The Therapeutic Psychopoetics of Cancer Metaphors: Challenges in Interdisciplinarity


  • Ulrich Teucher University of Saskatchewan


Narratology, HIC, 2003, Ulrich Teucher


Narratives of life with illness occupy a rapidly growing field in interdisciplinary health studies. Among illnesses, cancer is the one most often addressed. It is obviously an experience that is enormously difficult to put into language, and it comes as no surprise that cancer discourse abounds with metaphor. Given the pervasiveness of metaphor in cancer discourse, it is important to examine how these tropes are used in a struggle for meaning that appears to be particularly crucial in cancer. Metaphors that may seem constructive and therapeutic to one patient or writer (or to his/her readers) can be destructive and further traumatizing for others. Because our meanings vary so radically, we need to analyze the range of metaphoricity in cancer discourse and map the resources of language for conceptualizing cancer. This study of semantic properties in cancer metaphors makes use of an interdisciplinary "therapeutic psychopoetics" to focus on cancer metaphors in Fritz Zorn's 1981 cancer autobiography Mars. An introductory discussion identifies a methodological basis for such interdisciplinary work, which makes use of both quantitative and qualitative research methods, all in order to improve our sense of the complexity of problems involved in cancer therapy.

Author Biography

Ulrich Teucher, University of Saskatchewan

Ulrich Teucher is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Saskatchewan. Being a member of the interdisciplinary Program for Culture and Human Development, he studies the epistemological and methodological foundations for work across disciplines and cultures. In his doctoral dissertation in Psychology and Comparative Literature, entitled "Writing the Unspeakable: Metaphor in Cancer Narratives," Teucher established a "Therapeutic Psychopoetics" of metaphor in cancer discourse. Currently, he is recording the life narratives of an Aboriginal family of Musqueam Elders; and studying Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children's oral narratives and metaphors of cancer, and self-knowledge in Aboriginal, Japanese, and British children.