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On Marriage

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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. Often you find they’re very funny, and then the moment they’re not being funny, you find that they’re awfully serious – a little bit too serious. Devorah Baum brings her literary understandings, psychoanalytic scholarship and great aplomb to the marriage conundrum. For anyone who has experienced, contemplated or rejected it, On Marriage offers a fascinating exploration of an institution that, for better or worse, “continues to shape and carry our human story”. 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.

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.She draws on a formidably broad frame of reference, from Kant to Fleabag via George Eliot and Nora Ephron, and any number of intriguing detours through less familiar literary and cinematic representations. With Josh Appignanesi she co-directed the creative documentary feature film The New Man (2016) and the feature film Husband (2023).

Because in comedy you can only get away with it by virtue of the fact that everybody thinks you’re ‘only joking’. And I’ve also known how to access joy, how to access feelings of awe and humility – through the religion. DB: The humour that I’m describing is a response of people who feel language is slippery, because they feel both inside and outside the culture they live in and the language they speak. 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. It has often been regarded as the most bourgeois and conservative of institutions, while proving flexible enough to accommodate radical reinventions.We don’t share your credit card details with third-party sellers, and we don’t sell your information to others. That really impressed me, because, you know, you read something about feelings, and that was a complete turn-over in my head.

We were so interested in the idea that this book, Feeling Jewish, at least for me, seems to say a lot of things about a kind of structure of feeling that might be British-Jewish. I was one of the only Jews around and I had a very strong sense of my Jewish identity for that reason. So that wasn’t a direct experience of aggressive, hostile antisemitism, but it was implicit in the acceptance of Shylock as staged Jew. But the way I’m diagnosing resentment is as a more or less unavoidable aspect of globalisation and its discontents.

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. And both my books regard that situation as becoming increasingly common to all people who feel themselves the subjects of a globalised world. To calculate the overall star rating and percentage breakdown by star, we don’t use a simple average. Pretty much all the positions I’ve encountered on the subject seem to me to have a great deal of validity.

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. There was this sudden mass-hysteria, or outpouring, a kind of emotional release that was then oddly matched by the Queen and the stiff upper lip. 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]. I'm an Associate Professor in English Literature and Critical Theory at the University of Southampton. Why, then, she wonders, has there been so little serious intellectual engagement with the idea of marriage?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. 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. There are all kinds of closed spaces that I respect, but I also recognize that tribalism, in the way we’re seeing it at the moment, is so… toxic. There’s almost nobody I meet these days where I can’t very quickly detect the form their resentment takes – that is, the way in which they feel they’re not being heard, as if they’re being somehow silenced or marginalised, or as if their case isn’t permitted. 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).

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