Illness as a Metaphor: An Evaluation on Covid-19

Ankara, Türkiye: 3. International Congress of Human Studies (2020)
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In her book, Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag focuses on metaphors and myths on diseases such as cancer and tuberculosis, which occur in different historical periods. Sontag argues that the metaphors produced related to illness overhaul illness and the things that define illness now have become metaphors produced related to them rather than their concrete and physical aspects. Illness becomes not just an illness, but a phenomenon defined by evil, mystery, fear, evil, madness, passions, wealth and poverty, temporal loginess or speed, and a set of metaphors or myths that are spatially identified with the space. Metaphors and myths turn into means of socially stigmatizing the illness itself rather than giving a meaning to illness. The disease literally turns into a situation that needs to be hidden in order to avoid social stigma. The explanation of mass diseases through metaphors and myths has been seen since ancient times and this understanding of mass diseases continues to exist today. As a matter of fact, the Covid-19 pandemic has also ceased to be the subject of only medical science since it first emerged, and it has turned into an issue that concerns many areas from politics to economics, from sociology to psychology. The metaphors generated on the Covid-19 disease, which we have witnessed its reflections in many areas from the discourses of daily life to the discourse of politicians, from art to literature, have a similar function with the metaphors attributed to diseases like cancer and tuberculosis that Sontag discussed. Covid-19 is not only seen as a disease, but as a disease defined by a series of metaphors such as mysterious, evil, invisible enemy, insidious danger, and democratic virus. The metaphors generated on the disease cause the struggle against the disease itself to be explained with various metaphors. The metaphors derived from Covid-19 such as "invisible enemy" and "biological war" cause the struggle against it to be turned into a military terminology, and the metaphor of "Chinese virus" is a means of social stigmatization / marginalization by racializing the virus directly. This study tackles the issue of how Covid-19, which is the subject of medical science, has become the subject of unscientific myths and metaphors attributed to the disease, and that the disease is perceived through metaphors rather than itself in the context of Susan Sontag's thought. In the study, answers for the questions of what kind of effects appeared due to the stigmatizing power of metaphors derived from the Covid-19 and whether the metaphors are the outcomes of the strategy for coping with the pandemic will be sought.

Author Profiles

Aykut Aykutalp
Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University (PhD)


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