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21. O Patagonia…

08 Apr
21. O Patagonia…
Dear readers,
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This is the second of my blogs specially written for the folks at the Jewish Book Week, 2012, and probably the last one before I get back to writing about why I’m spending the average GDP of a small-to-medium sized country on books and what I’ve been reading lately. By the time this goes out, I will be happily snuggled into my new premises in London, (yes, I know I said it would never happen, but what do I know? If a glance through early 1990’s photos at my pre-teen dress sense has taught us little else, it is that I clearly know nothing…), and will hopefully have had to write some fresh, new blog posts with which to entertain you.
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(I originally wrote that last sentence as “…fresh, new blog posts to entertain you with,” but was reminded of the fantastic and probably apocryphal quote from infamous grammatical pedant Winston Churchill which I plan to use on my tours: “Ending sentences with a preposition is something up with which I will not put”!)
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This post was written after I managed to sneak into this eagerly-awaited talk which had been sold out for weeks and left a lot of people in a returns queue very disappointed. (The joys of volunteering at book events and, more importantly, doing so efficiently enough that people don’t mind giving you tickets to the events!). If I’m being honest, it wasn’t eagerly-awaited by me as I don’t think I’d heard of Lanzmann before this night, having never seen Shoah, (I’ve set aside an entire week to tackle this monumental task in the coming months with my fellow culturnaut Tris). The subsequent article was written as a diligent event lapdog: it’s not so much untrue as focused on the positives, in an event which was so slow at some points time felt like it was going backwards, but I guess that is the risk you run when interviewing an octogenarian, (and a fairly cranky, French octogenarian at that).
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The book, (signed, of course), is on the ‘Signed Books => To Be Read’ shelf, (after Mum gave up a few chapters in due to it being ‘too gruesome’: not sure what she was expecting from a memoir based predominantly around the Holocaust…). The review will be up here as soon as I get round to reading it…in a year or three. For now, I have four days to decide which 30 or 40 books most deserve to be brought along to The Big Shitty, (as it’s known in Japlish): I guess it says a lot about me that this act of literary triage is something I’ve been looking forward to for weeks.
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     Claude Lanzmann talks at Jewish Book Week 2012
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The 400 people who managed to get tickets to see Alan Yentob interview Claude Lanzmann at Jewish Book Week on 21st February were treated to a rare experience. The event was so popular the venue could probably have sold out twice, as the octogenarian spent ninety minutes discussing his fascinating life whilst promoting his autobiography, the fascinatingly titled ‘The Patagonian Hare,’ available exclusively on the evening before its official UK publication.
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Lanzmann is probably best known for his nine-hour epic documentary ‘Shoah,’ a series of interviews with holocaust survivors and perpetrators. One of the most lauded films of the 20th century was made, he says, simply by finding a good film crew and going out and doing it. “I never studied,” he repeated several times, showing an incredible learning curve.
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In a talk which veered around according to Lanzmann’s whims, however, the film was not the sole focus. Some interviews can seem almost scripted, the sense being that interviewer and interviewee have planned their questions and answers thoroughly in the green room beforehand: this was clearly not the case here as Yentob, a self-confessed fan, seemed as interested and surprised at the directions Lanzmann’s thoughts went as the audience, (as well as suffering the wrath of the French ex-teacher at times for interrupting). Like the autobiography itself, the evening jumped from decade to decade and topic to topic, covering many aspects of his exceptional life.
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From his childhood, when he joined the Communist Resistance in France to fight the Nazis, Lanzmann reveals how his choice of resistance group was purely through chance, not political belief: they were merely the first to offer him a rôle to play, unaware that his father was playing a similar and equally secret one. He is quick to reject the mantle of hero, however: others were willing to die for their beliefs, whereas he admits, slipping into French to find ‘le mot juste’ as he did at times throughout the evening, that he himself was merely ‘inconscient’: unaware, oblivious to the true dangers he was facing, a starkly honest admission.
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Echoing a speaker from an earlier event that evening, Bernard Wasserstein, Lanzmann attacked assimilation as being ‘a cultural crime’ when referring to Jews in France, specifically his own, non-practicing family as he discussed his upbringing; the title of his autobiography is revealed to derive from a love of the sounds of the words ‘Caledonia’ and ‘Patagonia,’ (complete with word-perfect recollection of a poem learned in childhood), and the life-affirming appearance of a hare whilst on a journey across the South American province; and we learned that Jean-Paul Sartre’s assertion that Jews were a creation of anti-Semites led to some friction between the two intellectual heavyweights.
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Glimpses were even afforded into the social triangle which formed between Lanzmann, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, (whom, he stressed emphatically and much to the audience’s amusement, he ‘never shared’ with Sartre), with a fascinating anecdote covering the trio’s dining arrangements whilst on holiday in St.Tropez.
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For all those who couldn’t make it to the evening with the director, author, editor (of the Sartre and de Beauvoir-founded journal ‘Les Temps Modernes’), and all-round inspiration, look out for the video of the event on the Jewish Book Week website. Many who were there will no doubt be doing so, too.
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Posted by on April 8, 2012 in BOOKS

 

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3 responses to “21. O Patagonia…

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