No Pills, but Letters: Saul Bellow’s Herzog: The Recovery of a Depressed Academic

J.F. Vanheste*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In this article, I discuss the illness and recovery of the depressed Moses Herzog, the protagonist of Saul Bellow’s novel Herzog (1964). Using this novel as a case study, I criticize a one-sided (neuro)biological and drug-based approach to depression. Referring to the hermeneutic anthropology of philosophers like Paul Ricoeur and Marya Schechtman, I argue that the treatment of depression could benefit from a broader approach that takes into account existential and social-cultural factors as well as biological factors. I suggest that narrative psychiatry offers a framework wherein various models of mental illness may be combined in ways that move beyond a pro/contra bio-psychiatry binary. By investigating depression using philosophical ideas and a literary text, this article aims to illustrate how the humanities may contribute to our thinking about depression.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-144
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Medical Humanities
Issue number2
Early online date10 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • Narrative psychiatry
  • depression
  • narrative identity
  • phenomenology


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