Okonkwo and the Storyteller: Death, Accident, and Meaning in Chinua Achebe and Walter Benjamin

Okonkwo and the Storyteller: Death, Accident, and Meaning in Chinua Achebe and Walter Benjamin J O N AT H A N G R E E N B E R G alter Benjamin's essay "The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov" famously examines the transition from oral to written narrative, a transition Benjamin elucidates with a dichotomy between what he calls "story" and "novel." This transition from the oral to the written is also central to Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart, and to Achebe's writing about literature more generally. This essay brings Benjamin's trenchant analysis of narrative, and its functioning within an emergent modernity, to bear on Achebe's work; its primary aim is to use Benjamin's theory to discern crucial tensions in Achebe's novel. At the same time, however, it might offer the additional benefit of demonstrating how Achebe's novel, in its vivid particularity, can illumine the more shadowy corners of Benjamin's terse and gnomic prose. What I argue, in brief, is that Achebe's novel can be seen as a portrait of Igbo culture precisely at the moment of transition from one Benjaminian discursive category to another, from story to novel.1 By this I emphatically don't mean merely that the novel shows us a society in transition, or that it http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Contemporary Literature University of Wisconsin Press

Okonkwo and the Storyteller: Death, Accident, and Meaning in Chinua Achebe and Walter Benjamin

Contemporary Literature, Volume 48 (3) – Dec 26, 2007

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Publisher
University of Wisconsin Press
Copyright
Copyright © 2007 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin. All rights reserved.
ISSN
1548-9949
Publisher site
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Abstract

J O N AT H A N G R E E N B E R G alter Benjamin's essay "The Storyteller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov" famously examines the transition from oral to written narrative, a transition Benjamin elucidates with a dichotomy between what he calls "story" and "novel." This transition from the oral to the written is also central to Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart, and to Achebe's writing about literature more generally. This essay brings Benjamin's trenchant analysis of narrative, and its functioning within an emergent modernity, to bear on Achebe's work; its primary aim is to use Benjamin's theory to discern crucial tensions in Achebe's novel. At the same time, however, it might offer the additional benefit of demonstrating how Achebe's novel, in its vivid particularity, can illumine the more shadowy corners of Benjamin's terse and gnomic prose. What I argue, in brief, is that Achebe's novel can be seen as a portrait of Igbo culture precisely at the moment of transition from one Benjaminian discursive category to another, from story to novel.1 By this I emphatically don't mean merely that the novel shows us a society in transition, or that it

Journal

Contemporary LiteratureUniversity of Wisconsin Press

Published: Dec 26, 2007

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