Walter Benjamin

walter-benjamin

Walter Bendix Schönflies Benjamin was a German-Jewish Marxist philosopher-sociologist, literary critic, translator and essayist. He was at times associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory. Over the last half-century the regard for his work and its influence have risen dramatically, making Benjamin one of the most important twentieth century thinkers about literature and about modern aesthetic experience.

Der Erzähler.

The Storyteller. Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov

Essay was first published in "Orient und Okzident-Magazin", October 1936. First English translation published in "Illuminations: Essays and Reflactions", edited by Hannah Arendt, 1968. 

 

I

Familiar though his name may be to us, the storyteller in his living immediacy is by no means a present force. He has already become something remote from us and something that is getting even more distant

IV

An orientation toward practical interests is characteristic of many born storytellers. ... All this points to the nature of every real story. It contains, openly or covertly, something useful. The usefulness may, in one case, consist in a moral; in another, in some practical advice; in a third, in a proverb or maxim. In every case the storyteller is a man who has counsel for his readers. But if today “having counsel” is beginning to have an old-fashioned ring, this is because the communicability of experience is decreasing. In consequence we have no counsel either for ourselves or for others

VI

...

The prime requirement is that it appear “understandable in itself.”... Every morning brings us the news of the globe, and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories. This is because no event any longer comes to us without already being shot through with explanation...

VIII

...

Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away. His nesting places—the activities that are intimately associated with boredom—are already extinct in the cities and are declining in the country as well. With this the gift for listening is lost and the community of listeners disappears. For storytelling is always the art of repeating stories, and this art is lost when the stories are no longer retained...

IX

The storytelling that thrives for a long time in the milieu of work—the rural, the maritime, and the urban— is itself an artisan form of communication, as it were. It does not aim to convey the pure essence of the thing, like information or a report. It sinks the thing into the life of the storyteller, in order to bring it out of him again. Thus traces of the storyteller cling to the story the way the handprints of the potter cling to the clay vessel...

XI

Death is the sanction of everything that the storyteller can tell. He has borrowed his authority from death. In other words, it is natural history to which his stories refer back...

 

XV

A man listening to a story is in the company of the storyteller; even a man reading one shares this companionship...

XIX

...

Seen in this way, the storyteller joins the ranks of the teachers and sages. He has counsel—not for a few situations, as the proverb does, but for many, like the sage. For it is granted to him to reach back to a whole lifetime (a life, incidentally, that comprises not only his own experience but no little of the experience of others; what the storyteller knows from hearsay is added to his own. His gift is the ability to relate his life; his distinction, to be able to tell his entire life. The storyteller: he is the man who could let the wick of his life be consumed completely by the gentle flame of his story...