Our Literary Critic Said This Story Lacks Soul. Then He Found Out Who Wrote It

'Instead of relying on other writers' plots, please be so good as to invent plots of your own,' the critic said, unaware of the author's identity

Headshot of Haaretz columnist and literary supplement editor Benny Ziffer, who is artistic director of the poetry festival to be held in Metula.
Benny Ziffer
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Franz Kafka
Franz KafkaCredit: Fototeca / Leemage / AFP
Headshot of Haaretz columnist and literary supplement editor Benny Ziffer, who is artistic director of the poetry festival to be held in Metula.
Benny Ziffer

Reading “Chrysalis,” it’s impossible not to recall Kafka’s “Metamorphosis.” Indeed, we must ask whether the trick of having a person incarnated as an insect or other flying creature (here it’s a person who is born perhaps as a dragonfly, or maybe an angel) hasn’t been exhausted by now. There can be several answers to that question, as it’s quite possible that the story in question is actually a parody of “The Metamorphosis.” But that is problematic in itself. Parody, as literary theory has taught us, can only be applicable with a text that takes itself seriously – and Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” is itself a parodic text.

>>> This algorithm speaks just like us. I had a rare opportunity to meet it

“Chrysalis” contains additional hints of other canonical works. For a moment, when Satan enters the narrative, we recall Goethe’s “Faust,” and his flight above the city’s rooftops. Or it evokes Dante and his “The Divine Comedy.”

But really, enough with all this! Instead of relying on plots and situations and other people’s styles – please be so good as to invent your own plots and situations.

“Chrysalis” consists largely of dialogues framed as short retorts. That, too, brings to mind a style that has already been used, perhaps by Etgar Keret. When writing in that style, it’s necessary to be concise and not to allow just plain, banal questions or answers to blunt the sharpness of the dialogue. Here I found several cases of this, which to my mind evoke the dialogues in old dramas on Israeli television, which tried to buy time by means of vapid “what” questions and superfluous repetitions of words already uttered by the interlocutor.

In other words, I detect here quite a few technical faults and a lack of professionalism in the art of writing itself. This is especially blatant in the way the text hovers across several linguistic registers, switching from high to low and back again for no apparent reason.

For example, the abrupt use of the word "so," in its slang sense as a vague conjunction. A text written in proper language has no place for anything so grating.

I have to point out as well that I didn’t grasp the meaning of the internal contradiction at the beginning of the story – between the fact that the chrysalis from which the protagonist emerged lays by his side, and then he asks, just a few lines later, about the fate of the chrysalis and is told that he ate it. And I was even more confused when Satan later describes him as “a perfect butterfly, a golden-eyed chrysalis.” And when, just before that, the creature complains that it is being kept in “this chrysalis.” Must I take a course in entomology in order to understand the story, or perhaps it’s the writer who should have taken such a course before writing?

To the heart of the matter: This story is written as an intellectual exercise game that tries to develop ad absurdum the cosmological idea of swallowing the universe and returning to the primeval state. But where is the soul? Where is the surprising thrill that a short story must have, which takes the reader’s breath away for an instant? None of that is here, and instead we get a kind of collage of allegories about the nature of the universe.

The review is of a story that was generated by the GPT-3 algorithm.



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