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On Marriage

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AH: It’s so funny, because what you just said, I was thinking about my generation, and it seems to be quite the opposite, they see all these stand-up comedians – Bill Burr, Louis C. Baum looks at marriage from multiple angles, legal and political, social and narrative, its interminability and its dailiness . DB: In the introduction to my book I’m interested in whether there’s much of a difference, really, between a word that you whisper – which tends to be the British way – and one that you’re required to shout out – in a declamatory, American way. EV: We wondered if this idea of the joke in your book The Jewish Joke (2018) could be linked to theatre. And that self-seriousness is very often a kind of annoyance that nobody notices, when they’re being funny, that they’re also being deep, that they’re also saying things nobody has ever thought or dared to say before.

And I feel this is the case with all feelings – that they need to be admitted, even if only to yourself. Unlike her films, On Marriage turns away from the personal in pursuit of a more far-reaching understanding of marriage as a philosophical, cultural and political phenomenon. EV: I think it’s really interesting, this idea of feeling different, but also belonging, in a way, this double-bind. EV: The point that you’re making in your book Feeling Jewish : A Book for Just About Anyone (2017), that Jewishness is kind of short-hand for urbanism, for modernity, in some kind of way. I was one of the only Jews around and I had a very strong sense of my Jewish identity for that reason.DB: That’s very interesting… The notion that satire has somehow become the only plausible way of getting your news. And that’s the familiar Jewish stereotype, but it’s also the product of a specific social situation, and I think it’s quite extreme in some ways, in a culture like this one – in particular where there’s a strong class system, where everybody knows their place, and you’re the people who don’t seem to have one. Some of our correspondents have described this as ‘feeling European’ – because the dominant backgrounds are Ashkenazi. The low level or unconscious prejudices are the most common I’ve encountered, and the most interesting. And, actually, during a period in British politics – when the word ‘Jew’ is trending on Twitter and people are googling the word ‘Jew’ and looking probably in all sorts of insalubrious places to find out what Jews are up to –, you have a very strong wish and desire to speak to other people going through the same thing, in a somewhat contained and close setting.

The feeling of being European has arisen, I think, in particular amongst Jews in this country, partly because some of them, since the Referendum, have discovered that they can go and get passports – from Germany, Poland. Baum herself has tackled the subject before, in a different medium; together with her husband, Josh Appignanesi, she is the co-creator of two films, The New Man and Husband, documentary (mockumentary? At this seminar we welcome authors Lisa Appignanesi and Devorah Baum to talk about loss and grief, love and laughter, and being Jewish.

So, this is an extraordinary piece of family history – the survival of my family has to do with my ancestor being such a loser [laughs]. But the way I’m diagnosing resentment is as a more or less unavoidable aspect of globalisation and its discontents. Just because if you read, for example, Nina Raine’s Tribes, there are the most hilarious jokes in there. The argument in the book is that envy is nearly always caught up with envy of expressivity, of another person’s ability to be creative, and to get their voice out.

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