Etgar Keret on How Great Fiction Can Fight Social Media's Ills

Etgar Keret on How Great Fiction Can Fight Social Media's Ills

Ashley Rindsberg

Born in Ramat Gan, Israel, in 1967, Etgar Keret is the most popular writer among Israel's young generation and has also received international acclaim. He has been published in The New York Times, Le Monde, The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Paris Review and Zoetrope, among others. In 2010, Keret was awarded the prestigious French Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres decoration. He has twice been a finalist for the O'Connor Short Story Award. Most recently, he was awarded the Charles Bronfman Prize (USA, 2016) and the ADEI-WIZO Prize for The Seven Good Years (Italy, 2016).

In this episode, Etgar and Ashley speak about writing fiction during the pandemic, why the famously productive writer moved to Berlin for a year to "do nothing," the flattening effect social media has on identity, and how growing up as the son of Israeli Holocaust survivors shaped him as a writer who looked out of Israel, and back in time, to the European writers of the diaspora for inspiration. ‌‌‌‌Etgar also opens about his latest project, his Substack called Alphabet Soup, how he inspired the great Salman Rushdie to create his own Substack, and why he names his most "pathetic" characters after his most dedicated Substack subscribers‌‌‌‌

Check out Etgar's Substack here:

Read the Tablet Magazine article discussed,  "The Upgraded Me," here:‌‌‌‌

Read one of Etgar's stories here:

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Ashley Rindsberg: So Etgar Keret, thank you so much for joining me on the Burning Castle Podcast. Etgar is probably known to everybody listening. If he's not by chance, he's absolutely one of the greatest writers today in all languages and from any country. He’s known, I would say primarily for his short stories, but you work across media, you work, theater in video and film and so much more. And I think that's going to be part of what I want to talk about today with you. But I think when, what I want to start out with just as where you are, cause that's, that's so much of such a big question today in Coronavirus world, where we are, why we're there. So just, just give us a little intro in that regard.

Etgar Keret: Yeah. I just want to say, you know, that, that we're strong and I grew up in the Tel Aviv area, and is a professor I always have this joke that I should share with my students that I say to them. I'm just like Immanuel Kant only without the brains, because for the past 54 years, I'd been living in only in four apartments. And the distance between the two furthest one would be four kilometers. So, basically since the day I was born, I've been taking my coffee in the same coffee place. You know, imagine me as a six- month old baby drinking my coffee. I’m drinking the same place that I used to drink when I was in diapers.

And they all, this is just to save it. If you speaking to me now, while I'm in Berlin for the first time in my life, I took a sabbatical year away from Israel and I'm living in different place. And it's a strange experience and it would have never happened if not for the. But there was something about the pandemic, the city, my teenage son, it told me my wife that he felt that he was stagnating. That basically was watching YouTube and playing games all the time and doing boring zooms. And, and he said, you know, I feel like it's too easy for me. I feel like I may give too apt, you know, I'm protected. I want things to be difficult. Then we sat down and said okay, how can we make things difficult?

You know, we can tell you to go to bed, punch you every time you go to sleep. And he wasn't much into that. So, so we, we thought maybe an interesting or a challenging thing would be to go to another place in the word and for him to study in English, because it's not our native tongue. And they in basically the only place that we could afford going to the best school and that we could for an apartment was improving.

So, we found ourself in Berlin and basically began as our son’s of adventure, but became of course my wife's and I adventure to. The strange thing is that when you live in the same neighborhood, surrounded with the same people for so many years, I realized that you don't look at details at all. You know, when I go to my cafe, if you ask me a, how do the table looks that look like? Is there a tree outside? I would never know because I've been there for so many years that they don't have any kind of authentic experience when I entered the cafe. And suddenly here, when I'm in Berlin, you know, every tree looks strange, every squirrel suspicious, you know, I look at the store try to figure out what they sell there. I look at a poster, I try to understand if I'm looking at a sex symbol or a sex offender, you know, because I can't understand the text. So, I must say that it's an interesting period, because for me, for the first time, I would say the last 30 years, the central thing in my life is my life and not some project. You know in any other given time, you'd say what, what what's in your mind? I would say I'm making a movie, I'm writing a book, but right now I would say, I'm trying to figure out how you buy tickets for the subway. You know, that's basically the excitement part of my life for this moment.

Ashley Rinsberg: I was just reading a book by Pema Chodron, who is the great Buddhist monk talking about how a turning point in her life was a sabbatical as well, 12 months and she did nothing for those 12 months, no teaching writing just here and there occasionally, but it was not about the writing. It's exactly what you're saying. So what got you to the point of taking the sabbatical? Because you could have gone to Berlin for your son's sake and just continue to onto the next project. Why did you stop?

Etgar Keret: Well, I think had to do with the pandemic because I think that there was something about the pandemic and the lock downs broke the force of nourishing in our life. You know, because I think, you know, most of us, I would say 90% of the stuff that we do is not the stuff that we choose to do. You know, when you get back up in the morning, you drop your children at school, you go and buy stuff in the supermarket, you visit your sick aunt. And it's not as if like you sit on the chair and say, “oh, what would I like to do? Oh yes, I would like to drop my son at school- yeah, that will be amazing.” You know, we don't make those decisions and we still look down and we, the first finisher, it was as if somebody kind of lifted the hand, the break in the middle of the drive. And there was something about this feeling of stopping and this feeling of kind of being reflective and asking yourself questions about a lot of the stuff that you do, that it was both challenging, but interesting. And I thought it, you know, if I go to Berlin and a teaching, building notebook, the same stuff I do in Israel and miss the opportunity of really kind of being a closer touch with my emotions and my feelings and my wishes.

So I said, do you know, okay, hey, if we are going on an adventure, it has to be an adventure all the way.

Ashley Rindsberg: Berlin seems to be a good choice for artists. I know a good friend of mine, whose name is Romeo Ella F is a photographer who lives in Berlin and moved there. He lived in Brooklyn, was working as a photographer in Brooklyn and was priced out of Brooklyn and ended up in Berlin. Do you feel like there's something beyond the prices that keeps people in Berlin as, as working artists?

Etgar Keret: Well, I must say it is, you know, as an artist, I always felt lucky writing and creating in Tel Aviv because, because let's say when I go to places like Paris or New York, they feel like museums, you know, like Paris is the museum of the 19th century and New York city museum of the 20th century. But, basically you live in a place and it really has some kind of Wikipedia photo of how things should be that, you know, let's say if I go to New York and I see a breakfast place and asking for a salad, I would say, no, it's wrong, you should have a donut. You know you should be captured, I know how New York is captured.

What I liked about Tel Aviv is that I always felt that it was a city that basically was debating its identity. Like, what is it? A synagogue, a bad house, a gay street party, you know, what is it like, you know, Jaffa as the north of Tel Aviv. So there something about these things that things are not yet decided that it gives you a freedom as an artist. And I feel the same about Berlin. I feel it's really with the unification with the east and the west, the, with an arts that, you know, that have sometimes the fascists and the anti-Semitic a past and also very strong laborer and the green powers, you know, then, then it's a really good, a place to ask yourself, Where am I? Who am I? What is this place?

It gives you some kind of an elbow room, to ask question and create. I can tell you in comparison that I lived in Jerusalem for a period of time, and it was very, very difficult for me to write while I was in Jerusalem, because I felt that there was such strong narrative already existing there, you know, it's really like Judaism, Judaism kind of, doesn't give you the freedom to move the stones around and to say, oh, no, actually Jerusalem is in that other thing. Jerusalem is Jerusalem.

Another thing, you know, Jerusalem is Jews and then the war is the war. It exists all the time. And I think that Berlin is really is really this kind of place. It is totally open for interpretation with, you know, with, with its history, being bombed away a with some kind of conflict that the attitude toward nationality toward the past and all those things, they really offer some kind of a variety of narratives, that I don't see in other major cities in countries peacefully, wasn't challenged, you know, I mean, if you talk to the French and or if you talk to an Englishman, basically, you know, they could be critical or not critical, but in the bottom line they say, oh, you know, we got something right. We've been living for the last three hundred years, we shouldn't have started this war. We shouldn't have invaded this place, but only. We get something going, but when you talk to German people, you know, it's really, I think the Germans and Israelis are the only two people I know that can sometimes be against your own name, national soccer teams. You know, it's like when German talk about German football, they talk about it like what is this thing? You know, they have no soul, you know, so there's something that I like about this, this point of view, which is very subversive and it allows you to see things in a different way. It can be tests, this, this kind of flexibility that you really don't have when you are part of a winning card.

Ashley Rindsberg: My first book of fiction is called Tel-Aviv stories. And it's about what I thought of as the underclass in Tel Aviv, which is the beggars and the homeless and the people you, you tend not to see, but in Tel Aviv, you did see them because they could still be individuals in that city. And this was, you know, 15 years ago. But today I feel like when I look at Tel Aviv, I see a museum of the 21st century, which is never something I would think that would see in Tel Aviv, the way that I knew it back then. But, you know, it speaks to the changing nature of Israeli identity and Israeli literature, which are, which you're so central to. And, you know, we used to have these big ideas, writers of Israeli fiction, the Debbie Grossman, Amos Oz, and it was conflict and it was identity. And you came and you gave something completely different, which was the Israeli individual, the Israeli tipples that they, the character of Israeli life. Um, I think that's the question I have is do you feel like the culture is moving beyond all the big concepts, conflict and history and Holocaust and moving it towards something in Israel that is more individualistic and is more quirky and zany and more reflective of the kind of writing that you're doing. And you were just with you were surfing that current, or do you feel like you're more an outlier to the, the Israeli culture as it is today?

Etgar Keret: Well you know, I think these Israel country says so many things. They so many things, you know, so I think, I think if you notice there are many streams and I'm a part of one of them, but for me, a being a child of Holocaust survivor, I always watched my parents, basically impersonating a Sabra, trying to pass as people who do not have a travel some path in another continent. I remember that one time somebody told my mom she had a Polish accent.  And I remember after training in saying that word again without an accent, you know, it's like somethings that you really didn't want to bring up. And I think that when I was a child, I, I kind of had the living in socialist society. There was some kind of a facade of what it means to be Israeli, but something different back home. So, you know, you would go outside and talk about politics in Hebrew and be, have a very good time. But then you come back and you talk to your wife in Yiddish, and eat your dish of Eastern European food. And there was something about music when it came to that. I wanted to write a note about social narrative is very much at Grossmont or that you don't want to tell the story of the society.

I wanted to tell the stories that people were hiding after they were closing them. And I want in a sense, maybe to tell my parents store, you know, that they were really a, they were kind of trying to merge together two kinds of identities. They Israeli identity that they aspire to and get to automatic Eastern European identity, that they traveled with.

And the, I think something we can do way in a way that they want it to write about Israel. I almost had to wish to break this kind of very solid narrative to pieces. I want it to be constructed in a way and believing that if I deconstruct it enough, there will be kind of a freedom for me to be myself.

{14:56}I think that kind of growing up as a child, you know, with parents, from the Holocaust, you know, with the very strong Israeli ethos, my father was in the Irgun. My mother was among the people who started a very, a right-wing political party. So kind of growing up, knowing that I'm supposed to be a brave soldier and I'm supposed to bring this lady society a step further, but at the same time, having doubts and faults and feels in confusion.

So I said, okay, in life, I have to pretend to be okay, but writing these kind of confessional a, a place almost kind of like a safe, safe city as they had in the Bible, the place where I can be me. And I think that when they looked for inspiration for writing, I didn't look at the great Israeli writers who I reall love and admire, but I looked for inspiration among the Jewish diaspora, like Kafka, Isaac Babel, Bashevis Singer, Shalom Aleichem.

That point of view wasn't trying to tell the story of their country, not even the story of the ghetto, but the story of an individual who drives to belong to something that he can't always figure out. You know, I feel many times when I was was a child in Israel, I was trying to pick up on something that I didn't even know what that thing was. I have a story called “The son of the head of the Mossad”. And it's the story about the son of a of the head of the Mossad of course they look them, especially in the past days, would have they fake alias, like he would work in something else. So, the story about the son of dead, that he really wants to be like his father, but he feels that his father is a construction manager. So he wants to be like his father, but he's who they have at his father. You know, when I grew up with a child, they even wrote a fiction story about it. The biggest Israeli, it should children book, a nationalistic hero was a guy called Danny Pin. And then it was in an invisible child who helped Israel win the war against the Syria and against med NAPSI scientists. And I thought to myself, there's something so fitting this kind of new Zionist Rome or the would be invisible child. So the children who read those books say, we want to be just like this guy, but we don't know how this guy looks like. You know? So it was, there was something about this kind of a obscure ambition that was always a interesting, and I felt that, that, you know, is it, if I find the right way to ask, it will give me this kind of wiggle room to be myself.

Ashley Rinsberg: You know, the, some of these stories when they're set against Israeli society, bringing out the, this, this contradiction or some sort of clash between the individual and the biggest society. Exactly. As you're speaking about, but some of your stories are really just about the clash between the individual and baseline of, of life, of just your, you highlight the absurd that's found in the mundane that we see, um, that things aren't the way they should be annd that's just the way they are. And the stories really show that to you as a reader, but in a world in which the mundane has become so insane and so crazy on a moment by moment basis. Do you feel like that the concept of the absurd is less of an existential question today and almost it's becoming an issue, not of the absurd, but of the outrageous we're constantly outraged, which makes it more of a moral or a political question than a, than a question of existence.

Etgar Keret: I totally agree with you because, because, you know, I think that the, the difference between absurd and outrageous is basically a difference of attitude. Like when you look at something and you think it's absurd, it can use you and you can be curious about it, you know, but basically you want to interact with it. When you see something is outrageous, you, you And I, and I really feel that what is very, very typical of a, this, this time is the lack of tolerance or curiosity or interest in other narratives. Because, you know, when I look at a lot of the conflict is a today, I would say even a decade ago, I would really think about the arguments that the people are raising.

But now today, most, I mean, I kind of go one level up and I just look up about the way, the ways that people are arguing, the way that people listen to don't listen to the other. It's almost kind of like a meta perception. You know, I think that the pandemic is an excellent example for that, because when you think about it, you know, you have many people who think everybody should get vaccinated. And the people that don't get vaccinated should they have great sanctions? And there are other people who think that they, the Zippy Institute institutions are hosting people too much to take vaccinations, and I'm not giving them the freedom to take the wrong decision.

Now, both of those narratives are interesting. And I'm saying, especially because this is not a political or ideological question, it's mostly a scientific question in source. Is it helpful? Isn't it helpful, but people in danger doesn't put people in danger and you can see how the advocate of so many people to be.

So objective questions. It's regardless of what we think is just extreme. You know, it's just intolerant. It doesn't matter if they scream about some fascism or if they say is, if people who don't, they get vaccinations should be locked in their home. You just all about this kind of ideas. That it's my way or the highway, which is something that is very typical of this kind of social media era, that it doesn't matter what you think you, you can build yourself easily available, where you be surrounded by people who think like you entered all the people who don't feel like you will be people that you don't personally know. so you don't have this bias that you respect them. You can just hate them, you know? And they it's really, it's really fun because I feel that the social media then dynamic reminds me of that dynamic that you have on highways that, you know, when I drive a car and somebody cuts me,  and I stop him at the head and I can ask him to take roll down his window .And I say to him, “Hey, you mother f***, who taught you how to drive you ugly piece of s**. You know?” Then basically, sometime during this conversation, I would say, “Oh Mark, it's you, oh, you lost weight. And you're still with your beautiful girlfriend?” So, so these switches really the switch between being in a situation where you totally any naked from the word against you, around you and everything that is not for you, it is against you and everything that is not in your interest is a abomination. And then suddenly you say, oh, I know this guy, he's actually nice. He can't drive, but he's such a great guy, you know? So I think that it, this kind of intimacy of really knowing people to kind of a, put some counterweight to this road rage that we feel, you know, it doesn't exist in the social media.

They're really, it's really like, it’s the opinion I agree with the, we don't agree with and the people who carry the opinions, we don't agree with. Just have those silly photos in Facebook. Where's your holds and babies as if they were lapsed to food or, or, you know, or piece of bread, you know, and say dumb things. And they say dumb things, and you'd have nothing to say for them. You know, they never gave you a bite of the sandwich. They never told you a jokes and just, you know, be expendable, you know? And I think, , this is the thing that a literature would always try to fight because the idea of literature is really not an everyday part of life.

It basically, let's say in everyday life, we see some, we see things from one point of view and our survival mechanism is really big on any thing ourselves, for people saying this guys good for me, I'm going to close the street to the other side. He said, Ryan, I'm going to hide in the woods. You know, it makes kind of a survivor, this type of sense.

But the moment that you go to telling stories, then you can switch a point of view. And the moment that you switch a point of view, you can see the other as the other, you know, it becomes a human being, you know, think about the Lolita Crime and Punishment. You know, these are books that put you in the mind of a pedophile or a murderer. And when you're inside this, despite you cannot deny those characters, humanity, and you cannot deny a, let's say the potential of going wrong, doing wrong in your own side. Because if I read a Lolita, you know, I'm not a better find, but if I read this and I say, oh yeah, I once left the girl. Same way as if this guy that's a girl and I was totally crazy and I did silly things. She wasn't 15, she was 18. But basically I know what this guy's talking about. So this ability to make this kind of differentiation is say, there are murders and pedophiles who are bad and there is me who is good. It's basically being challenged, you know, by this, by this saying, I sometimes think about bad things and most of the time I don’t do them. They sometimes think about bad things and sometimes they actually do them. And we're not that different.

I think that actually the word reading is in desperate need of fiction now, because fiction, unlike nonfiction, it's not really, it's not really, as if you have this kind of wave breaker, you know, that the fact that it's going to stop whatever flow you have, because the moment it's not fiction, you know, we can talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And I could say, we're occupying those lands and you say, no, we don't occupy. And I say in 68’, we did that. And you say, oh, but in 74’ we did that. And then I say, no, we never did that. And we are all in the datas, but the moment I say to you, it's fiction, then we allow ourselves basically a to connect to humanity and philosophy and more obscure a and actually higher ideas and not just kind of keep doing this really little petty bureaucratic information about which facts should be put, where in our list.

Ashley Rindsberg: That is something I absolutely want to come back to, which is the role of fiction complaint. In such a crazy world. But before that, I want to return to something you just said about, um, the road rage case, where, and about trying to find people who are thinking like you on social media, it's sort of what we do.

We just, we just create these tribes on social media, people that are thinking like you, but something that you recently pointed out over the summer in an essay for “Tablet Magazine” is that you have social media is not the same as the you that, you know, generally there's to use. And that is an amazing point that you made in this great essay and the one you is that beautiful photo, uh, that looks so great.

I actually want to read a little bit out of, out of your essay, um, because it, it really makes the point and it's saying there's the same Edgar as you, right? Um, but without the buck teeth and an anxious eyes, and with a little more sex appeal in a stronger, more manly chin, I know the picture doesn't look like me at all and that's exactly why I love it because it has sabotaged its original function as a representative of reality and taken on a different function. That picture is no longer a glance into a mirror that shows me who I am, but a look into a different dimension that shows me who I could be. Someone a little bit braver, more charismatic when the light hits them at the right angle.

And you kind of sum it up with this one point, which says the more polarized, unpredictable and unstable the world becomes the more crucial it seems to leave our shaky battered bodies and relocate to a friendlier, more comfortable place. And I read that. I was like, oh my God, that's exactly what's happening. Our identities are being emptied into the, this social media vacuum and to these, these silhouettes that were becoming on social media. And so my question about that is how do you continue to engage as a writer when the readers are becoming silhouettes, where the readers are becoming representations of themselves and their activity is rather than to consume it and digest material like yours, but instead of doing that, they're trying to just create and recreate and recreate this image constantly. Is there still a room for fiction in this kind of environment?

Etgar Keret:Well, I think that, you know, that the fiction is many times there to challenge a different narratives. And I think that, you know, the more a function and the more alienated the social media a narrative will become, I think that the more inspired I will be to, write. Because if everything would be perfect, you know, I would just live my perfect life, but there is an aspect of fate of, I would say, pro protest in writing. You know, I always say to my students that writing is always the plan B the plan a is to leave. You know, it's like the plan B is if you can't live the way that you want to, you can at least write about now or want to do or against what's happening now. And I, I always say to the students that, you know, that the most beautiful, a left point is, you know, this experience on it. They're always about unfulfilled love, because you know, if you are able to fulfill your love and you're too busy to write poems, you'll reach the person you love making laughters and you know, you don't have that right to that point, but, but if they just dump you, then you say, I can't have them, but at least I can have a poem about them.

So I actually think that, when the going gets tough, then I think the artists should get going. Because it's really interesting because, you know. When I went to my last vacation, there were three teenage girls coming to stay. And when we got to the resort, they told us that it's going to be sunny today, but it's going to rain for the rest of them.

So those three girls came with a set of all the swimming suits and all the clothes they had, and they keep changing them and taking photos of themselves in this kind of two hours frame where it was sunny. So they will have an Instagram photo for the next week. You know, now there was something about this situation of seeing those girls hysterically switching to the clothes, you know, and then running to this perfect sport and suddenly kind of putting the lips in this kind of weird Instagramish way, various leaps on photos, it looks some kind of an extension metaphor. It wasn't something that they say, oh, I don't want to write anymore. I say, yeah, it must be also like that. You know, when I have speaking engagements, so I don't put my lips out. But they tried to give some kind of quote, I don't know, snitches or Christopher, so people will think I'm smart, you know? So  whenever I actually see a fault, you know, it doesn't matter if it's in the static guys or just an asshole I bumped into it always kind of echoes something that I recognize, you know, both for myself and from humanity in general.

I know people wrote masterpiece in times of war and in times of great horror. And I must say that, you know, that we are not living in a time of four great horror, but we are living in such a f*** up period that, you know, is it any person who's interested in, in writing cannot say, I have nothing to write about. There's crazy things to write about.

Ashley Rindsberg: That's absolutely the case. And in addition to that, they have. New ways of actually writing, meaning of getting to an audience. And, you know, that's also something I wanted to ask you about because you somehow defied all of the arts as a writer of short stories that you know, that if you talked to anyone in publishing that deals with fiction, they're going to tell you short stories, don't work. And they've been preaching that for years and years and years, they always talk about the novel, blah, blah, blah. And you actually succeeded. You just proved the rule, which is quite incredible, but we're living now in a time where even if I’m disproving that rule within the world of publishing is, is not really enough. It's kind of like the institution of publishing. As many other institutions has become in a way problematic. Like people look at it and they see this model. If that's connected to so many leavers of power and to money and all the things that they're trying to avoid, and they're going to find different ways, different avenues to reach readers and it's something that you, I believe are doing yourself with a Substack. I mean, you would think, why would someone in your position who has this really incredible literary success and profile, need to go around the institution? Why would you even want to do it? But that's something that you've chosen to do and in choosing to start your own substance, you have even, I believe inspired other writers, including one of the most famous writers out there. You can speak a little more about that to do the same. So what is the, what is this impetus to, for writers like yourself and writers like those who you've inspired to do this, to do the same and go to find a Substack for themselves.

Why do that? When you have access to the publishing industry, to the institutions, to everything you need, why, why find the alternate route?

Etgar Keret: Well, I think the newsletter idea is totally connected to this two year pandemic and me moving to Berlin. I think that as a writer, I must say that I'm a writer who loves a readings. I love live readings. I love hearing stories, you know, from people who, who enjoy. Eh, I'd have interacting with the audience and in the time of the pandemic, you know, we, I couldn't do that as often. And I kind of miss that and it gave me this feeling of as if like, you know, if, as if my writing was to be like shouting into a, well, no, because I publish a book every six or seven years and in between when you don't meet people and you just try to start, you say, does it really interested anybody? Or does it work or doesn't it work? And for me when I go to Berlin, I'm going to lose even more of my kind of close proximity audience, because I can give my stories to my neighbors anymore, or to my high school friends, then I said, you know, I want to have this kind of ecosystem in which I write and what I discovered  in use that are, which I think, you know, no way it's going to be placed me publishing books or putting any. Was that I actually initiate the creative, a collaboration.

For example, I have this thing called A Matchbox Story every month I asked the, the subscriber of the newsletter to inspire me by sending me a photo, a sentence, a plot idea, and I promise to take one of those ideas and to try and write a story out of it and dedicate the story of course, to the person who gave me the behavior. So there is something about exhibit I don't usually write this way. You know, I don't usually somebody says, Hey, can you write a story about squirrels? Hey, can you write a story about somebody who got reincarnated as a mango? You know, you can you do that? And, and, and the thing about, about writings, you can try something that isn't your own, you know, you have to own it. Right. But what happened is that when people offer you all those kinds of things, Wow, this thing, maybe I can own, maybe I can find a path through it. So I've already written two stories that I really, really love. It wouldn't have been written, if not for my subscribers who sent me a beautiful photo or wonderful sentence that had inspired it. So this kind of interaction is something that I love. This is another thing that I do use that as they will be really effective in the, in the music.

If you have those kinds of way finding members, you know, it's like people will pay more money and they, they told me in Substack, is your supposed to give them something for, you know, I don't know, send them a book or something. And I came up with the idea,I s it the, every funding member, I will name it a character in one of my future stories after this verse.

So I won't come out this kind of a flatterer and ass licker,  it will always be a protective character with this. So, so I have these kinds of tradition where I say, oh yeah, they have this guy. Yeah. This guy is going to be a demented elderly man who gets run by a bus. So it's something about it. It let's say if, if writing is always kind of, for me, some kind of an implosion with everything goes into your brain, then secondly, the newsletter, it goes into my brain, but I don't feel as much alone because I can take some readers with me, I can listen to the comments I can say, would you want to add another story like that? And do you know, and there is something in this fluidity that is very interesting. And what I discovered about the substance newsletter, it's called the alphabet soup that unlike, let's say publishing stories in social media.

When I publish stories in social media, the people who get to which stories are people who are bored, they're bored. So they go to Facebook's will say, oh my God, this guy ordered this fish dish. What a nice photo. Oh, and these guys inside shell, and this guys riding an elephant and Edgar wrote a story. And it's all about on the same level, you just about bored people dealing with being bored. But when you do this kind of newsletter, because people have to subscribe to it, then the commitment is really stronger. So you know that the people who are going to read your story are people who are interested in this story because it wouldn't have subscribed in the first. And this creates a bond that is much better.

I mean, being Israeli and bingo, always very opinionated about things I always been in. There were always a point a in my personal history where my Facebook page was filled with people, not thinking politically like me saying it, we just burn your books in the yard, or we just flushed them, or we never going to read you again or whatever. And you know, and there is something about those moments. It's always a very confusing, mostly because usually the people who write it can’t spell. And you say, how make my books in the first place. If we can't even spell, we burn your books correctly.

But I think even more than that, you like to feel that, you know, it's like, let's say if my stories are my children, then you won't want people to bully your children because of something that you did. You know, which is by the way, something that is very, very much popular now, with cancel culture, you know, it's not a, it's really, really something that is beyond, right? When you go left wing thinking exactly decide guys, it's like, you live in this kind of a place where you have a lot of Lynch mobs, right? Riding around looking to hang people who haven't gone, where's it coming. And some of those Lynch pumps have the ideologies closer to you. And some of those Lynch mobs have ideologies that are further from you, but they're all basically the Lynch mobs riding around with these torches, looking for people to kill without a trial.

So, so I'm saying, is it kind of taking the step back and saying, you know, you know what, I'm going to build this newsletter and I kind of build this hierarchy where it's not about my opinion, it’s not about me.  It's not about what I ate and we're go to vacation. It's a package deal. You can like it, you can dislike it, you can criticize it, but don't tell me, you know, your story sucks. And the, and the fish and chips plates that you put a photo three days ago, doesn't look tasty and your wife is ugly and your child is too short. You know, it's really kind of good this kind of compartment and create some kind of rules that they actually helped me be in the mode that I want to be when I'm creative, because when I'm creative, I take my defenses down, you know?

So, in social media is it was very, very difficult, basically taking your defenses down when you feel this kind of border and hostility around you and, and the, and that's why the newsletter was for me kind of a new change. It wasn't a kind of saying, oh, I tried this one, I tried something else. It was basically just kind of building my own club and I can't help thinking that, you know, I don't know those couple of thousand of people that are on my newsletter. It's like I filled the jar, my home is, you know, maybe they don't, they don't identify with the, my ideas. Maybe they think I should write them off, maybe they thinks that we don't like the endings of my stories, but we, we kind of come from the same place. We, we both seek a, some kind of an authentic truth. We both seek good stories, existing, you know, we, we are kind of those Amish guys building our church, you know, in this kind of in the middle of a meadow and not just a bunch of people running around in train station, asking each other for light.

Ashley Rindsberg: Yeah, it's, it's what Seth Godin, who's the great writer and marketing guru.I think he's a bit of a philosopher actually, a thinker. He called it a tribe, a tribe in the positive sense of people who belong to something together and not the tribe in the negative sense, which is the tribalism where we see on social media, where it's everybody get the pitch fork out when someone says the wrong word. It's, I think the difference being that as you pointed out, you're delivering it directly to the person. So there's the connection is one to one, not one to 4 billion as it is on Twitter, which is a very weird thing, it's a very unnatural way to connect. You inspired a writer to, to, and I believe it's Salman Rushdie. If I'm not mistaken, it's Salman Rushdie.

Etgar Keret: He gave an interview to the ‘Guardian’ when started, also a Substack, a newsletter. And he said that he, he had been reading my newsletter and fitting as if I was having so much fun that he got jealous and he wanted to have some fun too. And first of all, you know, it's a huge compliment and I really admire his writing. But, I think that it didn't surprise me is if let's say the writer like him would jump on this wagon and there are other writers I know I can think about Gary Shteyngart or George Saunders. I think they're more like likely to jump on this newslette, and then, you know, a many wonderful writers.I don't know, like Paul Auster or other writers that are more kind of classist because I feel it was wish.

This is also this kind of thing that is always seeking a story. You know, it's really the difference between them. Some writers, a kind of a, a agriculture people, you know, say with the right to know they go out to the few things, eat, plant things, and you know, as you go every morning and if after five years they have something. But I think that they're writers, you know, even that they are more like a hunters in the woods, they're going around and say, oh wow. You know, I can eat this Thing off the tree, I can hunt this animal and eat it. And this year, all the time seek the interaction with the story. We don't want to create something loud. It's not nothing, but they want to have some kind of a dialogue with the word food writing. And these kinds of newsletters are going to attract writers more into kind of experiment. The Intune grit stuff we didn't do before. So then it would drag in the classists basically want to like nozzles, which is great thing, but I'm not wondering.

Ashley Rindsberg: Yeah, I know Patty Smith is another good example from non-fiction, who's also done a Substack or is doing a Substack. Also you know, many great journalists are turning to that format because either they've been sort of marginalized by the traditional institutions or they've been pitchfork by social media or both. And this is a middle road, which is like a very interesting way to think about it. You have these extremes, the institution, and then you've got the, the mob and in the middle there's this new path. And I think that's also part of the reason why it's so interesting for people like you.

Etgar Keret: And, and I think that, you know, when I looked at Substack, because I must say that when I wanted to start this newsletter and I talked with, let's say my peers, most of them were against it, they said that it's not a good idea. And basically their argument was those newsletters are very good for kind of niche writing. Let's say, if I write about the baseball defense players, then I have my newsletter and everybody was interested in patient or the fast player we call it.

Or if I do a kosher desserts, you know, the holidays, then people would go to that while they do. Fiction is something that is so wide that it's not, it doesn't fit a newsletter. And I told my friends that they, my feeling is that the, a fiction writing in the 21st century, it's, isn't rich thing. You're not because when I was 20, you would ask somebody, what are you reading now today to ask somebody, if you are reading books is a little bit to ask you, you, are you vegan? Do you do pilates? Do you climb mountains? It's really a niche. And, and, and I'm not saying it kind of in a sad voice because I really feel that, you know, it's not the fact that people read less fiction means that stories have been pushed away from my own word. You know, so people watch more Netflix series, you know, I wish the Netflix series would all be amazing.

Some of them are not, but theoretically, some of them are good, you know? And so it's, it's a different way to tell a story, but, but I think that did they do, let's say the fiction way of storytelling has become more, a kind of marginalized, actually is a good excuse for us to have this kind of support groups, you know, because like, if I like writing stories and if some people like reading stories, it's little bit like, eh, we're like the AA, you know, we are those kinds of people that meet every week with our issues and problems and pictures.And one of, some of us tell stories and some of them listen to them and this is a great place to be in. You know, I really, it's not as if I say I want to bring back the time where all the people in Israel read the same novel and discuss it. I don't think we live in an age where this would be fitting.

It wouldn't work in a place that is not totalitarian. If you have so many media options to force everybody to choose certain kinds of medium with a certain kind of text, you know, we exploded over the place. But I think that in this time it's really good they move to say to yourself, I'm going to build myself, my clubhouse.

And everybody wants some tea, lemonade cookies is going to come there and then put those in my story. I was going to tell w like, and which ones we would want me to write. It's just seems as if they fit in. Do you know for this study?

Ashley Rindsberg: I also think it's very natural into just to the form and to the format of a fiction, any kind of writing, you know, when we think about the Bloomsbury set of England, they weren't writing for a mass audience, they were writing for essentially for each other. And I think it was only post World War II in America, where fiction became mass media and where respectable fiction, good fiction literary fiction became mass media. It was a blip on the radar for maybe 30 years, maybe 40 at the most. And I don't, I think for some reason, we came to think of it as that's normal.

And that's the usual that ma that great fiction is mass market, but I don't really think that was ever the case aside from those 30 or 40 years. And maybe now we're coming back to something that is truly more natural to, uh, to what fiction is to a literary fiction is which is something that is, that speaks to a certain set of people who have shared beliefs and shared tastes .And that's good enough, that's more than good enough. It's great because I think that's essentially.

Etgar Keret: That past benchmark was some kind of a historical mistake. It was a moment in time, but it wasn't in a way that finishing shouldn't have been done. And I can tell you that when I began publishing my first collection of short stories called ‘Pipelines’ came out in 92 and whenever they would interview me, I would say in interview the interviews proudly that I sold 800 copies and they at some stage, the publicist of the publishing house called me and she asked me to stop saying that in interviews. And I said to her why? And she said, because 800 people is not validated. And I said to her, I want to argue that the 800 people are great because I didn't come from the publishing world. So I couldn't compare it to anything.

And I said to her, you know, in my elementary schools, there were 500 children and I didn't even know the students. So imagine more of all the numbers is greater than all the people in this school, and this is a lot. And she says, no, this is really too. So I said to her, you know, when you write the books at 800 people would buy then you can say to them, I say that. And I think it's really, really fun because, you know, I have many writer friends who are really, really huge successes. And sometimes I can read somebody like that and he'll be depressed. And I say to him why? And he say, oh, I don't know. My last novel only sold 300,000 or 500,000 copies, you know? And he said, man, you know, when you, when you used the goal, when you were masturbating in the dorms and finishing off your first short stories, if I would tell you that not 300,000 people, but 20 would find this interesting, And one of the maybe would be even to an image from it on his arm, he say, yeah, I'm happy. I don't want anything more than that.

I think, and the things that is it, when it comes to this kind of reaching large audiences, it's the same kind of a capitalist  pictures that you see with all the world’s billionaires, you know, I, I want so way it documentary about Russian oligarch and the, and the, one of the other guard said, when I meet millionaires, you know, I don't judge them, but when they meet a billionaire, I already know that he's fucked up. And the interviewer said why? And he said, well, because that guy, at some stage, he was a millionaire, any of, everything he could need for him for his children. And he just kept going, so needs his fuck that. And of course, the guy who saved that was a billionaire himself. So he was kind of reflects it, but, but, but I think that as a writer, I want an audience.

I want people to read me. I want people to react to what I'm saying. I want people to feel that it matters, you know, but they do, somebody would say the 50,000 is okay. And 2 million, our lap, but 2,500 is nothing. It's just a bullshit, you know, I think about Homer, you know, eh, you know, when he would date a seat by a campfire and tell people about the Odyssey, you know then how many people were there?20, 50, 80, you know,

Ashley Rindsberg: Yeah, it's it's that he don't got a patient where we're too much has never enough. And this is the culture where we're educated by in TV and, uh, social media, of course, where you eat, you've got the money, you've got the success, and now you need the abs and you get the money and success, and then the abs. Now you need the great charitable organization that you've created and on and on and on and on and on. And there's just no end. And I think that's why we do need a reset and probably why something like Subdtack represents a recent. For a lot of people, cause you can start again. You don't have to be judged by those metrics. You can be just creating one to one and let it be just enough. And again, to return to Seth Godin, it's such a great notion that he advocates for it, which is don't look for the maximum that you can do. Look for the minimum, the minimum that's viable and start with that. And that's the goal. And I think that is something we all need to remember, especially people who are working in creativity and the arts. I mean, cause we're caught up with Jonathan Franz and selling three million copies of his book and that's the new metric. That's the benchmark and it's insane.

Etgar Keret: Yeah. It's like, it's like, you know, I, when I looked at my son doing physical training at school, then you know, as in physical training in school, most of the countries it's the same, you know, the kids to push up and then a bench presses and run around the yard and stuff. And I say, you know, this kid is going to come home and then sit five hours in front of his computer, teach him how to sit properly. You know, how to work on his posture. Wouldn't be more useful. But in the bottom line you see a bunch of kids that one of them can do a 80 pushups and the other guy can do 85. And most of them are disproportionate with very short masses and back pains, but they keep going on this kind of same graph, kind of turning onward and upward. And I think, and I think that, especially in creativity, you know, it's, it's really more about kind of discovering new muscles and finding flexibility in them and learning how to move some stuff that you will not able to move before then doing this kind of bodybuilding thing of kind of just kind of having those humongous muscles. That you only want to have masses at a bigger isn't the person next to you? You know, I, I think really there is something about, about creativity that it's more about.

Ashley Rindsberg: Yeah. I remember Stephen King talking about that with regard to the short story is that everyone was always novel, novel, novel, novel, novel. And he's saying take time to return to the short story for that reason, it's a different set of muscles. It's a different thing. It teaches you and you learn from it because it's really difficult to pull it off, and especially the short stories that you write, which are really short. It's not, you know, and it's such a wonderful thing today where. We're just, you know, we're, we have this phenomenon of TLDR — too long, didn't read. And it's such a gift where someone gives you something that you can read just now and on, on the setting of the screen, just like the tablet essay by you, that I mentioned earlier, what an incredible feeling to read this whole thing within a couple of minutes and really to understand it because you've given us what you've done, the hard work for, for us by distilling it to the, to the most fundamental, you didn't make me do the work for you, which is to trawl through it and try to understand what he's really getting at, and he's really trying to say, and spending 35 minutes just to read it and then another 35 minutes to understand it. And that's an amazing, amazing gift that you give to your readers.

Etgar Keret: Well, thank you. You know, I feel that this has a lot to do with the fact that when I studied in university, then the, basically my major was math and my minor was philosophy. And the end of course, there was a lot of things about those topics because I really liked to look a low logics, low logics in math, they all stole all kinds of a logic in philosophy. And they do have looking for oxymorons or understand how the systems work or something like that. The fact that the topics that I wrote about are, but the, but the settings will make very much influence. But the fact that in maths and in exact sciences, a, a compatibility is appreciating, right? It's like, it's like, you know, if somebody is a mathematician, you pay you, my PhD was only six pages long, you know, he's a genius. But if somebody tells you that his PhD in philosophy was six pages long, then say, and they accepted that without footnotes, it has to be at least 500 pages long.

And I really feel that the math can be very, very competent. But it' wish is not to exclude anybody. You know, when you have the theory, there's something so beautiful about an idea that can be explained to a 10 years old, you know, and this is the goal, while you monistic many times there is this idea that you want to desert your readers with the fact that, you know, much more than saying, and kind of puts them in some kind of a stance in which whatever you're going to say will be built up. So I think since there was something in it, that kind of way, it reminded me the humanistic attitude, the ways that  the adequate the people would have in the courts of Kings, you know, you're supposed to bow in a certain way, and dress in a certain way and pass through the guards in a certain way. And I say in the background, After you do that, it's very, very difficult to, to remember what you wanted to say in the first place. I mean, when you get to the king, you know, just to say to him, oh my God, I think I ate something bad. I think the worst diarrhea I ever, you know, you wouldn't even think of that because he was too busy of, you know, of worrying the crown the right way and nodding to the queen one, not knowing somebody else. So basically all those kinds of quotes became become the main thing. And what do you want to say comes really, really minor. And when it came to mess in the end, when we pause, what you have is this kind of pure, there is a way of thinking and that's, what's interesting. The other stuff is really, really not interesting.

Impressing, quoting, putting your stuff in context, just even saying, Hey, look, this is a bird. It looks really strange. And I think that, you know, that the zip, the fact that I'm again, right. While I was studying the mess really, really effected the dress, my step six choices.

Ashley Rindsberg: I think that kind of decadence in the etiquette, like we see, I don't know if you've read, um, Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, but there's this elaborate sequence of that, of just what you're saying. He's preparing to meet the emperor. Um, one of the minor characters and has to go through this whole bowing and the uniform and having it cleaned and all this stuff and what it signifies is a dying culture. When you have to go through so much to get to the point, something is already rotten, and you're dressing it up. But, you know, I want to be respectful of your time. Thank you so much for, for being so generous. Two final small questions. One is what are you reading right now?

Etgar Keret: You know in this Covid year So my, my strange rules then, uh, that I've made is that I only read now things that I've read before. I don't repeat stuff. I really want to create this kind of huge vacancy, you know, to which something new only needs to be. So actually the books that I'm kind of really thinking that we think right now are a, some of the novels, because when I began writing, I was inspired by Kafka’s Metamorphoses and other stories includes and Slaughterhouse-Five. And it thinks both of them can serve to some hand with models of writers who are incompetent in this function, which I identify with is it's really opposite to the model of that the writers, you know, inspire me.

I mean, like when you think about Kafka and Vonnegut, you know, the one thing that they had in common: you would never hire him as your child's babysitter. Oh, you would never let them stay at your home when you own a business trip with your wife, you know, these are the guys, you know, you say cannot be drastic. And I totally identified with that. So is there, why do I say, ah, okay, so you can also be this writer who cannot be trusted. And I felt that it's a good thing that kind of 35 years later, I will visit those texts.

Ashley Rindsberg: Amazing. And if anyone has never seen Vonnegut's great lectures video of it, talking about story and the structure of story, how there's only like he breaks down like the five there's only five storylines ever. And the it's a really incredible video. I really recommend people watch it. And one last question, which is the first time I've ever asked this what's your favorite cafe to write in, to sit in, to be in, um, what, what's something that really feels like your cafe, wherever it might be in the world?

Etagr Keret: Well, I must say first cafes because I'm a bound, you know what I like about the cafes, that it's a good excuse to sit someplace and look at other people without other people thinking that your weird, you know, because when you see like a fake, it really gives you the perfect stage to mention, to eavesdrop or to look at other people without them noticing you.

But I never write in cafes. Because was something about the, I discovered the hard way, because you know, when, when I began writing, I fought, you know, the best thing would be to, I think, a face because you know, it's fun. It's nice people around, you will notice that you write, you know, beautiful waitress would say, oh, what are you writing?

Right. And do you know, and that's kind of something that you want to, you want to get. But what I discovered is that when I write in the public areas, I have this kind of a tendency to conform, for example, many times when I write at home, I write naked or in my underwear, you know, and it's not nice to say, I have this tendency when I write, I fart more, I actually enjoy my fart. I kind of write something and then I get up and say, oh my God, that was good. You know, so, or I can pick my nose, I can do all those kinds of things. When I go to cafes, you know, you kind of aware of the conventions around you, you know, so you don't talk to yourself, you don't fart. If you don't pick your nose. And I think that it affects the way that I write, because I tend also to confirm in my writing. So, so for me, the best place to write him is the place in which I'm not received by anybody. And then I can be as weird as I want. And when it comes to cafe favorite cafe's both are in Tel Aviv and the other in Berlin.

Ashley Rindsberg: So which one would go one for each?

Etgar Keret: So in Tel Aviv there is cafe called LoveEat on the corner of Jabotinsky. and the, and I, I go to the cafe and I must say that the main reason is that the, a, the guide stories, like the collective equivalent of ‘Soup Nazi’, you know, is really, really, always very rude to people to come around all those kinds of things.

So, so I think that first of all, I like going there because I appreciate the fact that he actually serves me coffee and usually doesn't curse me, you know, which makes me feel good things about myself, but also it's a it's I think that. It's always kind of, there's always action rounds there. So when you go, you want to see what's going to happen in this episode, in each six life who is going to be the fighters today and thn in Berlin, a few cafes that I like called Love Eat, which is next to my home. It really, really looks, I don’t know, like a character to have a deeper way. Left-wing, you're a key piece in the seventies or something, you know, where everything is vegan and you know, where it really kind of gives me this kind of feeling is that when I’m there, maybe if the entire world would be a little bit like these cafes and everything would be great, we have no more wars in this world.

Ashley Rindsberg: Well, thank you so much. I remember Love Eat, and I remember they had a couple other locations. I'm not sure if there, there was one in Berlin and Tel Aviv, I don't know if it's there anymore, but it was, it was a really great cafe. Very good coffee, but I'll check the Jabotinsky and you know, and if the guys start being rude to you, say Etgar sent me. I'll try that. So Etgar Keret, for everybody out there listening, go check out alphabet soup on substance. Is there anywhere else people should find you or should, is the substance the best place to start?

Etgar Keret: Yeah, I would say the best I can. I mean, you know, I have all those Instagram and I think, but I think it might interesting stuff is on SubStack.

Ashley Rindsberg: Amazing. Well, so alphabet soup. One more time. Um, I'm going to go subscribe myself right now and, um, and thank you for, for doing this and for, for your time and for being so open and talking about your farts and your speaking and your fiction, and, uh, hopefully we'll talk soon.


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