Narrating the Aching Self: Representations of Depression in Contemporary Autobiographies
09 / 2012 - 08 / 2016
Depression is the most common mental disorder worldwide. The nature of depression as well as its impact and consequences have been considered and debated intensively in various domains, such as science, politics, and journalism. Depression is also a frequent theme in contemporary narrative texts, especially in the popular genre of autobiography, which is the focus of this research proposal. How do autobiographies portray depression and how do these texts relate to the current debates? Existing studies of depression in autobiographies have only focused on the medical aspects and therapeutic function of the texts: autobiographies are studied as apparently unproblematic accounts of self-knowledge that inform about the experience of depression. By that, the constructed, textual, and - therefore - mediated status of the autobiographies, and the narrative strategies of representation, are not acknowledged. As a consequence, important features of the texts are ignored. On the basis of recent insights into life-writing, this project considers autobiographies as narrative constructions. By analysing the narrative strategies used to represent depression, the research aims to show how the texts communicate values and meanings about the illness. A representative corpus of texts will be examined from different, but interconnected, dimensions: an epistemological-poetical dimension, a medical-scientific dimension, and a social dimension. Intertextual analysis will be used to demonstrate how the autobiographies relate to contemporary debates. Overall, the project will contribute to the theoretical conceptualization of the genre of autobiographical depression narratives, and highlight the important role of autobiographies in society, persistently preoccupied with illness and health.