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On Marriage

On Marriage

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AH: Also, making fun of yourself… At the conference “Contemporary British-Jewish Cultures” at Bangor University this month (March 2018) many speakers described this idea as something inherently Jewish, too. 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’? 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? 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]. In fact, the reverse was true; Baum is interested as much in the expectations created around marriage, for women in particular, by a society that is still principally organised around married couples and the resulting family unit, and what those expectations mean for anyone who chooses to arrange their life and relationships differently.

Because marriage doesn't always bring out the best in us, it makes us wonder what the best in us might be. Some of our correspondents have described this as ‘feeling European’ – because the dominant backgrounds are Ashkenazi. So, the notion – that we had 27 other countries we could go to, and now we don’t – feels absolutely existential for many Jews in this country. But in terms of positive feelings to do with Jewishness, I’m a little shy of those [laughs], but I do have them. That really impressed me, because, you know, you read something about feelings, and that was a complete turn-over in my head.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).

EV: I think it’s really interesting, this idea of feeling different, but also belonging, in a way, this double-bind. And I feel this is the case with all feelings – that they need to be admitted, even if only to yourself. Because you see how Jews have prospered there, with that psychology that there is a chance to start anew.That, at least, is her stated intention, though by the time she reaches her epilogue, she finds herself questioning her own motives: “I’m married to someone I feel I can’t live without. Devorah, who happens to be Lisa's daughter-in-law, draws on some related tropes of memoir and psychoanalysis in her writing and film-making. Boundaries, as we know, are vital, and people who have none are not people you normally want to hang around with [laughs], but it depends on the extent to which you understand them as being both provisional and constructed, and as a creative act. 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. 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.

As I understand it, feelings are extremely political – because they tell us a lot about power: who has it, and who doesn’t. JA: But again, not as much as in America – the cool, young, sort of ‘hipster Judaism’ that is huge in America.

And both my books regard that situation as becoming increasingly common to all people who feel themselves the subjects of a globalised world. Marriage is unknowable to anyone outside it’: Devorah Baum and husband Josh Appignanesi with their children in 2016.

Because when you’re feeling hopeless, really hopeless and despairing, if something manages to make you laugh, your gratitude for that is overwhelming – like a kind of prayer. 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. DB: That’s very interesting… The notion that satire has somehow become the only plausible way of getting your news. Devorah Baum brings her literary understandings, psychoanalytic scholarship and great aplomb to the marriage conundrum. 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.

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