Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: May 21, 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
Walter Benjamin’s “The Storyteller” is among the greatest and most widely read essays of this ever-suggestive but also enigmatic master thinker. Published in 1936 in an obscure Swiss review, “The Storyteller” was the product of at least a decade of ongoing reflection and composition. What might be called the story of The Storyteller Essays starts in 1926, when Benjamin wrote an essay about one of his favorite authors, the German romantic Johann Peter Hebel, and then continues in a beautiful series of short essays, book reviews (of Arnold Bennett’s novel The Old Wives’ Tale, among others), short stories, parables (“The Handkerchief,” written in Ibiza in 1932–1933), and even radio shows for children (The Earthquake in Lisbon). In this new collection these writings are brought together in one place, giving us a new appreciation of how Benjamin’s thinking changed and ripened over time. These superb and wonderfully readable pieces are further accompanied by some key readings of his own—texts by his contemporaries Ernst Bloch, Georg Lukács, and Jean Paulhan; by Paul Valéry; and by Herodotus and Montaigne—and finally, to bring things around, there are two short stories by “the incomparable Hebel” with whom Benjamin’s intellectual adventure began. Tess Lewis’s magnificent new translation further refreshes our understanding of the work, while editor Samuel Titan’s introduction fills in the biographical and intellectual context in which Benjamin’s “The Storyteller” came to life.
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