The research project Autopathographical Writings looks at a selection of autobiographical illness narratives from the early nineteenth century to the present. They constitute a particular form of self writing which reflects the tensions between medical discourses on the one hand and, on the other, the subjective and emotional dimensions of the illness experience. The project focuses on three key questions:
(1) How is illness experienced and in how far is this experience shaped by medical discourses? How is this process represented in literature?
(2) What effect does the telling of illness have on the constitution and transformation of the narrator’s /author’s identity?
(3) How to understand and describe the literary format of illness narratives? Does illness demand a poetics of its own?
Phenomenological approaches provide a starting point for discussing representations of illness while the analysis of the function of knowledge discourses is informed by a Foucauldian perspective. A literary studies perspective on illness narratives complements the current interest in the patient’s voice in other fields, i.e. medicine, anthropology, social sciences and linguistics: it draws attention to the significance of narrative structure as well as to the literary and imaginative quality of such narratives.