On Metaphor: Reciprocity and Immunity

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Essay Excerpt

My reading of David Napier's article foregrounds or highlights (1) a key scientific “discovery” or observation; (2) the history of shifting high level metaphors as key new biological mechanisms are apprehended; (3) three key contemporary problems in immunological biology identified by Napier (transplantation, tumor immunology, autoimmune diseases); and (4) the ways in which popular culture takes up new scientific terminologies as folk “philosophemes” or cultural components for apprehending sociocultural change.

In this sequencing, I remain in the anthropological tradition recognized by Polish bacteriologist, virologist, and immunologist Ludwik Fleck (1962) in his 1935 now- canonical text on changing explanations for syphilis, and how the Wasserman test became the stabilizing diagnostic. Fleck positioned himself between the Durkheimians and the logical positivists (pragmatists). He argued “no epistemology without history,” and that every good diagnostician understood that the warfare metaphor for illness (self–nonself in Napier's terms) was not how biology works and cannot explain why some infected people fall ill and others do not. Emily Martin (2004) made a similar argument, shifting attention also the circuits of how understandings and metaphors circulate among general clinicians, specialists, the media, and patients. Among the problems of communication is not just the failure to unpack metaphors, but allowing metaphors to function as premature closure of explanation (144).

Fischer, Michael M. J. "On Metaphor: Reciprocity and Immunity." Cultural Anthropology 27.1(2012): 144–152.

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