“To use a metaphor at a time like this would be obscene”: a study of cancer, poetry and metaphor

2017-05-22T02:17:02Z (GMT) by Cathy Altmann
“Cancer is a rare and still scandalous subject for poetry; and it seems unimaginable to aestheticize the disease.” Susan Sontag’s famous dictum may no longer be entirely true, given the proliferation of writing on cancer in the late 20th century and beyond. But, almost thirty years after Sontag wrote, cancer itself is still scandalous, despite her prediction that greater medical understanding would remove the stigma of cancer. This paper will examine the role of metaphor in relation to the “scandal” of cancer. It will consider the impact of metaphors drawn from popular culture, biomedicine, alternative medicine, and the holistic health movement, before examining the unique role of poetic metaphor in the work of Australian poet Philip Hodgins.