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Humanist Archives: March 25, 2020, 6:40 a.m. Humanist 33.690 - on metaphor, while we continue

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 33, No. 690.
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        Date: 2020-03-24 11:43:43+00:00
        From: Francois Lachance 
        Subject: Analysis of Metaphor Re: [Humanist] 33.679: we continue


Thank you again for pointing us to Sontag.

This, on the importance of rhetorical analysis, caught my attention from Susan
Sontag in the peroration of AIDS and Its Metaphors (before she launches into a
call to retire military analogies in discourses of medicine and public health)

For the time being, much in the way of individual experience and social policy
depends on the struggle for rhetorical ownership of the illness: how it is
possessed, assimilated in argument and in cliché. 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, belaboured, used up.

And so at this juncture one finds voices


(Against) Virus as Metaphor
By Paul Elie
The New Yorker
March 19, 2020

As the interpretive idea of the epidemic took hold - spread, we would say - we
learned of the wisdom of crowds, the value of indiscriminate sharing, and the
power of friction-free networks through which information moved seemingly

But we also learned from the realms of pop psychology about the qualities of the
introvert.... Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
by Susan Cain

But back to the peroration of Paul Elie's editorial:

Our own situation is different, but not unrelated. Rather than applying societal
metaphors to illness, we've applied illness metaphors to society, stripping
them of their malign associations in the process. It may be that our fondness
for virus as metaphor has made it difficult for us to see viruses as potentially
dangerous, even lethal, biological phenomena. In turn, our disinclination to see
viruses as literal may have kept us from insisting on and observing the
standards and practices that would prevent their spread. Enthralled with virus
as metaphor and the terms associated with it - spread, growth, reach,
connectedness - we ceased to be vigilant. Jetting around the world, we stopped
washing our hands.

Those of us that garden know about washing hands... Those that care for
children, those that care for the incontinent... That "we" needs be be unpacked:
exposed, criticized, belaboured: who does what work and why it matters.

Francois Lachance

to think is often to sort, to store and to shuffle: humble, embodied tasks

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