Any important disease whose causality is murky, and for which treatment is ineffectual, tends to be awash in significance. First, the subjects of deepest dread (corruption, decay, pollution, anomie, weakness) are identified with the disease. The disease itself becomes a metaphor. Then, in the name of the disease (that is, using it as a metaphor), that horror is imposed on other things. The disease becomes adjectival. Something is said to be disease-like, meaning that it is disgusting or ugly.
The predominant cancer metaphor is war. We fight cancer, usually valiantly. We attack tumors and try to annihilate them and bring out our arsenals to do that, and so on. It's us against cancer. This metaphor has come in for its share of criticism within the ethical, psychological and even oncological disciplines. A main concern is that when someone dies of cancer, the message that remains is that that person just hasn't fought hard enough, was not a brave enough soldier against the ultimate foe, did not really want to win.The cancer-is-war metaphor does not seem to allow space for the idea that in actual war, some soldiers die heroically for the larger good, no matter which side wins. War is death. In the cancer war, if you die, you've lost and cancer has won. The dead are responsible not just for getting cancer, but also for failing to defeat it.
Is that true," I asked, "that song?""It is a metaphor," said Mrs. Davis, "it has metaphorical truth.""And the end of the mechanical age," I said, "is that a metaphor?""The end of the mechanical age," said Mrs. Davis, "is in my judgment an actuality straining to become a metaphor. One must wish it luck, I suppose. One must cheer it on. Intellectual rigor demands that we give these damned metaphors every chance, even if they are inimical to personal well-being and comfort. We have a duty to understand everything, whether we like it or not–a duty I would scant if I could." At that moment the water jumped into the boat and sank us.
Metaphors are dangerous. Metaphors are not to be trifled with.
The age-old, seemingly inexorable process whereby diseases acquire meanings (by coming to stand for the deepest fears) and inflict stigma is always worth challenging, and it does seem to have more limited credibility in the modern world, among people willing to be modern - the process is under surveillance now. With this illness, one that elicits so much guilt and shame, the effort to detach it from these meanings, these metaphors, seems particularly liberating, even consoling. But the metaphors cannot be distanced just by abstaining from them. They have to be exposed, criticized, belabored, used up.
I love metaphor the way some people love junk food. I think metaphorically, feel metaphorically, see metaphorically. And if anything in writing comes easily, comes unbidded, often unwanted, it is metaphor. Like follows as as night the day. Now most of these metaphors are bad and have to be thrown away. Who saves used Kleenex? I never have to say: "What shall I compare this to?" a summer's day? No. I have to beat the comparisons back into the holes they pour from. Some salt is savory. I live in a sea.
All slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry.
Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.
If there is anything in writing that comes easy for me it's making up metaphors. They just appear. I can't move two lines without all kinds of images. Then the problem is how to make the best of them. In its geological character, language is almost invariably metaphorical. That's how meanings tend to change. Words become metaphors for other things, then slowly disappear into the new image. I have a hunch, too, that the core of creativity is located in metaphor, in model making, really. A novel is a large metaphor for the world.
I always thought of it like you said, that all the strings inside him broke. But there are a thousand ways to look at it: maybe the strings break, or maybe our ships sink, or maybe we’re grass—our roots so interdependent that no one is dead as long as someone is alive. We don’t suffer from a shortage of metaphors, is what I mean. But you have to be careful which metaphor you choose, because it matters. If you choose the strings, then you’re imagining a world in which you can become irreparably broken. If you choose the grass, you’re saying that we are all infinitely interconnected, that we can use these root systems not only to understand one another but to become one another. The metaphors have implications. Do you know what I mean?