Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: July 23, 2019
The Storyteller Essays
by Walter Benjamin, translated from the German by Tess Lewis, edited and with an introduction by Samuel Titan
An NYRB Classics Original
“The Storyteller” is one of Walter Benjamin’s most important essays, a beautiful and suggestive meditation on the relation between narrative form, social life, and individual existence—and the product of at least a decade’s work. What might be called the story of The Storyteller Essays starts in 1926, with a piece Benjamin wrote about the German romantic Johann Peter Hebel. It continues in a series of short essays, book reviews, short stories, parables, and even radio shows for children. This collection brings them all together to give readers a new appreciation of how Benjamin’s thinking changed and ripened over time, while including several key readings of his own—texts by his contemporaries Ernst Bloch and Georg Lukács; by Paul Valéry; and by Herodotus and Montaigne. Finally, to bring things around, there are three short stories by “the incomparable Hebel” with whom the whole intellectual adventure began.
[T]he newly published collection The Storyteller Essays, translated by Tess Lewis and edited by Samuel Titan, marks a unique achievement. … It provides a brief intellectual history of an essay and revivifies it ...
—Clint Williamson, Full Stop
[B]ecause it is delivered without panic, quietly, in graceful sentences, from within the culture of books and criticism, it is hard at first to accept the implications of what Benjamin is saying. You suspect he is being bombastic in order for him to come back later and tell you what modern literature’s saving grace is, but the moment of redemption does not arrive. . . . Reading such claims over eighty years later, we might be reminded that every generation foresees a crisis and the end of the world as we know it. It is also possible that Benjamin had his eyes wide open at the beginning of our era and proved able to observe its salient features.
—Philip Ó Ceallaigh, The Stinging Fly
A master of the essay, list, theoretical long-take, fragment, aphorism, speech, pedagogical manifesto, and even the book review, Benjamin commanded a variety of prose forms.
Benjamin famously wrote that ‘knowledge comes only in lightning flashes. The text is the long roll of thunder that follows.’ . . . [The] experience of reading Benjamin feels a little like the reverse. You are set down in a dense and unfamiliar city, and have to work to get your bearings. It can seem aimless, an endless roll of thunder, until you stop to breathe for a moment, to linger on an old word or an image slightly aslant, and—suddenly—you take in a new illumination.
—David Wallace, The New Yorker
The German-Jewish essayist and cultural theorist Walter Benjamin remains a fascinating puzzle for readers and critics alike. There was no one quite like him: a philosopher at home in literature, a creative writer proficient in political theory and art history, a dedicated collector of things that have been forgotten or suppressed, an astute observer of modernity and technology who was as interested in mysticism as in Marxism.
—Elif Shafak, Financial Time