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On Marriage

On Marriage

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What I’m really interested in is the way in which all feelings split us – and how we cope with that, what we do with that. 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. But the answer isn’t that everybody gets to have power, but that everybody gets to feel the degree to which power is a fantasy.

It was left to me, therefore, to point out that Shakespeare’s Jew was an anti-Semitic stereotype and that Shylock was in fact not an accurate depiction of how I generally acted, nor how my family acted and nor how my ancestors acted, even when faced with persecution and prejudice. 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. Baum is an erudite and entertaining guide through the landscape of marriage, bringing a lively intellectual rigour to changing attitudes on matters of religion, feminism, parenting and sexuality. 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. It’s the plot that drives much of western literature and drama; it is presented to successive generations (especially women) as both the highest goal and a yoke of oppression.

I think it implies that people feel there’s a danger in humourlessness, which shows just how much savagery there can be in humour. 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. If somebody tells you a joke well and fresh, and you get a laugh out of it, that’s a real relief – and it’s a strengthening moment, as well. At this seminar we welcome authors Lisa Appignanesi and Devorah Baum to talk about loss and grief, love and laughter, and being Jewish. Because in comedy you can only get away with it by virtue of the fact that everybody thinks you’re ‘only joking’.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’?

And yet in saying that, they didn’t realise the awful implication of their words, which was that they took Shylock to be not an anti-Semitic representation of a Jew, but a realistic one. As I understand it, feelings are extremely political – because they tell us a lot about power: who has it, and who doesn’t.For better or worse, for richer for poorer, till death us do part – we’ve always done it and we’re still doing it. 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). But it’s telling that an early chapter centres on the concept of veils; in a nod to the story of Salome, she presents seven types of “veil” that serve to occlude or reveal meaning in marriage, and the reader is conscious throughout that she has chosen to draw a veil over the most intimate elements of her own relationship, or at least to offer only selective glimpses in the service of broader arguments. And I’ve also known how to access joy, how to access feelings of awe and humility – through the religion. I consider all feelings to have a potentially blocking, and a potentially motivating, or moving, impulse inside them.

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