Some literary works have gained a place in psychiatry. Oedipus by Sophocles is probably the best known example. Less well-known is, Louis Lambert by Balzac, in which Balzac described the image of schizophrenia although he did not know it himself long before psychiatry recognised it and specified it officially as an independent syndrome. Although it seldom happens that a literary work receives such status in psychiatry, it underlines the theory that there are certainly situations where psychiatry and literature merge. Literature and psychiatry both deal with the human story, be it often in different ways and with a different motif there lies the communality. They can learn something from each other, but what exactly is scarcely predictable.
The essays in Unfamiliar knowledge attempt to link the worlds of the literary author and the psychiatrist, despite the visible differences between both worlds. The book consists of 10 essays, written by psychiatrists, scientists and professional writers. Most essays deal with books that have served as an example or could serve as an example for psychiatry as a whole or for the individual psychiatrist.
Arko Oderwald is bijzonder hoogleraar Literatuur en Geneeskunde aan de Universiteit voor Humanistiek, werkzaam bij het VU Medisch Centrum.