The article looks at the emergence of romance as a viable literary device in Israeli literature in the 1990s, especially in the works of young writers who used the privacy of romantic coupling as an escape from the more national thematics of previous literary generations. Historically, modern Hebrew works paid little attention to romance, certainly in comparison to the ubiquity of romantic love in other contemporary, nineteenth century European literatures. In Hebrew literature, romance played a secondary role that was usually subordinated to communal, Jewish and later Zionist concerns. During the 1980s, however, especially after the first Intifada in 1987, this dynamic began to change. The article examines this change in the works of Etgar Keret as a representative voice of a new Israeli cultural generation.
One of the illustrative ways Hebrew literary critics characterized and distinguished literary generations from one another during the past century has been to focus on the common use and function of the narrative voice as an expression of the age.1
Thus, the anguished and introverted voice of the lonely first-person singular narrator in many works of the Hebrew Revival came to symbolize the hesitant and precarious beginnings of a new Hebrew culture in the Land of Israel at the beginning of the twentieth century. Similarly, the first person plural of the following literary generation, the 1948 Generation, came to symbolize the next stage in the Hebrew cultural revolution and its success in establishing a cohesive national culture whose members strongly identified with it at the expense of more personal concerns. The turn to a plurality of first person narratives in the 1960s, during the State Generation, marked a break from the group culture of the first native, Israeli generation and a rebellion against it. By looking closely at works by Etgar Keret, this essay suggests the emergence of yet another narrative voice or literary grouping in Israel in the early 1990s: the “first-person dual” or the romantic voice. Although the first-person dual, "גוף ראשוניים", does not exist as a grammatical category in Hebrew, the sense of a pronominal narrative voice in many works by Keret and his contemporaries is neither that of an individual “I” or a communal “we,” but that of the romantic couple.
Characterized by terse narratives that usually unfold in urban settings, the new romantic writers abandon the grand Zionist narrative of the past in favor of stories that are both smaller and larger in scope—the preoccupation with romantic love as the ultimate fulfillment of the human condition. Unlike previous generations, many works by contemporary romantic writers like Etgar Keret, Uzi Weil, Gadi Taub, Gafi Amir and others, appear largely unconcerned with Jewish identity, Jewish nationality or Jewish history. Moreover, the move these authors make away from the particular and the local toward more universal literary themes, and especially the construction of the romantic experience within a capitalist framework, is distinctly marked by the abandonment of the tension between individual and community, that has stood at the center of modern Hebrew literature since its inception. Instead, these writers attempt to seclude themselves within the protective confines of the lovers' nest rather than in relation to a community.
The emergence of romance in Hebrew literature is noteworthy and intriguing because, historically, modern Hebrew works paid romance scant attention, certainly in comparison to its ubiquity in European literature. After all, the development of modern literature in Europe—the novel in particular—is directly linked to romantic love as an individualizing force; a mode of rebellion, liberation and fulfillment in an increasingly bourgeois, capitalist and secular world. The very name for the novel, român, in many European languages makes clear the extent to which the literary form itself centered on relations between the sexes.2
Generally speaking, this was not the case with modern Hebrew literature, which waged a different cultural war at its beginning and focused more on reforming the Jewish community and forging new connections between its members that were not based on religion.
There were, to be sure, genuine attempts to incorporate romance into modern Hebrew letters. The most obvious example would be the very first modern Hebrew novel, Avraham Mapu's 1853 Love of Zion (אהבת ציון). Other notable examples come from the Hebrew Revival at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth (Berdichevsky and Gnessing, for instance). But most of these served more ideological than romantic concerns. Mapu's novel was a maskilic critique of the moribund Jewish community of his day, while he precarious freedom that Revivalist heroes won from their traditional Jewish communities often came at the expense of their love life, which tended to be tortuous and abortive. That is, the failed love affairs of the uprooted young Jew, the Talush, were yet another indication of his existential limbo, stuck between the declining old world and an unknown Jewish future.
More contemporary successors of these early writers, with the exception, perhaps, of S. Y. Agnon, did not use romance more significantly either. Most of the works that appeared immediately before and after 1948 did not dwell on romance because they were much more concerned with the urgent matters of state-building. The next literary generation, often called New Wave or State Generation, continued to [dis]use romance. Amos Oz epitomized this in his signature novel of the period, My Michael (1968), when he endowed the love life of the heroine, Hanna, with distinct national symbolism.3
For many of these writers, romance played a secondary role that was usually subordinated to communal, Jewish and Zionist concerns.4
During the 1980s, especially after the first Intifada in 1987, this dynamic began to change. Among the influences that brought these changes about and opened up Israeli culture to greater outside influences were the deep political and economic changes after the Six Day War. Throughout the 1980s, Israel experienced accelerated development and the greater establishment of a western, capitalist society, a trend which was expedited by the emigration to Israel of hundreds of thousands of Russians in the early 1990s and symbolized by the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993.
The addition of nearly one million workers and consumers to Israel’s economy, and the first real chance of peace with the entire Arab world, or at least a glimpse of what it might look like, jolted the country and began to change it in what seemed at the time as profound ways. It brought Israel much closer to Western consumerist society and exposed it to its popular culture, especially American television programs that saturated the air after deregulation opened up the local media market at the beginning of the 1990s. The new programming was eagerly embraced by a public thirsty not only for entertainment choices but for a confirmation that it really belonged in the West. Inevitably, these changes made Israeli society more susceptible to global trends as well, in particular the millennial atmosphere of the 1990s with its anxiety and uncertainty regarding the future, which often give rise to the kind of “nostalgic yearnings for a secure, familiar past” that reverberate in many works by Keret and his peers.5
This may be the reason for the appeal which Keret and other romantic writers had for an an increasingly fragmented society, especially in an age that was distinguished by the expansion and richness of its literary output, by women, Mizrahim, gays, religious writers, and Arabs.6
Throughout the 1990s Keret and his confrères were repeatedly mentioned in the daily press as well as in more academic venues, individually and as a group, as the voice of a new Israeli age; an age that was alternatively called postmodern or postzionist. Their resonance in the unraveling society of a “fin de siecle” Israel and the ability of what I call romantic writers to reach across a plurality of voices by constructing a fragile but distinct voice is the subject of this study.7
The romantic writers developed against this millennial background and staged what Gadi Taub has so poignantly called a “dispirited rebellion.”8
Taub, himself one of the romantic writers, published in 1997 a collection of essays in which he defined a new Israeli generation in what was essentially a post-national era. The importance of Taub's thesis resides in the window it opened into the mindset of a generation of Israelis who were born after the 1967 triumph and whose consciousness was forged in an increasingly safe, economically advantaged and militarily strong Israel.9
The romantic writers were the products of this generation and, somewhat paradoxically, derive their anxieties from their unprecedented privilege as powerful and secure Jews.10
One of the more notable consequences of this cultural shuffle has been a crucial change of priorities in the nation's cultural agenda, a kind of “privatization of collective memory and prioritization of the private, domestic sphere,” as Miri Talmon calls it.11
Indeed, a mounting tension between the private and the public spheres, an increasing pessimism about Israel's political course, a heightened frustration with the ability to change it and an acute wish to disengage from it in order to protect one's sanity and psychological integrity in the face of it marks Keret's generation.
The first Intifada did not trigger this dynamic as much as clarified and articulated it for many.12The ground for this realization was laid long before it broke out, not just by the changes in the country's material culture, but especially by so-called new historians and sociologists, whose challenges to well-accepted perceptions of Israeli history gradually entered into academic and then public discourse since the beginning of the 1980s. Studies such as Benny Morris' 1987 The Palestinian Refugee Problem, Ella Shohat's 1989 Israeli Cinema, and Tom Segev's 1984, 1949, The First Israelis, and his 1991 The Seventh Million, to name the most prominent of them, began to reexamine some of Zionism's most deep-rooted and hallowed claims about Israel’s wish for peace, about its relations with Arabs, about its immigration and social integration policies, and about its relationship to the Holocaust and its survivors. Although these challenges were not immediately accepted and were strongly resisted by the establishment, some of the well-researched and pointedly argued alternative explanations they provided slowly gained credence, especially with younger people. A sense that Israel might not have been right at all times, that it was not always the victim and that there are other, legitimate sides to the Mid-East story slowly enfeebled Zionist dogma.13
The preeminence of romantic love in the works of Keret and others was in many ways an escape from the confusion of a frustrating reality and a rebellion against it. One of the peculiar characteristics of works by young writers like Keret, who began to appear on the literary scene in the 1990s, is their urban imagery and setting: bars, gun-toting detectives, nightly taxi rides in the city and beautiful, mysterious women, which often seem taken from generic American films and television programs. In this “capitalist realism,” as Eva Illouz calls it in her illuminating study about the connection between love and modern consumerism, romantic love is perceived as inherently liberating and individualizing, a mode of rebellion, escape and fulfillment in an increasingly alienating world. It is after all a commonplace that Romantic Love replaced religion in twentieth century Western culture and has become one of the most pervasive mythologies of contemporary life in the West. But since nationality, not religion, held center stage in Zionism, the closer identification with the West and the eager adoption of its values, especially love, undermined in the Israeli case nationalism not religion.
This kind of romantic consumerism occurs most conspicuously in the rebellion of post-army Israeli youth, who take prolonged trips abroad, especially to the Far East. Such excursions serve a double purpose. On the one hand, they allow young Israelis to disengage physically and mentally from a dismal local reality that is still stuck, as it were, in a primitive and anachronistic conflict while the rest of the civilized world is out having fun. But the trips also foster closer associations with the West through the consumption of tailored tours to exotic locations, replete with extreme sports and drug parties. Today we know that these changes were not as enduring, and that in many ways, the economic boom and the chance for peace were artificial. But the promise of both, the economy and the peace, was nevertheless powerful and alluring at the time, perhaps even more so because they were not yet real. It goes directly to the nature of Keret's writing and the writings of his contemporaries, who were sometimes labeled urban, lean-language or post-modernist writers.
For the most part, these young men and women, most of whom were journalists as well, were quick to perceive the new trends and comment on the possibilities they held for a truly western, civil society in Israel, a middle-class Israel that would finally be able to lead the bourgeois life it always craved despite its nominal adherence to a regnant statist socialism.
This, essentially, is the sentiment that Keret as a romantic writer expresses in his works, which usurp the grand Zionist narrative of the past in favor of a more Western-universalist one. While the new narrative retains elements of the former, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi divide and secular-religious tensions, these no longer hold the same values they held before. As part of a post-modern, post-national literary universe, they are subsumed under and serve a grander romantic narrative, to which Jewish history, culture and identity are in many ways incidental.
Etgar Keret began writing as a young soldier in the early 1990s. He sent his first stories to so-called lowbrow, popular media, such as the teenage weekly Ma'ariv lano'ar and the glossy women's magazines At and La'isha because, as he confessed tellingly, he preferred to be read by many than evaluated by few.16
Whether Keret meant this in earnest or not, popular and critical acclaim swiftly followed the publication of his first anthology of short stories, Pipelines, in 1992.17
Throughout the 1990s the daily press was full of passionate critiques of Keret's stories which seem to have hit a public nerve. Common to most of these critiques is Keret's ability to succinctly express some of the seemingly irreconcilable tensions of the new era, that is, the unbearable lightness of Israeli being in a post national age. So many of Keret's stories revolve around misfits, wrote one critic, that the Other becomes the most well-defined group of the 1990s; a passive and haphazard collection of individuals that replaces the actively unified "we" of previous, more nationally-minded generations.18
Numerous critics recognized Keret's existential angst and noted his particular writing style, his ability to translate the visual sensibility of a video clip into words as a critical component of his popularity: the accessible, spoken idiom, the frenetic tempo, the accumulation of disparate cultural elements, the visual and verbal quotes, and the extreme brevity of the text. Keret's cinematic writing style has been noted especially after the publication of his second anthology of short stories, Missing Kissinger, two years later in 1994. One critic who reviewed the new volume described Keret not only as a typical product of the mass media generation, but went even further to suggest that his allusions to popular TV series, comic books and detective films is reminiscent of the way older Hebrew writers used biblical allusions.19
That the writing style of young Keret appealed to his peers, to the first generation of Israelis who grew up with a substantial presence of commercial media needs little explanation. His popularity in more judicious quarters is less obvious. One reason that may explain this concordance is the fairly quick way in which Keret came to be regarded as a postmodernist, a category that was bandied freely in Israel in the early 1990s. Like any new critical method of inquiry, postmodernism drew a lot of attention as a novel method of cultural analysis when it began to make inroads into the Israeli academy in the late 1980s and early 1990s.20
Iconoclastic studies questioning the various truths of the Zionist story that began to emerge in the 1980s were boosted by the academic respectability of postmodernity, which doubts the legitimacy of any system of values, encompassing theories and grand narratives. Despite its instability as a systematic method of inquiry, postmodernism became a potent source of fuel for the changes that swept Israel at that time.21
Because Keret's stories were written so "visually" and because many of them presented a confusing, mean and hellish Israel they were described fairly early on as quintessentially postmodern.22
Even when critics did not literally define them as such, they pointed out many postmodern elements in Keret's works, like the influence of the mass media,23generic blurring,24the confusion of style and substance,25 obscuring the boundaries between representation and reality,26 and an ostensible disconnection between writer and narrator.27
The influence of the mass media, especially films and television, was one of the most frequently mentioned postmodern features of Keret's writing. The lack of generic coordinates and the jumbled accumulation of disparate cultural artifacts were often perceived as the absence of a moral compass as well; a moral relativism that is revealed in the alleged absence of an implied narrator, that ephemeral moral voice usually invoked by the tension between the actual writer and the narrator he or she creates.
Many of these signs can be detected even before reading Keret's actual stories by looking at the jackets of his anthologies. The 1992 Pipelines, for instance, features a detail from Edvard Munch’s famous etching “the Scream,” which, significantly, is rendered in pink.28
The choice of Munch’s work highlights the haunting nature of many stories in the anthology, which remains Keret’s most obviously political or socially-aware work to date. The stories in Pipelines deal with the legacy of the Holocaust, Jewish-Arab relations, army service, the Intifada and the dissolution of civil society in Israel because of it. At the same time, the very use of “the Scream,” which the cover serves up as a cliché of a cliché, in its choice of detail and the lurid pink instead of the dramatic darkness of the original painting, undermines the haunting dimension of the stories by manipulating the meaning of the etching through a manipulation of its surface, appearance or “performance,” to use postmodern parlance. The painful substance of the disturbing etching is not changed or removed but trifled with by cheerfully coloring it. The conversion of the original scream into a pop-culture artifact atenuates the tension between the overwhelmingly articulate image and the raw and seemingly inarticulate etched lines that produce the work's affect in the first place. In other words, the pink color silences the scream by reversing what Andy Warhol did in his famous series of lithographs. Instead of elevating an ordinary, ubiquitous commercial product to the level of art in a defiant, warped mimicry of consumerism and mass production, which was what Warhol did, the jacket of Pipelines commercializes a unique and meaningful work of art.29
One of the most obvious examples of Keret’s adroit use of postmodern stylistic devices is the story “Arkadi Hilwe Takes the Number Five.”
The title of the story offers the first hint about the tight symbiosis in the story between style and content as well as the volatile potential of its disparate elements; a potential that is fully realized in the story. Although the title reads like a smooth colloquialism, a casual reference to someone's bus ride, the discord begins already with the passenger's name. Arakadi is an obvious Russian name. Hilwe is an obvious Arabic name. Joining them together as someone's first and last name is immediately jarring to Israeli ears and highly ironic. The number five bus is also significant, not just because it traverses Dissengoff Street, Tel-Aviv's central and most symbolic street that often stands for the city itself. One of the first and most devastating suicide bombing attacks in Israel would take place aboard that bus on October of 1994, marking a shift in the conflict with the Palestinians that eventually led to the withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank more than ten years later.
True to its title, the story continues to describe an especially horrific Israel, a terrifying universe devoid of compassion, a disintegrating society awash with blood whose conflicting elements clash violently with one another in a cacophonous jumble. The story is packed to excess with gruesome images that are delivered with a chilling detachment that accentuates the horror. The first words that open the story are "son of a bitch," uttered by a fat drunkard who is waiting at the bus station with Arkadi, spoiling for a fight. Arkadi ignores him and continues to read his paper, which is plastered with gory pictures of mutilated bodies. "I am talking to you" the drunkard persists, adding the epithet "stinking Arab" for good measure. "Russian, Arkadi replied, hastening to hide behind the side of his family that was not maligned yet. My mother is from Riga. Sure, said the fat man with disbelief, and your father? From Nablus, admitted Arakadi and returned to his paper to look at a picture of "Burnt Kurdish dwarfs flung out of a giant toaster" and another picture of lynching.
The vulgar belligerence of the drunkard and the grisly pictures in the paper are but a prelude to a story that reveals a Clockwork Orange-like world of senseless, random violence that is fueled by the disparate ethnic and political factions that make up Israeli society, culture and history. Arkadi responds with chilling violence to the drunk's persistent nagging. "It was five o'clock and the bus did not arrive yet. In a speech on the radio the Prime Minister promised rivers of blood and the fat man was a head taller than him. [Arkadi] kicked the fat man's balls with his knee and followed it immediately with the crowbar he hid between the pages of the paper. The fat man fell to the ground and began crying, Arabs! Russians! Help! Arkadi gave him another smack on the head with the crowbar and sat back on the bench."
The frightening miscommunication continues in Arakadi's conversation with the bus driver, with an old passenger and finally with his mother. Don't worry about him, "he's epileptic," Arkadi tells the bus driver who wants to help the sprawled and spasmodic fat man. "If he's epileptic, where's all the blood from," the driver inquires. "From the Prime Minister's speech on the radio," Arakadi replies apathetically. Once inside the buss, Arakadi sees an old passenger working on a crossword puzzle and asks if he can help. "Was I talking to you, you stinking Arab," the old man snaps at Arakadi. In a twist on a crossword puzzle definition, Arakadi rejoins with "a question often used by Border Patrol policemen (28 letters)." Minutes later he gets off the bus and as it drives off he ducks behind a garbage bin anticipating the blast of the explosives he just left on it. "The explosion came seconds later covering Arakadi with trash." On his return home he finds his grandmother sitting in a tent on their roof-deck watching a commercial on TV in which a sexy swimsuit model "was swimming the backstroke in a river of blood that flowed along Arlozorov Street." Arkadi fantasizes about having sex with the model and does not hear his mother, who is trying to tell him that his grandfather was crucified this morning at the central bus station during a special operation to enforce parking regulations. "Are you talking to me?" he asks her. "No, I am talking to God," his mother replies angrily and curses in Russian. "Oh, Arakadi said in return and went back to the TV. The picture now focused on the model's lower body parts. The slimy blood flowed all around them without touching them. There was a supertitle above it and the emblem of the city, but Arakadi resisted the temptation to read it."
It is not hard to follow the different elements of Israeliana that crowd this short story. Recent Russian immigrants, dissipate Israeli youth; fat, lazy and gone bad, Arabs, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Intifada, the greater conflict in the Mid East, suicide bombings, social disparity, injustice, violence, racism, political cynicism, and above all the apathy of a society who has been flooded ad-nausea with all of these images by an invidious mass media that replicates and amplifies them until they cease to make sense, to represent a recognizable reality. The end of the story exemplifies the gory, macabre collage that makes it and by extension the country itself. Each of its pieces is packed with so much symbolism that it quite literally explodes or collapses and loses its ability to represent anything in a meaningful way.
Among the elements in this story that make no sense, the protagonist, Arakadi, is the least possible, a textual contrivance that highlights the text's postmodern stance as well as Keret's vigorous sense of humor. Although all literary characters are essentially textual inventions, they are inventions based on key mimetic values such as individualization, psychology, complexity and depth.31
In modernist texts characters are ontologically secure beings that construct the text and produce its meaning. Readers decipher the literary conventions and codes that make up a character and assemble them by translating these conventions into a coherent image drawn from recognized life experiences. Postmodernist characterization tampers with the assemblage of traits so that characters fail to develop a personality and become instead purely textual effects, empty signifiers that point nowhere. In extreme cases—Arakadi for instance—the postmodern character is not representative at all but illustrative, a cartoon that cannot be read for psychological subtext or representation of identity but as a political and social illustration of an ideological reality.
As a Russian Arab Arakadi is a conceivable character, but not a very plausible one. He is a signifier that cannot be easily signified in contemporary Israel where Jews and Arabs rarely socialize and seldom marry. But even if he were, his political allegiance makes his character improbable still. As an Arab-Jew blowing up Israeli Jews Arakadi is literally cutting his nose despite his face. This is also where the texts deepest irony lies. Arkadi's very being negates itself so that he no longer refers to a recognized reality and exits as a self-referential linguistic entity. By drawing attention to the impossibility of representation, the notion of character itself is deconstructed here. Arakadi thus becomes a stylistic device, a "wordy" creation that eliminates the mimesis of reality in fiction and causes the character to collapse into the discourse, as Buchweitz writes.32
It is here, when the traditional categories of interpretation fail to explain Arakadi, where Keret's style becomes his message. The writer's inability to cope with an uncertain, unstable, and insecure Israeli reality is conveyed through the abuse of literary norms designed to lament the loss of direction, meaning, and ideals. The textual chaos simulates disillusionment. Instead of attempting to pursue authenticity, the text abandons it and promotes the corruption of narrative conventions as a comment on a world that exhibits a similar disruption or collapse.
One of the most affective ways in which narrative technique is corrupted in the story is the maintenance of a superficial, textual level that connects the story's disparate elements seamlessly. The story is made up of a string of jarring scenes or situations that are only circumstantially connected, placed one after the other in an artificial continuum. Almost none of them flows from what precedes it either syntactically or logically in the way we usually expect a traditional narrative to progress.
"Son of a bitch," the fat man muttered and hit his fist hard against the bench of the bus station where he was sitting. Arakadi continued to look at the pictures in the paper, ignoring completely the words that surrounded them. Time went by slowly. Arakadi hated waiting for buses. "Son of a bitch," said the fat man again, this time more loudly and spat on the pavement close to Arkadi's feet. "Are you talking to me?" Arkadi asked, somewhat surprised and raised his eyes from the paper to meet the alcohol-shot eyes of the fat man. "No, I'm talking to my ass," the fat man yelled. "Oh," said Arakadi and returned to his paper. The paper had a color picture of mutilated bodies heaped high in the city square.
Although the fat man announces himself loudly and crudely, Arakadi is oblivious to his existence. Not because he is uncomfortable or afraid of him, as we later learn, and as most people would in a similar situation. Arakadi simply does not see him or hear him and engages in a leisurely reading of his paper, dwelling on the mundane inconvenience of waiting for public transportation. Nothing in his behavior belies the ominous fact that he is a violent terrorist who in a few moments will execute his mission in cold blood. The mission itself is unimagined because Arakadi is presumed Jewish. Like the bloody pictures in the paper that are separated from their explanatory text, Arkadi remains cryptic as well, undecipherable. His literal reaction to the fat man's facetious reply, "no, I'm talking to my ass," only simulates understanding, and underscores the lack of communication between them or even the willingness to connect and empathize. So is Arakadi's final refusal or inability to read the supertitle on TV, which functions as a symbolic writing on the wall. But since Arkadi himself is a symbol he cannot interpret or comprehend his surroundings without an intermediary. He is one more symbol in a world populated by symbols.
It is perhaps strange, therefore, that many of Keret's other allegedly postmodern stories promote surprisingly naive, old fashioned and even conservative ideals such as patriotism, heroism, true friendship and especially true love. This has not been the most common assessment of them, although it was among the first. In one of the earliest interviews with the young writer, Gil Hovav declares Keret the first Jewish musketeer: "finally, we too have a charming and adventurous gunslinger, quick tempered and ready to fight, someone who will do everything he can to save his lady or civilization." Considering the clear system of values in Keret's 1992 Pipelines, writes Hovav, values that include honor, honesty, manliness, loyalty and a sense of adventure, one wonders if this interdisciplinary musketeer was born in the right century.33
Even those stories that initially shocked and confused readers and earned Keret a defiant, rebellious reputation promote a bourgeois, civilized world above all; bourgeois civilization with all its attendant ideals, including propriety, respect, fairness, chivalry and especially romance. 34 Although much of Keret's language and plots make such an assessment sound initially strange, one of the shortest stories in Pipelines, “Shlomo, Homo,You Mother-Fucking Fag” (שלמה הומו כוס אל-אומו), illustrates this point convincingly.
The story reads almost like a prolonged joke that decries the absence of meaning and grace. Shlomo is a miserable schoolboy who is picked on by his classmates during a class trip to the park. The teacher, who ostensibly is the only one who feels compassion for him, tries to comfort him some during the trip. But when at the end of the day Shlomo asks her pathetically: “Miss, why do all the kids hate me?” the teacher shrugs her tired shoulders, puffs on her cigarette and replies casually: “how should I know, I’m only the substitute teacher.” While the story deals flippantly with a harsh injustice, it offers no explanation or consolation for it. In many ways it even exacerbates the injustice and the atmosphere of violence and aggression by adding the epithets from the title to Shlomo’s name every time it is mentioned. The teacher, who significantly is a substitute teacher, not a “real” one, like the park, the artificial lake and the giant statue of an orange, which are all mockups of Zionist achievements, goes through the motions and helps Shlomo only because it is part of her job description. That she has no real compassion for the child becomes clear in the end, when she cannot or will not offer the boy any words of consolation. The boy is thus left alone in the desert of a new Israeli society that does not make a real effort to provide a meaningful message that would unite its disparate elements under a redeeming narrative.
Perhaps this is why some critics believed Keret's works bespoke despair and evinced a sense of gloom and helplessness about the state of the country. Author Yoram Kanyuk, who himself took part in the cultural revolution that transformed Israel after 1948 from a cohesive pioneering society to a more pluralistic and liberal one, commented with a mixture of admiration and regret on Keret's generation. Kanyuk delighted in the lean language of the young writers, in which he may have found an expression of his own efforts at limbering the stiffer Hebrew of his day.35 But he saw little connection between their mode of writing and the cultural agenda he and his peers promoted in the first decades after statehood. Young writers, comedians, and journalists today, Kanyuk wrote, seem to have abandoned the greater idea of the State in favor of a new kingdom, that of the city of Tel-Aviv, which they made into the capital of its own culture. This kingdom, he contends, has nothing to do with age-old Jewish traditions (נצח ירושלים) or with the more recent Zionist heritage (יפי הלילות בכנען). Keret's generation, Kanyuk seems to be saying, is not interested in carrying on a dialogue with former literary traditions, as his and former literary generations did. This is a generation content to shut itself in a Tel-Aviv of its imagination, detached from the rest of the country, floating in a vacuum.
Urbanity as a sign of sophistication, complexity and artifice as well as a designation of place was indeed one of the most distinct features of Keret's generation. Generally, it was understood as a defiant stance against what Kanyuk calls Zionist heritage, which valorized the land and vilified the city for reasons that had to do with Zionism's own revolutionary agenda. Perhaps this is why some readers understood Keret's hyper urban spaces as an expression of despair; despair of contemporary Israeli reality, as Gavriel Moked also writes.36 A society that is hermetically confined to the kind of urban spaces it occupies in Keret's literature must be ailing, these critics quipped, especially if one measures it against Zionist ideals that sought to sever the “problematic” connection between the Jew and the city. That this kind of critique was still leveled in the 1990s, even if most of the ethics that animated early Zionism faded by then points to the tenacious hold Zionist ideals had on a culture that was created in their image.
The confusion which Kanyuk and Moked felt about Keret and other writers is strange because both critics identify some of the core issues that constitute the literary dialogue these young new writers conducted with his predecessors without identifying it as such. But as "Arkadi" and many of Keret's other stories make clear, the sense of despair clearly denotes disillusionment. The abuse of literary norms that grabs readers' attention, the postmodern patina of the texts should not be read as literary negligence or incompetence. Keret's Israel is populated by black-and-white stick-figures as a stance against a treacherous reality that has flattened rounder figures and made their existence doubtful and problematic. His literary engagement with the times differs from the engagement of his literary forerunners only in kind but not in principle. Keret's alleged withdrawal from contemporary Israeli life—Kanyuk and Moked probably mean the traditional commitment by Israeli authors to social issues—ensconcing himself in a semi-virtual urban bubble called Tel-Aviv, marks the peculiar passive aggression that distinguishes his generation. Unable or unwilling to influence what they perceived as a dysfunctional, morally relative culture that seemed to lack the instinct for social and cultural reform, Keret and some of his contemporaries retreat into more confined worlds of their own making over which they have much better control: they can warp these fictional worlds in a frustrated act of displacement or recreate them anew on a smaller and more manageable scale in which romance functions as an element of escape, consolation, and grace.
Indeed, Keret's preoccupation with romance and love was far less noted than the jarring postmodern idiom that characterized his works and conveyed their apocalyptic tenor. Although Keret's frustrated heroes often punish themselves and direct their aggression against their own person, they often find refuge and solace in the pursuit and attainment, however brief, of so-called romantic love. These opposite solipsistic expressions—passive aggression and emotional fulfillment—that transpire within the confines of one's own privately created world, mark an easing of the tension between individual and community that was the hallmark of modern Hebrew literature since its beginning. In other words, the desire and search for True Love becomes an organizing principle of redemptive significance.
A simple statistical examination of Keret’s works will clearly show how in the four collections of short stories he published between 1992 and 2002— Pipelines 1992, Missing Kissinger, 1994, Kneller’s Happy Campers, 1998, Cheap Moon, 2002—the number of stories devoted to relationships, not just with women actually, but with male friends and even with pets, but always and repeatedly relationships involving two, has increased from a fifth of the stories in the first anthology, Pipelines, to two-thirds of the stories in the last anthology, Cheap Moon. 37
Love, romance or abiding friendships gradually emerge in Keret’s works as answers to some of the existential confusion they portray, to a world that lost its moral compass and makes little sense. This takes place already in the last story in Keret’s first anthology, Pipelines, a story called “Crazy Glue,” in which a married couple is isolated from everyone and everything around them in a brief moment of connubial bliss. In the story, the couple’s relationship is threatened by an affair the husband has with a colleague at work. Fearful that his wife suspects the affair, the husband decides to come home early one day instead of staying out late with his mistress. On his return he discovers that his wife glued down everything in the house: “I tried to move one of the chairs and sit on it. It didn’t move. I tried again. Not even a millimeter. She glued it to the floor. The refrigerator didn’t open either, she glued it too.” The narrator finally finds his wife glued as well, “hanging upside down, her bare feet attached to the living-room’s high ceiling.” Confused and annoyed at first, he tries to peel her off but then gives up and sees the humor in the situation. “I laughed too. She was so pretty and illogical, hanging upside down like that from the ceiling. Her long hair falling down, her breasts poised like two drops of water under her white T. So Beautiful.” He then climbs on a pile of books in order to kiss her. “I felt her tongue touching mine, the pile of books pushed away from under me; I felt that I was floating in the air, touching nothing, hanging only by her lips.”
The magical-realism with which the story ends masks the more conventional and even conservative values it promotes of marital fidelity and constancy. Strangely, the beginning of the story feels like a throwback to earlier times, with the husband hurrying to work in the morning and the wife staying at home to do house chores. The mise-en-scene as well as the dialogue seem deliberately conventional, almost clichéd, including the husband’s parting words “It’s already Eight, … I must run,” after which he picks up his briefcase and kisses her on the cheek, and his predictable addition “I’ll be home late today because…” These, as well as the row the couple has before that, somehow conjure up a 1950s American film, pastel colors and all. The only indication it takes place in Israel is the Hebrew of the story and the mistress’ name, Michal.
The fact that the happy ending of such optimistic films is realized by the end of the story through magic—albeit ironically—only heightens the pathos and deepens the longing for such solutions in the contemporary Israeli context. This is true for the magical superglue as well, which is another metaphor for the frustrating wish for clarity and stability. Placed at the end of a volatile anthology, then, “Crazy Glue” presents a solution of sorts that privileges permanency and especially love. The story also exhibits two major components of Keret’s writing: the longing for the restoration of bourgeois values and the universal frame of references and imagery, especially from popular media, through which these values are manipulated and delivered.39 The final image of the story combines the two whimsically and eloquently by expressing reconciliation, unity and the permanence of love through a common cinematic device, the “freeze frame.”
This sense of isolation within the confines of a romantic relationship, unhinged from the immediate spatial and temporal surroundings is much more pronounced in Keret’s second anthology, Missing Kissinger, in which almost half of the stories deal with coupling. These stories abandon larger social or moral issues and instead retreat into the narrower, simpler confines of 1-on-1 relationships. The narrator finds refuge from an incomprehensible world of disappearing borders, shifting meanings and contradictory messages in the clear and simple allegiance he pledges to and demands from his immediate partners and derives his very reason for existence from the strength of these relationships.
The world in Kissinger is certainly a violent world of disillusioned adolescents who grow up to discover that there are no dreams, that the relative safety of childhood is gone forever and that life is in the gutter, to use a familiar Israeli phrase (החיים בזבל). However, the protagonists compensate for it by moving between nostalgia for the past—albeit often a problematic past, with broken homes and dysfunctional families—and attempts to find companionship and love, even briefly, with someone they hope to forge a special connection that will return a sense of stability, meaning and belonging to their life.
The story “Corby’s Girl,” in which two guys vie for the same girl, conveys this sense eloquently. At the beginning of the story the beautiful, tall and blondish Marina dates Corby, a common street thug (ארס). The uneven pairing is quizzical, especially to the narrator’s brother, Miron, who eventually woos the girl away from Corby. Corby does not fight to have his girl back, but he does punish Miron. “You stole my girl while I was still dating her,” he yells at Miron after beating him up with a crowbar and kicking him hard in the ribs. But then he does something peculiar that is less in keeping with his image and reputation. “Do you know,” he says to Miron, “that there is a commandment against what you did.? … It’s called ‘thou shalt not steal.’ But you, it runs past you like water.” He then grabs Miron’s brother and forces him to repeat what the bible proscribes as punishment for violating that commandment. Fearing Corby’s brutality, the brother refuses to comply but is finally tortured into confessing it: “Death, I whispered. Those who violate it deserve to die.” Satisfied, Corby lets the two go and turns to his friend. Did you hear that? He says to him, “he deserves to die. And that, he pointed toward the sky, did not come from me but from the mouth of God. There was something in his voice as if he too was about to cry. Yalla, he said, lets’ go, I only wanted you to hear who's right.”
Actual displays of love or romance barely if ever appear in this story, certainly not warm and compassionate expressions of them. Yet the story is one of Keret’s most tender and romantic stories in which love does conquer all. It subdues even a brutal thug like Corby, whose violence is really a seering expression of his heartfelt devotion to his lost girlfriend. Love elevates the uneducated, inarticulate Corby into a literate judge and turns an idle bum into a moral and ultimately also a kind and forgiving ogre. Corby does not really think of his girlfriend as property that can be stolen. But he does subscribe to a rudimentary gentlemanly conduct, which Miron violated. Under these circumstances, Corby’s vindication is perceived as both right and fair toward Miron, and touching toward Marina. Even Miron sees it at the end. Was it worth it, his brother asks him, now that she’s with you? “Nothing in the world is worth that night,” replies Miron, who confesses to his brother that he has been thinking a lot about Corby since then. It is not as if Miron thinks Marina or any other girl unworthy of the hassle he went through. That’s not it. He is extremely sorry for taking Marina away from Corby. What he mourns at the end of the story is the demise of Corby’s true love.
“Corby’s Girl” is one of many stories by Keret in which the quest for romance ultimately fails; not just romantic relationships between lovers, but also romance in the sense of a naive belief in an idealized existence, like in the story “A Hole in the Wall” (חור בקיר). “On Bernadot Bouleverad,” begins the story, “right by the central bus station, there’s this hole in the wall… Someone told Udi once that if you shout your wishes into that hole in the wall, they come true.” Although Udi didn’t believe it, he tried his luck one day and shouted into the wall that he wanted Dafna to fall in love with him. The wish did not come true, but another one Udi made, to have an angel for a friend, did materialize. The angel, however, turned out to be a bit of a dud. He walked around with his wings folded under a big coat, refused to fly and seemed altogether depressed. The two hang out together for a few years and seem to bond until one day Udi pushes the angel off of the roof, “for kicks, he didn’t mean anything bad by it, he just wanted to make him fly for a bit… But the angel fell down five stories like a sack of potatoes” and splattered on the pavement below. Udi then realizes that, “nothing the angel ever told him was true; that he wasn’t even an angle, just a liar with wings.”
Romance in this story is inverted. Ostensibly, nothing in it is romantic except, of course, for its highly romantic premise. Udi’s life itself is utterly devoid of romance. Like his friend the angel, he seems slightly depressed, someone who leads a glum existence without purpose or joy. It is surprising that Udi even bothers to go to the wall and shout into it because that would denote either gullible optimism or desperation, the first of which Udi seems to lack and the second he is beyond. It is surprising still what Udi wishes for, an angel, and that his wish actually comes true. But the most surprising thing of all is Udi’s reaction at the end of the story, his shock and dismay not at the death of the man, but at the death of the angel. The real romantic core of the story is Udi’s naiveté, his unrequited longing for a “miracle” even after years during which the magic slowly wears away.
In part, Keret's focus on relationships or love is the legacy of earlier trends that began in the 1960s, especially by female writers (Amalia Kahana-Carmon, Yehudit Hendel, Shulamit Hareven). Their cultivation of intimate, interior spaces over the larger national and social engagement that characterized many of their male contemporaries slowly came to dominate Hebrew fiction since the 1980s. But even these earlier texts by women, that explored the economy of romantic relationships, were contextualized within a viable and discernible Israeli environment, even when they rebelled against it. What distinguishes the pursuit and attainment of love, or more precisely “couplehood” in the narratives of the 1990s is not just a rebellion but a disengagement from a clearly identifiable Israel; a literary world that looses much of its local color in favor of elements borrowed from a more global culture. Love becomes chief among these elements not only because it insulates against a problematic Israeli present but also because of the central place it occupies in the lending culture, the popular culture of the West.
Keret may have written extremely brief texts that never develop the wealth of issues they touch on, like a string of trailers that are never followed by an actual film, as one critic put it. 39 But what these “trailers” denoted was precisely the problem - the absence of an actual film; a film in the sense of a grand, national narrative. There was no “film” because there was no “script” and there was no script because, metaphorically speaking, no one knew what to put in it and how to write it in a post-Zionist or post national age. Critics may have been annoyed at what they called Keret's contrived pose, at his smarmy linguistic imitations twice removed in which everything sounded so “cool,” like “two tourists stuck in a minefield.”40 But this is just how a young Israeli X Generation felt at the time, and Keret, better than many of his peers, gave that generation one of its most poignant and evocative voices.
Dr. Yaron Peleg's scholarship is concerned with the history of modern Hebrew literature as well as the invention or production of Israeli culture in the first half of the twentieth century and the legacy of such key cultural innovations as language, literature, body culture, militarism, religious holidays, and music in the second half of the twentieth century and beyond. His most recent publication, Directed by God, Jewishness in Contemporary Israeli Film and Television, looks at the ideological changes in Israeli society in recent decades and the growing influence of the Jewish religion on secular culture in Israel. He is the Kennedy Leigh Lecturer in Modern Hebrew Studies at University of Cambridge.
"Love, Suddenly: Etgar Keret Invents Hebrew Romance" was first published in Hebrew Studies 49, no. 1 (2008): 143-164.
1 Gershon Shaked is the most persuasive proponent of this distinguishing feature. See his הסיפורת העברית, 1880-1980 (Hasiporet Ha'ivrit, Hebrew Fiction, 1880-1980) (Jerusalem: Keter, 1977, 1988).
2 See Robert Polhemus, Erotic Faith (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1990), in which he documents and investigates the connections between romance and the novel during the genre's hay day in the nineteenth century.
3 This has been a common reading of the novel as illustrated by Gershon Shaked, for instance, in גל חדש בסיפורת העברית (Gal hadash ba-siporet ha-ivrit, New Wave in Hebrew Fiction) (Merhavyah: Sifriyat Po'alim, 1974). The same can be said for New Wave female writers like Yehudit Hendel, Amalia Kahana-Carmon and Yehudit Almog, who, generally speaking, seem more concerned with a feminist agenda than with the potential for romance in their works from that time. In the long run, the focus of these women writers on physical and psychological interior spaces and on the political dynamics of romantic relationships legitimized such concerns leading, eventually, to the more integral incorporation of romance into Hebrew letters.
4 This is an obviously cursory list and a truncated literary history that is meant to draw attention to the general lack of interest or attention given to romance in Hebrew letters in comparison to other western literatures.
5 Miri Talmon-Bohm, A State of Becoming: Transitions in Israeli Cinema and Culture, unpublished manuscript, p. 2.
6 See Gilead Morahg and Alan Mintz, The Boom in Israeli Literature, (Hanover, NH : Brandeis University Press) as well as Avner Holtzman, מפת דרכים (Road Map) (Hakibbutz Hame'uhad, 2005).
7 One of the most prominent writers of the 1990s, Orly Castel-Bloom, may seem glaringly absent from this analysis. It is my contention that despite her obvious post-modernist style, Castel-Bloom's works continued to engage directly with the national issues that preoccupied her predecessors. The legacy and future of Zionism deeply inform her works and are central to their understanding. This is not the case with the works of Keret and his ilk.
8 Gadi Taub, המרד השפוף (Hamered Hashafuf, The Disspirited Rebellion) (Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz Hame'uhad, 1997).
9 On the significance of the Six Day War in Israeli history and its profound influence on its culture and politics, see Tom Segev, 1967 (Tel-Aviv: Hakibutz Hame'uhad, 2005).
10 I am referring here to the 1970s and 1980s during which Israel's military and economic power were firmly established and were not yet eroded morally by the escalating conflict with the Palestinians and its current reverberations in Israeli and world politics.
11 Ibid, p. 3
12 Early in his book, Ibid., Taub credits this sense of disconnect to the first Intifada. He writes, "as long as the political problems in Israel had to do with the nation's very existence and Israelis agreed on a common and more or less just way to ensure it, the personal and the communal coexisted well together" (pp. 13-14). But since 1967 this coexistence began to unravel, becoming increasingly uneasy after the 1982 war in Lebanon and especially after the Intifada in 1987. "A system of values based on secularism and humanism," continues Taub, "cannot support the occupation of another nation beyond a certain point," and a soldier who is required to forcefully maintain this control has to find at some point a rationale for his own behavior and that of his government. If the soldier is not religious, "he must find a political justification for his actions. The search for political rationalization becomes a deep psychological need, more than an intellectual one so that, suddenly, a lot of weight is placed on the political" (p. 14). Among the most common reactions to this tension was a great wish to disconnect oneself from anything political, a refusal to deal with it and a tendency to turn away from it and look elsewhere.
13 The first Intifada broke out against this background, and when the country was rallied to fight the Palestinians in the name of some of the tired old slogans about self-defense and existential threats, the call did not ring so true anymore. Moreover, the discrepancy precipitated a cognitive dissonance of national proportions that could not be maintained for long. Taub quotes an angry teenager who had this to say in 1988:
Life is not what it used to be, on all counts. All the great visions, which in our case means the overused Zionist vision, are preparing us for a vague fulfillment that will never materialize and designate our lives here and now as an interim stage, a state of emergency full of dangers whose end no one can predict. The paranoid assumption, even if true … that our proud and small Jewish state is constantly under threat, is used as a shrewd ploy to unite the people and as a wonderful excuse for all the things we ought to have accomplished but never managed to after forty years, five wars and thirty four records by Hava Alberstein. (p. 19)
This heated but unusual response for the a-political 1980s ends on a more typical postmodernist note: forty years of Zionist development are dismissed by comparing them with a veteran, folksy singer, Hava Alberstein, ridiculed here for her old-fashioned music and goofy lyrics from a bygone, gullible era. The majority of young people who were of army age did not actively engage with this tension, certainly not politically. In fact, a sense of disillusion and political disengagement marked the age and distinguished it from past generations. Taub predicates his book on this phenomenon, which he defines by the oxymoron "dispirited rebellion."
14 Eva Ilouz, Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (Berkeley : University of California Press, 1997). p. 91.
15 These references were ubiquitous throughout the 1990s. See the footnotes below for key texts in which they were made.
16 Gil Hovav, “סיפורים מהביצים של הנשמה” (Stories of the Balls of Your Soul) כל העיר (Kol Ha'ir), Feb. 28, 1992. Eventually, the stories were published in more respected media, like the socialist daily דבר (Davar), the Tel-Aviv weekly העיר (Ha'ir) and the Jerusalem weekly כל העיר.
17 Both the reading public and the literary establishment doted on Keret almost from the start. His stories captivated disinterested teenagers as well as the heart of more seasoned critics. Students in a problematic Bat-Yam high-school, for instance, who usually had no stomach for literature, reacted enthusiastically after their teacher introduced them to some of Keret's stories: "See, that's the way to write! Short, with a little violence, a little sex and some humor beside. Now, that's literature!" Ibid. Enthusiastic gut reactions of this kind were soon accompanied by more considered evaluations by leading writers and critics like Batya Gur, who pronounced Keret's stories "genuine works of art." See, Batya Gur, הארץ (Ha'aretz), June 17, 1994 (no title).
18 Fabiana Hefetz explored the internal world of those misfits. Keret's contemporary protagonists, writes Hefetz, live in a truly pluralistic universe; a morally defunct environment that has no clear or set system of values. However, through adroit literary manipulation readers find themselves enjoying what they would otherwise find offensive: bad language, violence, various descriptions of hell and even death, almost as if they were watching a good TV show. See, F. Hefetz, “רק הגיל צעיר” (Young only biologically), ידיעות אחרונות (Yedi'ot Aharonot), March 6, 1992. 19 Yehudit Orian, “ליצנות מרירה ופסימיזם מחוייך” (A Smiley Pessimism), ידיעות אחרונות, May 6, 1994. This is a strong statement that puts Keret on a par with older masters of canonical literature and legitimizes his innovative incorporation of popular "low" culture by comparing it to the Bible.
20 See Laurence Silberstein's study of this critical trend in, The Postzionist Debates: Knowledge and Power in Israeli Culture (New-York: Routledge, 1999).
21 Abraham Balaban, for instance, predicated an entire study of contemporary Hebrew literature on some of its definitions and analyzed the works of Keret and others according to them. See, גל אחר בסיפורת העברית: סיפורת עברית פוסטמודרנית (Gal aher basiporet ha'ivrit: siporet ivrit postmodernistit, Another Wave in Hebrew Fiction: Postmodern Hebrew Fiction) (Keter: Jerusalem, 1995).
22 In 1996 David Gurevitch conclusively presented Keret as a postmodernist in his article, “חלומות ממוחזרים” (Recycled Dreams), in which he includes other writers, most notably Orly Castel-Bloom and Gafi Amir. See, עיתון 77 (Iton 77), vol. 194, March, 1996, pp. 38-43.
23 Y. Orian, ibid, F. Hefetz, ibid, Alon Gayer, הארץ, June, 12, 1994.
24 B. Gur, ibid.
25 Gideo Samet, הארץ, August 19, 1994, Einat Avrahami, “הרבה בקרובים - והסרט איננו,” (Lots of Trailers but No Movie), מעריב (Ma'ariv,) May 6, 1994, Liza Chodnovsky, “?האם קיימים חורים שחורים” (Do Black Holes Exist?), עיתון 77, August-September 1988, Gavriel Moked, מעריב-יומן תל אביב (Ma'ariv-Yoman Tel-Aviv), December 18, 1998.
26 Yigal Schwartz, “הפוך על הפוך” (Twice Inverted), הארץ ספרים (Ha'aretz Book Review), May 14, 1997, p. 6.
27 Asher Reich, “לאתגר קרת לא אכפת” (Etgar Keret Doesn't Care), מעריב, June 22, 1994.
For reasons beyond the publisher's control the cover of the second edition was replaced with an original illustration of black lines over a pink background depicting a tranquil Tel-Aviv street scape in which various small details are surrealistically warped or missing. The affect is similar to what I describe above.
29 A similar twist occurs in the jacket of Keret's second anthology, Missing Kissinger, which features a reproduction of “the Crying Child;” a sentimental painting that is probably the most recognizable icon of kitsch in Israel, sold in popular street markets as posters, oil paintings, painted rugs etc. The kitschy quality of the picture resides in the utter lack of ambivalence about the rosy-faced little boy with his sandy hair, sad, blue eyes, button nose and sweet, red lips. Even the tears that trickle down the boy's plump cheeks are meant to highlight the simple, emotional affect of the image at the expense of a more complex artistic engagement. One of the most important aspects of the garish portrait, and indeed of kitsch in general, is its excess, the overabundance of sentimentalism, sensationalism, melodrama and romance that finally numbs viewers to any and all of these emotions. See Gurevitch's discussion of kitsch this in his article, ibid. Many stories in the anthology are presented through similar excess; through the accumulation of familiar cultural references and quotes that ostensibly stay at surface level and never leave it to reflect on it from above by providing a more distant perspective.
30 Pipelines, Ibid, pp.62-64.
31 My discussion on postmodern characterization here is based on a paper delivered by Nurit Buchweitz at the NAPH conference in Stanford, California in June 2005 titled The Evacuation of Character in Postmodernist Prose: The case of Keret and Kastel-Bloom.
32 Buchweitz does not analyze this particular story. I extrapolate from her more general discussion.
33 Gil Hovav, ידיעות אחרונות, Feb. 28, 1992.
34 Arik Glassner writes that “Keret’s heroes are not entirely losers. They are goody-two-shoes in a macho world, that is, losers in one context but part of the hegemony in another,” “לקרוא את מסעי גוליבר באיסלנדית” (Likro et mas'ot Guliver be Islandit, Reading Guliver’s Travels in Icelandic), הארץ, January 28, 2004.
35 "I read [the works of Keret's generation] and I feel jealous. When I did similar things in my days the critics tore me to shreds. Keret is being taught at the university and will receive the Israel prize yet… Keret's ability and that of his peers to express themselves this way vindicates my own failure." Yoram Kanyuk, “כמו אדישות שמחה” (Like Happy Apathy), הארץ ספרים, Dec. 16, 1998, p. 6.
36 Gavriel Moked, יומן תל-אביב, מעריב, Dec. 18, 1998.
37 And this peculiar fact holds true for Keret’s contemporaries as well, Taub, Weil, and Amir, who published less than Keret during that same time, but whose collections of short stories—always short stories—deal primarily with the dynamics of romance in urban settings.
38 The appellation “bourgeois” here is meant positively as a sign of stability, propriety, civility etc., and not in the more derogatory sense it had in socialist-Zionist discourse.
39 E. Avrahami, Ibid.
40 Y. La’or, Ibid.