The anecdote is a type of shorthand narrative that neither relies on factual verification or general acceptance. Rather, it is an uneasy form that can be deployed both as personal evidence and future parable; it vouches for and validates an individual’s attitude by example. And, because the oral anecdote allows shortcuts in the conventions of the spoken monologue (in that it can effectively intervene in the flow of conversation), it allows the speaker immediate recourse to bring up specific social and situational experiences that have exceptionalised themselves from the everyday realities, without need for the narrative to progress through the linear and ornamented conventions of proposition, reason, example and conclusion. It is this quality of encapsulated and embodied learning that characterises the anecdote as a crucially effective form in communicating knowledge within small communities whose cultural histories and inheritance remain partial. The anecdote, after all, is the structure of the “petite histoire” and is particularly suited to articulating narratives that stem from spaces of isolation and singularity.
She said she hated the bathrooms at Heathrow Airport, that all airports are explicitly without community, culture, history, gradations of publicness and intimacy. She doesn’t know why but always in Heathrow she gets called out when she go into the women’s toilets. I think it’s the lack of public spaces in the airports that encourage people to aggressively carve out gender spaces in bathrooms.
Obscure and informal by definition, the anecdote has historically been the narrative of the fool or jester, whose witty half-truths are rhetorical artefacts. In the instance of the both jester and fool, inference and context is everything, and the obliqueness of their anecdotal content can often protect the speaker from repercussions. To seemingly state an experience without judgement, for example, one might better speak safely, and yet successfully communicate a certain attitude or idea nonetheless. Obscurity is preserved; the user is protected. Just as gossip is a primarily oral form of illegitimate (and thus potentially radical) form of communication, anecdote can be considered a similarly debased form of communal reportage that circulates both in speech and writing. But although both gossip and anecdote give the author flexible editorial control over content, the former is characterised as speaking of an external subject absent at the point of telling, while latter can also speak of ones own experience and how it is different from ones expectations. Thus the form of the anecdote lubricates movement between individual perception and ones ability to influence and participate in ones cultural inheritance.
You see it was a two family apartment and ah and… a two family house! And then one day the little boy found the other little boy that lived upstairs the family who lived upstairs in the upstairs floor and the little boy who was less than seven, the lonely little boy, the lonely little boy was less than seven, I know that because we didn’t leave Columbus until I was seven, I know it, I was under seven and I took a match and I lit it and I pulled out the other little boy’s penis and burnt his penis with a match
It is useful to think of cultural inheritance as something akin to a downward gravitational pull. Acting as a facet of history, cultural inheritance often comes down from above, sometimes forcefully, and is marked by generational knowledge transfer. Narratives are complex and intertwined, desiring reverence and repetition. Icons are presented to us, and from this array we are sometimes able to choose what to favour, construct and mythologise or, indeed, debase; sometimes we are forced. We learn codes, gestures and sentiments and, within the context of our communities, we are encouraged and permitted to re-enact these behaviours. This is how legacies emerge and stabilise. Anecdotes can facilitate this history-building, but as radically mobile kernels of personal knowledge, they can also undermine the stability of large cultural inheritance narratives. They have agency. This is largely because anecdotes care little for authenticity. Authenticity in cultural inheritance is prized, but anecdotes need not even be true – they must simply be trusted. And, regardless of their veracity to real life events, anecdotes often speak of negative experiences and appear confessional. The form is easily suffused with micro-narratives of racism, misogyny, half-caught lines of verbal abuse and violence.
The room I was in was my hospital room. Blood, as if I was pissing, pissing like a man only straight upward without arcing, shot up from my cunt in thin streams. I saw two thin streams. My blood hit the top of the pale hospital walls, even the ceiling. I thought what a mess, just like in a movie. Then, there were more than two streams. The hospital walls had become red, just like in CARRIE. The doctor was taking his time somewhere. The nurse who had gone to fetch him, or some nurse, walking into the room and seeing the bloodiness, rang the emergency bell, just like she had been taught to do. Finally, the nurses put their arms around me and told me they were going to take care of me.
Yet within minority communities whose cultural inheritance is yet to congeal into generalised narratives, or whose authenticity has been forcefully eroded and obscured, anecdotes are a potential resource for identifying what an inheritance might even look like. They are the obdurate remainders, resembling artefacts of folk history when gathered. The provisional nature of the anecdote is well suited to articulating forms of queer subjectivity, not least for its specificity, antagonism to larger narratives, and qualities of self-validation. Sure, anecdotes can be selectively sampled, excluded, or simply forgotten. But where queer subjectivity is a category that is constantly in antagonism with its definitional formation, anecdotes appear in solidarity with its refusal to generalise, police or glorify content. Too unruly and casual for such consolidation, it instead seeks out intimate and trusted connections through which its content might proliferate and move swiftly to find correlates of experience and knowledge. The anecdote continues to desire an audience.
When i was like 12 i tried to figure out Second Life for an hour. i was a completely naked completely hairless #FFFFFF woman floating through the sky before being trapped in an infinite latex strip mall (a highly prophetic event)). burner identities parachuting nervous micro-selves through the atmosphere where they exploded spectacularly on the virtual landscapes below. identities that solidify as they gain social capital, becoming less mobile. social capital triggers phase changes in identity. hyperproduce humanity | queerness | feminism | transness via social networks that demand confession. build fortresses that defend a place one no longer cares about. identity costs social capital. it costs 500 crystals to be a Woman, with knock-off Woman Lite, Wom, Womn, woman, F, w., vv, WMN, for 25-100 crystals and you can GET A LOAN.
A version of this text was commissioned and published by Patrick Staff