activity are two. It is hard for me to get away from the Cartesian dualism – my body as the grubby vessel for my superior mind and soul. In all our nine months of dealing with various diseases, including three cancers, I didn’t hear any doctor use the metaphor of waging war. Bill’s body had somehow produced something that should come out, like a tooth cavity, and it was taken out. No doctor proclaimed himself the general of an army. He or she were part of a “team” of doctors.


S. Kearney said...

Interesting thoughts, Nancy, which I agree with. Sometimes so much of what we do and how we behave are based on received words and phrases that we no longer think about.

Peter said...

Amen, NR.

Joseph Duemer said...

The "team" thing is of course a sports metaphor, which is much nicer than war, though sports metaphors often morph into war metaphors via the idea of winning.

Zhoen said...

It's so cliche, as well.

Medical advances often come through war, and many doctors get their training through the military.

Making an illness akin to battle injury gives a cachet of heroism to a miserable death.

I agree with you, but I can't come up with better, since simply saying a family member "died of cancer" is too blunt for most people.