Illness and heroics: On counter-narrative and counter‑metaphor in the discourse on cancer

TitleIllness and heroics: On counter-narrative and counter‑metaphor in the discourse on cancer
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsHansen, PKrogh
JournalFrontiers of Narrative Studies
Paginations213 - s228
Date Published2018///
ISBN Number2509-4882
Keywordscancer, counter-narrative, metaphor

This article explores the nexus between narrative and metaphor by examining a specific and widespread metaphor in the discourse on cancer, namely “the war against cancer”, and paying attention to the function it has in the narratives we tell about cancer – personally as well as culturally and politically. Of special interest is how this dominant metaphor has a negative consequence in relation to the seriously and incurably ill, who are necessarily positioned as ‘losers’. The concepts of master and counter-narrative are applied to describe this and show how the war metaphor can be generatively turned against itself and function as the basis for counter-narratives of being ill. In the final part of the article, attention is paid to Danish author Maria Gerhardt’s autofictional novel Transfervindue. Fortællinger om de raskes fejl (2017) [Transfer Window: Narratives about the flaws of the healthy] as an example of a productive extension of the war metaphor. The general aim is to argue that the ‘war against cancer’ metaphor is complex and simultaneously plays a positive and negative role in health discourse. On the one hand, it structures the general effort for treatment of and research on cancer. On the other hand, it positions the incurable as losers. It is, however, argued that we cannot eradicate this metaphor from language, and that we should instead find examples of extensions of the metaphor where e. g. ‘protection’, ‘peace-keeping’ and ‘exile’ are active.


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ENN is the European Narratology Network, an association of individual narratologists and narratological institutions. ENN aims to foster the study of narrative representation in literature, film, digital media, etc. across all European languages and cultures.