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Walter Benjamin as storyteller


In the LA Review of Books, Peter Fenves reviews a collection of (mostly) newly translated writing by Walter Benjamin. Entitled The Storyteller: Tales out of Loneliness, the collection focuses on miscellaneous stories and fragments that Benjamin wrote throughout his career, many of which remained unpublished in his lifetime. Together they paint a picture of a restless and imaginative thinker who was much more than just a critic, however distinguished he was in that capacity. Here’s an excerpt from the review:

As for the items in The Storyteller, most are recognizable as narratives or narrative fragments, but a large percentage are something else — dream reports, travel reportage, and riddles, for instance. You will also come across a calendrical poem, word games, the account of a radio performance, and a dialogue on gambling. In addition, each of the three parts of the volume concludes with one or two book reviews, thus suggesting that Benjamin’s primary “position” was that of a critic, after all.

The oddness of its selection does not make the appearance of The Storyteller any less welcome. New texts are now available in English, and the volume is richly illustrated. One of its distinguishing characteristics in comparison with other collections is its chronological range: along with many fragments that Benjamin wrote before he entered into the university system in 1912, there are a substantial number of items from the late 1920s and early ’30s, some of which are perhaps marked by the collapse of his attempt to find a position within German academia. The volume does not follow a strict chronological sequence; instead, it is divided in terms of three themes.