When I first started taking Portuguese literature classes, I came across a literary form I wasn’t familiar with, the CrÃ´nica. A short short story meant for publication in newspapers, the CrÃ´nica may be the chief form of short fiction in Portuguese. Since these stories are almost always told in a chronological order, are based on everyday life and are often slightly critical, they might be best compared to the Anecdote (although they are generally longer). [In Portuguese, the term AnedÃ³ta doesn’t exactly mean the same as our anecdote, but instead is limited to humorous stories.]
I guess what surprised me most about the CrÃ´nica was that it never seemed like a separate literary form to me. I thought it was simply a short story that appeared in the newspaper, no different from other short stories. In this sense also, I think it is like the Anecdote, a form that is sometimes lost or ignored because of its ubiquitousness, and because it is so often contained in other forms.
In the LDS context, I think the Anecdote is probably one of our most prevalent forms of literature, regularly used both by prophets and most Church members.
Mormon literature is highly dependent on forms of literature that, like the Anecdote, seem ubiquitous. Letters, Journals and Diaries and, more than anything, Sermons are important parts of our literature, and the latter includes, I think, the most revered works of Mormonism.
But when I think of my favorite LDS sermons–general conference addresses usually–its usually because that sermon included a favorite anecdote, those stories that lead us to laugh or cry, and that illustrate the point that the speaker wants to make.
What makes the use of anecdotes so interesting is their reuse. We hear those same stories told to us again and again, in the sacrament meeting talks and lessons that Church members prepare. When we need to make the same point that a General Authority made, we often use that same story, told in our own words, to illustrate the point. And sometimes we even use the story to illustrate a different point!
Another interesting aspect of the Anecdote is that it does get recycled in different words. Often the person retelling the story isn’t as skilled, and many times details of the story are changed, added or even left out. Yet somehow the stories maintain their same character and value (unless the reteller errs).
I don’t have the literary background needed to really judge where anecdotes fit in to Mormon literature. Certainly there is room to challenge their place because of how much they can change in the retelling. When the words used to communicate an anecdote can change so much, its easy to wonder if the anecdote is actually a literary work, as opposed to source material. I’ll let someone else with better skills tackle that question.
But regardless of the answer, I think there is room for exploring the anecdote’s role in Mormon sermons, literature and culture.