Dana Jennings has a wonderful piece up over at The New York Times regarding the limits of words. It dovetails perfectly with the theme of Duke Divinity School's upcoming juried visual arts exhibit, The End of Words. Read an excerpt of Jennings piece below, or read it in full by following this link.
We’re all familiar with sentences like this one: Mr. Smith died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. We think we know what it means, but we read it and hear it so often that it carries little weight, bears no meaning. It’s one of the clichés of cancer.
It is easy shorthand. But it says more about the writer or speaker than it does about the deceased. We like to say that people “fight” cancer because we wrestle fearfully with the notion of ever having the disease. We have turned cancer into one of our modern devils.
But after staggering through prostate cancer and its treatment — surgery, radiation and hormone therapy — the words “fight” and “battle” make me cringe and bristle.
I sometimes think of cancer as a long and difficult journey, a quest out of Tolkien, or a dark waltz — but never a battle. How can it be a battle when we patients are the actual battleground? We are caught in the middle, between our doctors and their potential tools of healing and the cell-devouring horde.
We become a wasteland, at once infested by the black dust of cancer and damaged by the “friendly fire” of treatment. And ordinary language falls far short of explaining that keen sense of oblivion.