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A Stone in a Spaghetti Bowl: The Biological and Metaphorical Brain in Neuro-Oncology

Sociological Reflections on the Neurosciences

ISBN: 978-1-84855-880-9, eISBN: 978-1-84855-881-6

Publication date: 17 October 2011


This chapter presents findings of ethnographic work in a neuro-oncology clinic in Israel. It is claimed that patients, close-ones and physicians engage in creating metaphorical visions of the brain and brain tumours that reaffirm Cartesian dualism. The ‘brain talk’ involved visible and spatial terms and results in a particular kind of objectification of the organ of the self. The overbearing presence of visual media (i.e., magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, angiographic studies) further gave rise to particular forms of interactions with patients and physicians where the ‘imageable’ (i.e., the image on the screen) became the ‘imaginable’ (i.e., the metaphor). The images mostly referred to a domain of mundane objects: a meatball in a dish of spaghetti, a topping of olives over a pizza, the surface of the moon, a stone, an egg, an animal, a dark cloud. Furthermore, conversations with family members showed that formal facts and informed compassion were substituted by concrete representations. For them, and especially for the patient, these representations redefined an ungraspable situation, where a tumour – an object – can so easily affect the organ of their subjectivity, into something comprehensible through the materialistic, often mechanistic actions of most mundane objects. This, however, also created alienated objects within the boundaries of their own embodied selves. Patients, on the one hand, did not reject their own sense of ‘own-ness’, of having a lifeworld (lebenswelt) as subjective agents, but on the other, did talk about their own interiors as being an ‘other’: an object visible, observable and imaginable from a third-person standpoint – a standpoint drawing its authority from biomedical epistemology and practice.


Gross, S. (2011), "A Stone in a Spaghetti Bowl: The Biological and Metaphorical Brain in Neuro-Oncology", Pickersgill, M. and Van Keulen, I. (Ed.) Sociological Reflections on the Neurosciences (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 13), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 99-119.



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