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On Marriage

On Marriage

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From Freud to Ferrante, and One Thousand and One Nights to Fleabag, she looks at marriage in all of its forms – from act of love to leap of faith, and asks: what are we really doing when we say ‘I do’? At the core of OCLW's new programme on Writing Jewish Women's Lives, our new series of afternoon literary seminars are a chance to discuss books by and about Jewish women.

Joking, then, is a form of common language that can also offer its speakers a degree of privacy, by creating a kind of outsider discourse within the dominant discourse, one that speaks for the jokers’ own lack of definition or certainty.

They monitor themselves; it has probably a lot to do with Freudian introspection and the idea that it’s a definition of what you do as a university person – particularly in Germany.

She is the author of Feeling Jewish (a Book for Just About Anyone) and The Jewish Joke: An Essay with Examples (Less Essay, More Examples). In these movies, both partners offer what you suspect is an exaggerated version of themselves: Baum the straight woman, Appignanesi the butt of the joke. DB: I think perhaps one thing that I would say to that is that in the British culture, Jews are conspicuous by their kind of emotional incontinence. This is not so much a cop-out as a recognition of the fact that marriage, for all its legal and social connotations, remains the ultimate subjective experience.Because in comedy you can only get away with it by virtue of the fact that everybody thinks you’re ‘only joking’. With Josh Appignanesi she is co-director, producer and performer of the films The New Man and Husband, which investigate the intimate dynamics of the filmmakers' own marriage.

But in terms of positive feelings to do with Jewishness, I’m a little shy of those [laughs], but I do have them.I read Tribes (2010) by Nina Raine, and I thought that’s exactly the kind of thing you describe – the Jewish family as an iconic description that you also have in your book. In this conversation, Lisa and Devorah will discuss Losing the Dead and then, more generally, the role played by familial stories in their work. So that wasn’t a direct experience of aggressive, hostile antisemitism, but it was implicit in the acceptance of Shylock as staged Jew. I don’t like this increasing focus on identity – to demarcate who you are, what you are… and that you can’t transcend these boundaries. Baum brings this sharp self-awareness to her book; as she reflects with the analytical eye of an academic on different iterations and meanings of matrimony, she also frequently illustrates her points with scenes from her own marriage.

Why, then, she wonders, has there been so little serious intellectual engagement with the idea of marriage? In my public events for the book, I’ve been talking quite a bit about envy because I consider it to be the feeling that is hardest to admit, hardest to share – it’s the most scandalous and the most morally disapproved of. But my case studies are predominantly American because Jews did really go for it there, culturally, in the post-war period – in a way that they never have here. EV: When we talked to Ronald Harwood, he said England was the most welcoming country, that he has never experienced antisemitism.And I feel this is the case with all feelings – that they need to be admitted, even if only to yourself.

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