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On Marriage

On Marriage

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And I’ve also known how to access joy, how to access feelings of awe and humility – through the religion. 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. 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. Lisa Appignanesi OBE FRSL has written many books, fiction and non-fiction, including the memoirs Losing the Dead and Everyday Madness: On Grief, Anger, Loss and Love.

At this seminar we welcome authors Lisa Appignanesi and Devorah Baum to talk about loss and grief, love and laughter, and being Jewish. And both my books regard that situation as becoming increasingly common to all people who feel themselves the subjects of a globalised world. But in terms of positive feelings to do with Jewishness, I’m a little shy of those [laughs], but I do have them.

In this conversation, Lisa and Devorah will discuss Losing the Dead and then, more generally, the role played by familial stories in their work. 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.

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. 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’? DB: Feelings are contagious – you can be a winner in a society, and still be caught up in envious feelings. And for me also it’s about the shared nature of feelings – they’re not private, and they shouldn’t be bound up with an ideology of privacy and property. For if the word ‘Jew’ is not fitting in comfortably with other words, if there’s a kind of pause before the word, a momentary decision about how to utter it exactly, then that tells us something.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.

So, that would be a question: Have you ever experienced antisemitism in London, either blatant, or low-level? 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. So as they saw it, their choice was between condemning him for being bad, or showing a liberal understanding of why he turned out so bad. I had approached the book with a measure of doubt, wondering whether – being of an age with the author but never married – I would find myself excluded from its thesis.So, all the feelings I’ve selected are ones that have a kind of ‘bad’ reputation that I wanted to overturn: I don’t wish to say that they’re bad feelings, though I do admit that they are or can be painful.

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”.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.

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