In our frenetic age, audio narratives offer a rare opportunity for slow immersion. But this intimacy can become manipulative.
In 1936, Walter Benjamin, the German philosopher and cultural critic, published an essay titled “The Storyteller.” Ostensibly about the Russian writer Nikolai Leskov, Benjamin used the piece to analyze the meaning and function of storytelling. Long ago, Benjamin suggested, stories offered listeners practical or moral counsel, much as fairy tales now did for children. They transmitted common wisdom, framed by the personal experience of the storyteller, which was delivered in such a way that listeners could incorporate it into their lives. This kind of storytelling was falling victim to the forces of modernity, Benjamin argued.