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Susan Sontag was born in Manhattan in 1933 and studied at the universities of Chicago, Harvard and Oxford. Her non-fiction works include Against Interpretation, On Photography, Illness as Metaphor, AIDS and its Metaphors and Regarding the Pain of Others. She is also the author of four novels, a collection of stories and several plays. Her books are translated into thirty-two languages. In 2001 she was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for the body of her work, and in 2003 she received the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. She died in December 2004. Penguin will publish Sontag on Film in October 2016.
In Illness as Metaphor , which focused on cancer, Sontag argued that the myths and metaphors surrounding disease can kill by instilling shame and guilt in the sick, thus delaying them from seeking treatment. She sees a similar process at work in the case of AIDS, the modern epidemic that has called forth metaphors of plague, implacable viral invaders, a scourge from the Third World. Such metaphors foster the stigmatizing of AIDS patients while spreading misinformation and panic, she argues, further claiming that clinical reports on the course of AIDS from ``fledgling'' to ``full-blown'' tacitly support the far-from-proven theory that everyone who tests positive for the AIDS antibody will die of the diease. The theory that AIDS originated in Africa, also unproven, feeds into the West's political paranoia and activates racial and sexual stereotypes. Regrettably, Sontag all but ignores intravenous drug users stricken with AIDS, and her curt dismissal of alternative therapies is shortsighted. Though some of her key points are already standard features of public discourse, this brief, brilliant essay discounts many of the fears and illusions surrounding the pandemic. (Jan.)
"Susan Sontag's "Illness as Metaphor "was the first to point out the accusatory side of the metaphors of empowerment that seek to enlist the patient's will to resist disease. It is largely as a result of her work that the how-to health books avoid the blame-ridden term 'cancer personality' and speak more soothingly of 'disease-producing lifestyles' . . . "AIDS and Its Metaphors "extends her critique of cancer metaphors to the metaphors of dread surrounding the AIDS virus. Taken together, the two essays are an exemplary demonstration of the power of the intellect in the face of the lethal metaphors of fear."--Michael Ignatieff, "The New Republic"