The Heavy Lifting of Reasons in the World of Why?
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Walter Benjamin once noted, in his classic 1936 essay, “The Storyteller,” that the art of storytelling, the signal art of exchanging experience, was coming to an end. Modernity, in all of its economic, industrial, and military modalities (brought to a destructive pitch in World War I), had seriously diminished the communicability of experience, replacing it with a flood of information on the one side, and novels (the aesthetic form of “solitary individuals”), on the other. He wrote: “In every case the storyteller is a man who has counsel for his readers. But if today “having counsel” is beginning to have an old-fashioned ring, this is because the communicability of experience is decreasing … Counsel woven into the fabric of real life is wisdom.”
Charles Tilly identifies the counsel in the fabric of real, contemporary life, titrating its forms differently than Benjamin's “information” and “novel.” But even with the additions of “conventions,” “codes,” and “technological accounts,” he,...