SUMMARY:Like millions around the world, people in the Middle East have found in laughter a relief valve for the fears, speculations, and tensions that the COVID-19 pandemic generates. From literature and diaries to talk shows and blogs, writers and cultural producers have turned to humor, mobilizing its multifaceted effects and its unique abilities to probe the intricate relationship between the aesthetic, the social, and the political. As they engage humor during a global pandemic, cultural producers in the Middle East build on a long history, both in literature and popular culture, in which humor has been employed not only for its liberating and emancipatory capacities, but also for its disciplinary, didactic, and ideological possibilities.
Approaching humor as a diverse phenomenon that is deeply engrossed in texts and contexts, with a dynamic relationship to group values, social identity, and cultural traditions, this panel considers the complex ways in which, and the ends to which, humor has been employed in times of distress in Middle Eastern literature and popular culture. Taking literary and artistic responses to the current pandemic as a point of departure without limiting ourselves to the present moment, the papers presented in this panel consider not only humorous genres but also instances and representations of humor in works engaging conflicts, trauma, displacement, and ongoing oppressive practices. Our panelists examine the ways in which forms of humor are mobilized to negotiate, subvert, or sustain various paradigms of structural oppression. They investigate the roles humor plays in moments of individual and collective displacement and identity erasure, as well as the effects intertextual humor have on meaning making and remaking. In so doing, they foreground a pluralistic approach to questions about the forms, meanings, and receptions of humor in dark times, as well as its function as a vehicle through which various genres, mediums, cultural traditions, and historical moments intersect.
DISCIPLINES:Lit; Lit; Lit; Lit