Anecdotes, Faits Divers, and the Literary


Anecdotes, the dictionaries tell us, are narratives that concern a singular event. They are supposed to be memorable or at least interesting. Although they are supposedly based on real life, they are not considered fit to be a serious basis for a philosophical discussion or scholarly elaboration, though they could open the way for one. In fact, one could apply to the anecdote what Roland Barthes says about the fait divers: it is “total,” “immanent” information. Anecdotes do not formally make a point, they simply tell something—after them, nothing more needs to be said. Anecdotes have a kind of “so-what?” quality to them. But at the same time, anecdotes capture an essential truth about something; they are often supposed to be in some sense exemplary. For instance, Hegel’s anecdotal evidence about Italian women’s susceptibility to dying of love is meant to capture an essential truth about the Italian national character. The anecdote and the fait divers, while not identical (the fait divers belongs to a more specialized cultural context, that of the daily press with its hierarchy of bigger vs. smaller news items),obviously have significant overlap. One could propose that anecdotes are little stories about big people, while faits divers are stories about little people made big by publicity or the press. “Voici un assassinat: s’il est politique, c’est une information, s’il ne l’est pas, c’est un fait divers,” states Barthes (188). This essay will attempt to bring to light some points about anecdotes, fait divers, and their connections to the larger formal question of the literary, in relation both to narrative (“littérairement ce sont des fragments de roman,” Barthes observes about faits divers [189]) and to publication, since the etymological meaning of anecdote is “unpublished” (American Heritage Dictionary).

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