‘Ik kan niet genezen van een kwaal die ik niet ken’ | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 23, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 1384-5829
  • E-ISSN: 2352-118X



The last two decades have witnessed the growth and popularity of autobiographical texts featuring clinical depression in which a first person narrator describes and interprets the experience of mental illness. Existing studies have mainly focused on how these illness narratives can inform clinicians and the broader public about patients’ experiences. This approach, however, hardly acknowledges the constructed, textual, and – therefore – mediated status of the autobiographies. As a consequence, important other functions of the texts have been neglected. By studying the Dutch autobiography (2008) written by Maarten van Buuren, this article demonstrates that an analysis of the narrative and intertextual strategies used to represent depression offers new perspectives on the functions of autobiographical illness narratives. (1) I will show that in Van Buuren’s text descriptions of personal experiences alternate with numerous references to neurobiological terminology and theories. (2) I will demonstrate that the ‘I’ appropriates these insights in order to get a grip on – and give meaning to – his illness experiences, a process by which medical knowledge becomes transformed and evaluated. (3) I will argue that the autobiography, as such, has an important role in the dissemination of knowledge about depression in contemporary culture persistently preoccupied with the understanding and (self) management of health and illness.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): autobiography; depression; illness narrative; intertextuality; knowledge
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