Friday Finds: Mazen Maarouf on Humor and Violence

Mazen Maarouf, Suleiman Addonia, and Alexandra Buchler had a remote conversation for the European Festival for the Short Story which happened not in person, but digitally:

A screenshot from the talk.

The conversation is now on YouTube, and, among other things, Palestinian-Icelandic author Mazen Maarouf — whose short-story collection Jokes for the Gunmen was longlisted for the Man Booker International in Jonathan Wright’s translation — talked about the connection between humor and violence in his short stories, set during a simultaneously mythical and real Beirut, during Lebanon’s civil war.

Maarouf said:

“Humor and violence were walking side-by-side in my neighborhood. Everybody could be violent and everybody is sarcastic, everybody is creative — in making jokes about other people, and also humor was used as a way to manipulate other people, because it was used as a tool to control and take over. But at the same time, in the most desperate times in Lebanon, I remember in the shelter, under bombing, some people would still joke, or make fun of each other. At the very last minute, they would think, Okay, I’m going to die in a minute, but I’m going to make fun of this guy because I really don’t like him.

“So I think I inherited this, or I absorbed this without knowing. So when I was writing these stories, or imagining this neighborhood, I think it came. But I think humor also provides this unlimited freedom for a second, because it breaks through. The fear is very submissive and a manipulative feeling, and it makes you unable to think, unable to judge, and then comes humor that breaks through and makes you able to imagine for a few seconds, and to be free, and to not acknowledge what’s going on. I think it provides a safe haven for me when I’m writing, instead of crying, or going in a tragic mood. I can make fun of this because I think it’s really painful.”

Watch the whole conversation: