|tags:||Science & Technology|
Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.
Sontag's passage stands like an oak on the blank field of the page, casting the 600 pages that follow in its shadow. How does one write a book about a disease that is unequalled in its power to kill us? How does one do justice to the will that strives to survive it?
By telling a story. "I started off by imagining my project as a 'history' of cancer," Mukherjee explains.
But, it felt, inescapably, as if I were writing not about something but about someone. My subject daily morphed into something that resembled an individual — an enigmatic, if somewhat deranged, image in a mirror. This was not so much a medical history of an illness, but something more personal, more visceral: its biography.
What is most compelling about a cancer biography is its dramatic tension — the conflict between the human will to live and cancer's instinct for expansion. Many, including Mukherjee, characterize this epic struggle as a war, but military metaphors fail to capture the complexity of cancer as an opponent. Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the most prolific citizens of the empire of malady, wrote in Beyond Good and Evil: "Even the body within which individuals treat each other as equals ... will have to be an incarnate will to power, it will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant — not from any morality or immorality but because ... life simply is will to power." Anyone who has witnessed cancer's insatiable growth first hand knows this. Cancer is will to power. The disease does not love itself or hate us. It does not fight for God and country. It merely strives to outlive us.
A biography of ca...read more