Benjamin: “The Storyteller”

In his essay “The Storyteller” Walter Benjamin argues that the societal need for information and its increased devaluation of experiences are causing the death of the art of storytelling.

In his essay, Benjamin outlines the act of storytelling and why it should not become extinct, even with society’s shift in focus from stories of experiences to strict information. Benjamin argues that while storytelling is an ancient mode of communication, its value should not be underestimated. Benjamin argues that storytellers weave practical counsel and advice into their life experiences as well as the experiences of others into their intricate, interesting stories. In today’s society, however, an emphasis has been placed on straightforward, unambiguous information, leading to the aforementioned devaluation of personal experience and thus the approaching death of the storyteller. Benjamin also argues that the rise of the novel is also cause for the decline of storytelling. He argues that while someone reading or listening to a story is always in the company of a storyteller; someone reading a novel “…is isolated” (23). This isolation, Benjamin argues, stems from the fact that a novel is the creation of the mind of a single person, and is given to individuals to read. Benjamin concludes his argument by stating that society’s devaluation of experiences, and especially our disassociation from the natural processes of death are causing the death of storytelling.

An aspect of Benjamin’s argument that I found particularly compelling is his assertion that modern society is shifting away from the art of storytelling and coming to focus more on straightforward information. Instead of having advice and morals coded within fanciful and imaginative stories and sharing with others personal experiences, we sit in front of a television or newspaper and are delivered cold, hard, unambiguous facts. While I believe that this portion of Benjamin’s argument is very true in today’s society, however, I disagree with his assertion that novels, too, are contributing to the decline of storytelling. It is true that many novels are fictitious and do not revolve around real experiences, however, an author’s work will contain traces of his or her own life experiences or observations. In addition, while novels are read individually, there are almost always discussions between individuals that have read the same novels, creating a connection between readers that is comparable tot he connection between storyteller and reader.

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