Illness as Metaphor – Susan Sontag

Worth quoting the preface in full, as it elegantly gives you a feeling for the rest of this often quoted book:

Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick. Although we all 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 the situation:not real geography, but stereotypes of national character. My subject is not physical illness itself but the uses of illness itself as a figure or 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 inquiry.

The Emperor of Maladies – Siddhartha Mukherjee

A tough book to read at the moment, but one I’m trying to get through along with Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag. This ‘biography of cancer’ gives not only a chronological account of the development of our understanding of the disease, but also a very humane portrait of what it means to be in the position of the author, because Siddhartha Mukherjee is a practising oncologist. His historical sweep goes back to not only the Egyptians and the roots of  understanding though the Greeks (or the Persian queen in 500BC who performed the first recorded masectomy as recorded by Herodotus), but also onwards through the middle ages, early surgical practises, chemotherapy and then the modern ‘war on cancer’. It’s especially good on the history of this ‘war’, a campaign waged very effectively by the American socialite Mary Lasker and the early chemotherapy pioneer Sidney Farber, from the 1940s onwards (good You Tube clip from Mukherjee about this ).

But Mukherjee also de-bunks the whole notion of any such ‘war’, where things can be framed as victories, indeed maybe his central point is a question mark over our concept of ‘progress’ at all. But he makes his point in particular by examining one of the central metaphors used in the 20th century, as Sontag also observed, one which Nixon was especially fond of (another one being the ‘war on drugs’). He’s also very good at exposing how commercial interests and big business can corrupt or distort any concept of public good, as in the case of big tobacco, advertising etc  The latter chapters give a real insight into how our understanding is changing rapidly because of the onset of gene therapies, and in some sense provides hope for us in our present position. However, perhaps one of his main points comes though with the rejection of cancer as any kind of metaphor, that it is quite literally a copy of ourselves and that we can no more rid ourselves of it than stop being born, ageing, healing and reproducing.

I found this a comforting, though, in the circumstances; didn’t read this to be told that everything is bright and we can all look forward to a cancer-free future. As I said, a very humane book which ends up feeling like meditation that defies categorisation as ‘history’ or ‘biography’ and is just a very good read about the subject which touches most people’s lives at some point.

Ffrynt ddiwyllianol y Basgwyr ac Eisteddfod Llangollen

Newydd fod yn gweithio gyda chwmni teledu ar gyfweliadau o Wlad y Basg, rhai gyda grwp dawns, Gero Axular, fydd yn dod i eisteddfod Llangollen wythnos nesaf, dod a dipyn o atgofion  personol am y lle ond hefyd sylweddoli fod yna stori dda arall i’w adrodd am gysylltiadau’r wyl gyda Euskal Herria.

Dwi’n cofio siarad gyda pobl hyn pan oeddwn i’n byw yn Donostia / San Sebastián, a chanfod eu bod nhw’n gwybod am eisteddfod Llangollen, a mwy na hynny, yn cysidro’r wyl yn un bwysig dros y blynyddoedd. Ond i fod yn onest, hyd i fi drio gyfieithu ychydig o gyfweliadau i wythnos diwethaf ac gwneud bach o ymchwil, nes i’m sylweddoli faint. Mae’r rhestr o gorau a grwpiau dawns sydd wedi ennill dros y blynyddoedd yn ddigon parchus, ond dwi’n meddwl fod y pwysicrwydd yn dod o’r rhai wnaeth ennill yn y 50au a 60au, pan oedd gorthrwm Franco o ddiwylliant basgaidd ar ei anterth.

cynhadledd

Nes i fwynhau’r gynhadledd #senedd2011 ychydig ddiwrnodau’n ôl, yn enwedig cyfraniad Andy Williamson  o’r Gymdeithas Hansard. Yn sicr, roedd yna ymgais yma i geisio edrych ar dechnoleg, ymgyrchu a syniadau o ddemocratiaeth, a hynny ar ddiwrnod olaf ein Cynulliad presennol.

Er fod yr amcanion yn rhai da, a dwi’n siwr wnawn ni weld datblygu tipyn o’r syniadau o’r diwrnod, nes i fedddwl ychydig wedyn bod yn dal broblemau dwfn yn nhermau cysylltu ewyllys da bloghwyr, gwleidyddion a phobl sy’n ymwneud a’r cyfryngau yn gyffredinol – a pawb arall yng Nghymru. Mae’r problemau yma’n rhai dwfn, strwythurol sydd efallai angen atebion dwfn, strwythurol, er enghraifft ymgais o ddifrif gan pwy bynnag sydd mewn llywodraeth y tro nesaf i sicrhau fod band eang go iawn ar gael i bawb yn y wlad, rhywbeth yn sicr mae Plaid yn son amdano. A fydd yna ddigon o arian yn cael ei roi i hyn yn gwestiwn mawr – oherwydd tydi strategaeth llywodraeth Llundain (quelle surprise…gadael o i’r farchnad…) ddim yn mynd i helpu neb yn y pendraw.

Ond hefyd, ges i’r teimlad fod yna elfen arall sydd ddim yn cael ei drafod lawer. Mae’r syniadau yma o ddinasyddiaeth gweithredol, sy’n rhedeg ar draws pob llywodraeth o bob lliw erbyn hyn, mewn ffordd yn profi pa mor ddwfn mae syniadau neo-rhyddfrydol wedi treiddio.