Tale as Useful Artefact: Basavaraj Naikar’s The Thief of Nagarahalli and Other Stories

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Christopher Rollason

Abstract

“Every real story,” Walter Benjamin declared in “The Storyteller”, his famous essay of 1936, “… contains, openly or covertly, something useful”. The great Jewish-German critic goes on to specify: “The usefulness may, in one case, consist in a moral; in another, in some practical advice; in a third, in a proverb or maxim. In every case the storyteller is a man who has counsel for his readers.”1 Benjamin was of course writing about the tradition of storytelling that may be variously called oral, folk, artisan or traditional - the tradition which, he believed, lay behind the tales of the ostensible subject of his essay, the nineteenth-century Russian writer Nikolai Leskov, and which he carefully distinguished from the fictional mode of the novel: “What differentiates the novel from all other forms of prose literature - the fairy-tale, the legend, even the novella - is that it neither comes from oral tradition nor goes into it. This distinguishes it from storytelling in particular. The storyteller takes what he tells from experience - his own or that reported by others. And he in turn makes it the experience of those who are listening to his tale.”

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