In my talk, I will discuss the literary form of the anecdote as a mode of biographical and autobiographical writing. Taking my cue from the New Historicist revival of anecdotal ‘counterhistory’, but also critically interrogating its premises, I proceed from the assumption that the anecdote develops its literary and epistemic potential not in the context of historiography, but in the more specific context of life writing. In auto/biography anecdotes can serve a number of discursive functions: the referential function of securing truth claims, the rhetorical function of producing enargeia, the narrative function as a building block of life stories, the epistemic function of generating anthropological knowledge, and, finally, the part it plays in producing a specific, individualist type of subjectivity.In order to place my functional analysis within a historical framework, I will present two case studies: the one focusing on The Life of Alexander by the Greek biographer Plutarch, the other dealing with anecdotal texts from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s pedagogical novel Emile and his autobiographical Confessions. By comparing Rousseau with Plutarch, I intend to indicate the extent to which the form of the anecdote was transformed in the context of eighteenth-century life writing.
Response: Nicolas Pethes