In 1937 the teenaged Irving Howe, future literary critic, excitedly unwrapped the very first edition of Partisan Review and read the short story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” by Delmore Schwartz, written a couple of years earlier over a July weekend when Schwartz was 21. The story is about a young man who goes into a cinema and sees on the screen the unfolding images of his own parents’ courtship, including a trip to Coney Island culminating in a marriage proposal, which causes the narrator to rise from his seat and deliver one of the funniest pay-offs in literature.
In collaboration with the British Jewish Contemporary Cultures Network and supported by Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image
Nathan Abrams, Bangor University; James Jordan, University of Southampton; Caroline Kaye, University of Manchester; Sue Vice, University of Sheffield.
Wednesday 8 November 2017
12.00 noon – 5.00 pm
Birkbeck, University of London, Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square, London, WC1E 0PD.
Event open to all:
Registration fee: £5.00 for students and unwaged and £10.00 for all other attendees. A light lunch will be provided. Book your place.
The representation of the Holocaust and antisemitism in British film and television has been relatively overlooked. This illustrated workshop attempts to address this gap by screening and discussing a range of texts that examine memories of the Holocaust and antisemitism in Britain in a variety of forms. Some of these texts are explicit in their representations, others are works that make no extant claim to represent it. They include the British television drama Twist of Fate (1989), the 1973 horror film, The Wicker Man and the work of director Stanley Kubrick. Taking these texts as a starting point for discussion, this workshop presents a timely intervention into current debates about the Holocaust and antisemitism within British media and culture.
‘Life Functions Terminated’: Stanley Kubrick, IBM and the Holocaust, Nathan Abrams, Bangor University
The Ghetto and the Camp: a consideration of BBC Television’s Representation of the Holocaust in the 1960s, James Jordan, University of Southampton
The Wicker Man (1973): Film Reflecting the Holocaust, Caroline Kaye, Manchester Metropolitan University
Twist of Fate (BBC 1989): The Holocaust Survivor Who is Really a Perpetrator, Sue Vice, University of Sheffield
An uncredited reviewer in Publishers Weekly writes: “Deeply affecting and harrowing… This is not a sentimental story of how suffering ennobles people. Moss’s deliberately naive drawings effectively accompany her painfully direct text…The fact that the family does endure is impressive, and this book demonstrates how art can transmute suffering into literature.”
S/he is right on the mark. Moss is a successful children’s author best known for the Amelia’s Notebook series has written and drawn the most grown-up of books. When her husband, Harvey, is diagnosed with ALS, he becomes more and more distant from the family, and there is no easy resolution to their relationship or his illness. This is not an illness story where everyone becomes a better person, but eventually, as Moss writes in her introduction it is about the “strong bonds of family and how they can sustain us.”
Everything about the book brings home the situation they find themselves in. Like life, it has to be lived, and like life, there are ups and downs: many, many downs. Moss is clear-eyed about what the disease is, what it does to Harvey, how she and the kids react. In a way, this with the clear text and the expressive drawings and varied and inventive design of the pages to suit to the story would be enough. But what makes this a great book is that alongside the story of the family and the illness, There is more. Beyond the day to day, there is the life of the mind. Of connecting to the thoughts and history of humanity. For Harvey, a professor of medieval art, this involves hanging on to his intellectual journey trying ever more desperately to finish his book Picturing Kingship on King Louis IX’s personal prayer book. He cuts himself off to write his last work. King Louis is christian, the family are Jews. And for the family it is Judaism and life-cycle events of a bar mitzvah and later on sitting shiva for Harvey when he dies that locate the mundane in a wider world. Human beings live, love, struggle and die, but our minds put this all in the context of humanity.
In the late-19th Century, the church at the corner of Brick Lane became a synagogue, as thousands of Jews moved into Spitalfields in the Huguenots’s wake. More than 2 million Jews left Eastern Europe between 1881 and 1914, prompted by economic hardship and increasingly ferocious persecution. Following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, the persecution of Jews in Russia became even fiercer, and a wave of pogroms swept across Russia and neighbouring countries.
Many Jews landing in England actually intended to go to America, but about 120,000 stayed in this country. Again attracted by the area’s reputation as a place for cheap living, and by the fact that it had been home to a Jewish population in previous centuries, large numbers settled in Spitalfields, often finding work in the ‘rag trade’. By 1900 Jews formed around 95% of the population in the Wentworth Street district of Spitalfields.