Presenter Information

Jill Jones, Duke UniversityFollow

Date

4-30-2020

Description

Work in science studies has demonstrated that metaphors construct a cognitive framework for making sense both of diseases and of new scientific research. In her 1978 book, "Illness as Metaphor," Susan Sontag argued that the dominant metaphor for cancer has ultimately become one of war; cancer cells do not just "multiply", they are invasive, and cancer patients do not just "heal", they "fight a battle". However, this war metaphor for cancer was not always and everywhere so ubiquitous. In the Third Reich, for example, Nazi scientists discussed cancer in terms of independent agency; cancer cells were viewed not on equal footing with their researchers or even the patients they plagued, but as independent degenerates or revolutionaries that threatened the unity of Nazi society, which the Nazis defined as their own "Aryan nation." Importantly, the metaphors that any society adopts are informative of aspects of their culture, and the Nazis were no exception. After a twelve-week examination of Nazi advertisements, books, and research publications in Fall 2019, I came to understand how metaphors for cancer in Nazi Germany ultimately reflected the lens through which Nazi professionals saw their own "diseased" world. This paper, drawing on literature from several prominent Nazi cancer scientists (originally analyzed in German), will explain the origins and utility of independence metaphors for cancer in the Third Reich and how the greater importance of such analysis lies in its capacity to help us understand the paranoia driving (and embedded in) Nazi perceptions of society in general.

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Apr 30th, 12:00 AM

The Führer of All Maladies: Cancer and the Utility of Metaphors for Its "Independence," under the Nazi Regime

Work in science studies has demonstrated that metaphors construct a cognitive framework for making sense both of diseases and of new scientific research. In her 1978 book, "Illness as Metaphor," Susan Sontag argued that the dominant metaphor for cancer has ultimately become one of war; cancer cells do not just "multiply", they are invasive, and cancer patients do not just "heal", they "fight a battle". However, this war metaphor for cancer was not always and everywhere so ubiquitous. In the Third Reich, for example, Nazi scientists discussed cancer in terms of independent agency; cancer cells were viewed not on equal footing with their researchers or even the patients they plagued, but as independent degenerates or revolutionaries that threatened the unity of Nazi society, which the Nazis defined as their own "Aryan nation." Importantly, the metaphors that any society adopts are informative of aspects of their culture, and the Nazis were no exception. After a twelve-week examination of Nazi advertisements, books, and research publications in Fall 2019, I came to understand how metaphors for cancer in Nazi Germany ultimately reflected the lens through which Nazi professionals saw their own "diseased" world. This paper, drawing on literature from several prominent Nazi cancer scientists (originally analyzed in German), will explain the origins and utility of independence metaphors for cancer in the Third Reich and how the greater importance of such analysis lies in its capacity to help us understand the paranoia driving (and embedded in) Nazi perceptions of society in general.