Social and Cultural Lives of Immune Systems

By James M. Wilce Jr | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Metaphors our bodyminds live by

James M. Wilce Jr and Laurie J. Price

The body social and the body personal always exist in a mutually constitutive relationship.

(Comaroff 1985:8)

Though military metaphors [for immunologic “defense” processes] may govern our thinking from the moment we stop reflecting about them and return to our work, this does not, in itself, mean that they are either more accurate or more natural than any of the alternatives; it only means that culturally we have embraced, and, ultimately, embodied them.

(Napier 1996:335f).


Culture, images, and imagination

Imagine a very sick person. Imagine her under the care of someone who helps her relax by suggesting she envision herself lying on a sunny beach. Picture another person suggesting that she imagine her T-cells killing, doing battle with, or just gobbling up bad cells - germs or cancer cells. We might even overhear such a guide telling the patient that if she does so, it will help her body to fight off her illness. Now imagine a woman in a less clinical setting, say, a self-help workshop centered on intensive personal journaling. The workshop leaders tell the woman there is evidence suggesting physical health benefits come to those who break through inner blocks and move beyond silent rumination on loss, stress, or trauma, by bringing themselves to write their most intimate feelings about the event.

Many readers will be able to envision such scenarios; some will have participated in similar ones. So, if we now propose to define “cultures, ” in part, as aids to the imagination, you might accept this as true in several senses. Sharing a particular culture means shared familiarity with a set of scenarios like those described above. It also means that participants in such events bring to them - and/or achieve within them - the imagination that the claims of caregivers and experts (e.g. about images and their therapeutic effects) make sense. Science involves the imagination, and the hard science and popular science invoked in the first paragraph involve plenty. But all science is

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