Autobiography of a Disease is based on Anderson’s own experience with the nearly-fatal effects of a virulent bacterial infection that left him in and out of a coma, and in and out of hospitals, for the better part of a year. Having undergone almost two dozen surgeries during that year—into his bones, muscles, and retinal tissues—and having been trained as both an anthropologist and a performance scholar, Anderson struggled to make sense of what had transpired. Finding his own perspective too altered by the pain drugs, anesthetics, and oft-recurring unconsciousness that had defined the year, he turned to the descriptive value of others: human caregivers, medical technologies, and more experimentally the microbial agents that had left their destructive traces upon and within his flesh and bone.
Unlike most medical memoirs, told from the perspective of the individual human patient, Autobiography of a Disease is told from the perspective of a bacterial cluster. This orientation is intended to make room in the social side of illness for others not typically summoned: bodies and cells, monitoring machines and imaging devices, and at the heart of it all, the prolific bacteria themselves.
Patrick Anderson is associate professor in the departments of Communication, Ethnic Studies, and Critical Gender Studies at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of two books—Autobiography of a Disease and So Much Wasted: Hunger, Performance, and the Morbidity of Resistance—and the co-editor (with Jisha Menon) of Violence Performed: Local Roots and Global Routes of Conflict. He is also a founding co-editor (with Nicholas Ridout) of the "Performance Works" book series at Northwestern University Press. Anderson works at the interstices of performance studies and cultural studies, focusing in particular on the constitutive role of violence, mortality, and pain in the production and experience of political subjectivity. He has also worked as a director and actor in theater and film, as an anthropologist in Sri Lanka, Chicago, and New Mexico, and as an activist and organizer for anti-war groups in Sri Lanka, for the Berkeley Free Clinic in California, and for HIV/AIDS groups in various locations in the United States.