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It's May, the anniversary death month of my mother, who died in 2001, shortly after Mother's Day. I wanted to honor her memory this year by sharing with you something I'd written about her nearly four years ago - but also to explore the concept of treatment, illness, and healing.
The topics of medicine and illness come up a lot on AEWCH (two examples are on AEWCH 20 with David Shorter, and AEWCH 68 with Lisa Romero), if you hadn't yet noticed, and I am very interested in exploring them more deeply. So let's set the stage for that with this episode about three cancers - my mother's, Susan Sontag's, and mine; and how each of us dealt with them.
• If you'd like to read the essay in its original form, it's available here.
• Susan Sontag (illustrated below by Wendy MacNaughton) is one of the most important intellectuals in my life, and if you haven't read her work, you should. There are many, many quotes by her on the wildly popular Brainpickings site which can serve as a worthwhile introduction. Her novel, In America, is one of my very favorite novels. And of course, her essays remain very influential on the world at large. The best collection to . start with, I believe, is Against Interpretation, with its wonderful demand, which I have been working to fulfill most of my adult life,
"...in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art."
Finally, you should look up interviews with her. There's a whole book of them (and a book featuring just one lengthy interview). They're great; but while you're waiting for that to arrive by mail, here's an interview with her where she challenges the interviewer in typical curmudgeonly fashion.
• Sontag's son, political writer David Rieff, wrote an intense and beautiful account of his mother's final days and his own passage through it, Swimming In a Sea Of Death: A Son's Memoir. And Rieff's ex-girlfriend, National Book Award-winner Sigrid Nunez, wrote an excellent book on Susan Sontag as well, entitled Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag.
• If you'd like to learn more about macrobiotics, there are plenty of books out there. I think the best thing to do is find one that suits you, and cook and eat macrobiotically for awhile and see how you feel. Me being me, I relied on the theory-heavy Alchemycal Pages by Kaare Bursell. It's all still available, even if it hasn't been updated since the geocities days of the internet. There's also the George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation site; Ohsawa is often said to be the creator of macrobiotics, but the principles are embedded in Taoism and much much older. You can also check out Meredith McCarthy at the VegLife Insittute, whose principles are loosely based on macrobiotics. I don't eat macrobiotically now, and I don't necessarily advise it; but I also think people should find their own way to health, and vegetarian diets are demonstrably healing by most standards for many people.
Thanks to my sister and aunts for helping me write the essay years ago.
This episode is dedicated to my mother.
I love you, Mom!