From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
As used today the term is broadly descriptive rather than critically rigorous. The term was initially used by German art critic Franz Roh to describe painting which demonstrated an altered reality, but was later used by Venezuelan Arturo Uslar-Pietri to describe the work of certain Latin American writers. The Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier (a friend of Uslar-Pietri) used the term "lo real maravilloso" (roughly "marvelous reality") in the prologue to his novel The Kingdom of this World (1949). Carpentier's conception was of a kind of heightened reality in which elements of the miraculous could appear while seeming natural and unforced. Carpentier's work was a key influence on the writers of the Latin American "boom" that emerged in the 1960s.
The term magic realism was first used by the German art critic Franz Roh to refer to a painterly style also known as Neue Sachlichkeit. It was later used to describe the unusual realism by American painters such as Ivan Albright, Paul Cadmus, George Tooker and other artists during the 1940s and 1950s. It should be noted though that unlike the term's use in literature, in art it is describing paintings that do not include anything fantastic or magical, but are rather extremely realistic and often mundane.
The term was first revived and applied to the realm of fiction as a combination of the fantastic and the realistic in the 1960s by a Venezuelan essayist and critic Arturo Uslar-Pietri, who applied it to a very specific South American genre, influenced by the blend of realism and fantasy in Mário de Andrade's influential 1928 novel Macunaíma.Template:Fact However, the term itself came in vogue only after Nobel prize winner Miguel Ángel Asturias used the expression to define the style of his novels.Template:Fact The term gained popularity with the rise of the Latin American Boom, most notably Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Rulfo, Carlos Fuentes, and Gabriel García Márquez, who confessed, "My most important problem was destroying the lines of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic." More recent Latin American authors in this vein include Isabel Allende and Laura Esquivel.
Subsequently, the term has been applied both to earlier writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Mikhail Bulgakov, or Ernst Junger and to postcolonial and other contemporary writers from Salman Rushdie and Gunter Grass to Angela Carter
In literature, Magic Realism often combines the external factors of human existence with the internal ones: it is a fusion between scientific physical reality and psychological human reality; it incorporates aspects of human existence such as thoughts, emotions, dreams and imagination. Through this amalgamation, Magic Realism can be more exact in depicting human reality. Nonetheless, a certain person's or group's perception of reality may differ from another's: to the insider, a given magical-realist text can be a relatively accurate depiction of her or his reality; the same text, however, may appear rather unreal to the outsider, whose perception of reality may differ greatly from the insider's. Despite this, the reader (often the outsider) can bridge the gap by momentarily suppressing her or his perception of reality and adopting the reality presented in the text. This, in turn, equips the reader with the necessary tools required to decode the text. This can be described as the 'evolved duties' of the reader. In their works, magical-realists describe a specific concept of reality: to them, culture, history and geography are thus of great concern. In fact, Magical Realism can be considered as one of the literary manifestations of 'the other great tradition'. In the twentieth century, the ideal of homogenisation caused societal dissonances within the world's communities and social groups and between them to reach fever pitch: thus the blood-stained history of the twentieth century. In the aftermath of conflict, some have tried to assimilate history in order to aid the healing process of a particular community or social group and to re-define their identity. In literature, this manifested itself as Magic Realism, a dissident and dialectical discourse strategy which that can provide a more accurate representation of human reality as a whole. Indeed, Magic Realism can also be seen as the story of the 'other'.
Magic Realism is a world-wide phenomenon and, because of this very fact, the geographical, historical and cultural contexts in which it has evolved are extremely diverse. This has given rise to an abundance in discourse strategies. Nevertheless, six features of the many that have been associated with Magic Realism tend to be found in all magical-realist texts: the perspective is that of 'the Other'; the duties of the readers, in decoding the texts, have 'evolved'; the setting has a relatively specific historical, geographical and cultural context; reality is presented as the human experience of the universe, and elements such as dream and imagination are consequently present; a free, post-structuralist style of writing; and, finally, the inexplicable, in its many shapes and forms, plays a major role in all magical-realist texts.
Some well-known and more obscure authors of Magical Realism and their works:
- Allende, Isabel - The House of Spirits
- Asutrias, Miguel Ángel - Men of Maize
- ben Jelloun, Tahar - The Sand Child
- Bulgakov, Mikhail - The Master and Margarita
- Calvino, Italo - Invisible Cities
- Carey, Peter - Illywhacker
- Carpentier, Alejo - The Kingdom of this World
- Carter, Angela - The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
- Cortázar, Julio - Rayuela (Hopscotch)
- De Bernières, Louis - The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts
- Donoso, José - El obsceno pájaro de la noche (The Obscene Bird of the Night)
- Esquivel, Laura - Like Water for Chocolate
- Faulkner, William - Absalom, Absalom!
- Fløgstad, Kjartan - Grand Manila
- Frame, Janet - The Carpathians
- Fuentes, Carlos - La muerte de Artemio Cruz (The Death of Artemio Cruz)
- García Márquez, Gabriel - One Hundred Years of Solitude
- Grass, Günter - The Tin Drum
- Harris, Joanne - Chocolat
- Helprin, Mark - Winter's Tale
- Inoue, Yasushi - Kirikirijin (The People of Kirikiri)
- Kawabata, Yasunari - Kataude (One Arm)
- Kenzaburo, Oe - Dojidai gemu (The Game of Contemporaneity)
- Kobo, Abe - The Man Who Turned Into A Stick (Bo ni natta otoko)
- Kundera, Milan - The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
- Kutlar, Onat - Ishak (Isaac)
- Lampo, Hubert - De komst van Joachim Stiller (The coming of Joachim Stiller)
- Morrison, Toni - Beloved (novel)
- Murakami, Haruki - Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
- Okri, Ben - The Famished Road
- Ondaatje, Michael - In the Skin of a Lion
- Robinson, Eden - Monkey Beach
- Rulfo, Juan - Pedro Páramo
- Rushdie, Salman - Midnight's Children
- Samargo, José - The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis
- Süskind, Patrick - Perfume (novel)
- Tomas Saulius Kondrotas - The Sight of the Grass-snake
- Updike, John - The Witches of Eastwick
- Winterson, Jeanette - Sexing the Cherry
- Things Invisible to See: Gay and Lesbian Tales of Magic Realism. Short-story compliation, edited by Lawrence Schimel: Martha Soukup, Lawrence Schimel, Nancy Springer, Rand B. Lee, Sarah Schulman, Kerry Bashford, Brian M. Thomsen, Laura Antoniou, Leslea Newman and Michelle Sagara West.
Magical-realist writers use many devices, or 'special effects' to accommodate a particular discourse strategy. Although many of these tend to recur in the writings of authors with very different backgrounds, it is possible to isolate the ones which all magical-realist texts tend to have in common.
The most common features:
As regards the author-text-reader relationships the following is commonplace: the author's perspective is that of 'the Other'; the narrator(s) is(are) idiosyncratic; the 'evolved duties' of the reader require her or him to put their perception of reality on hold in order to decode the text. Common themes are: family history, relationships and family life; life, death and the afterlife, spiritism; multiple realities (see multiverse); social and natural catastrophes or cataclysms.
The characters are often idiosyncratic, posses unusual or symbolic names and are heavily characterised. The plot often is: not linear, labyrinthine, circular or spiral-like, intertwined, anachronic or sporadically chaotic; sometimes parallel, double, co-existing or multiple plots or subplots occur. The setting usually refers to a rather specific historical, geographical and cultural context. There often is a peculiar representation of time and space: time-shifts between co-existing plots, flash-backs and flash-forwards; the creation of a 'mythical' place, such as the archetypal Macondo.
There is a miscellaneous use of myths, legends, fairy-tales, the oral tradition of storytelling, folkloric customs, magic, the obscure, astrology, mythology, spirituality and, naturally, religion. Elements of the human experience of reality are often emphasised: dream, imagination, sentience, feelings and emotions, the subconscious and the spiritual. There is often a lack of definition between humour and disgust: on the one hand there is surprise, the absurd and the comical and on the other shock, the grotesque and the macabre.
The free, post-structuralist style of magical-realist writing characterises itself by: unconventional spelling, punctuation and collocation, a use of regionalisms, surrealist and expressionist descriptions, and a variety of genres and registers. Some of the most commonly used rhetorical devices are: synaesthesia and descriptions involving the five senses; an isolation or meticulous detailed description of objects; original metaphors and similes, frequent juxtaposition; hyperbole and litotes; repetition; symbolism; sardonic irony, oxymorons and paradoxes; and antropomorphism.
Of course, what is most striking to the reader often is the 'inexplicable': coincidences, serendipity, consequentialism, and poetic justice or divine justice; supernatural or wondrous powers, abilities, beings or events; prophecies, omens and premonitions.
Magic realism is a style of visual art which brings extreme realism to the depiction of mundane subject matter.
In painting, magical realism is a term often used interchangeably with post-expressionism. In 1925, art critic Franz Roh used this term to describe painting which signaled a return to realism after expressionism's extravagances which sought to redesign objects to reveal the spirits of those objects. Magical realism, according to Roh, instead faithfully portrays the exterior of an object, and in doing so the spirit, or magic, of the object reveals itself.
Other important aspects of magical realist painting, according to Roh, include:
- A return to mundane subjects as opposed to fantastical ones.
- A juxtaposition of forward movement with a sense of distance, as opposed to Expressionism's tendency to foreshorten the subject.
- A use of miniature details even in expansive paintings, such as large landscapes.
Artists associated with magic realism include:
- Ivan Albright
- Paul Cadmus
- Alex Colville
- Antonio Donghi
- Paul Delvaux
- Gian Paolo Dulbecco
- Philip Evergood
- Rob Gonsalves
- Walter Gramatté
- Paula Rego
- Pedro Ipiña
- Mike Mignola
- Michael Parkes
- Wim Schumacher
- George Tooker
- Carel Willink
- Chris Van Allsburg
Though the term itself is not particularly well established within film theory, many films can be said to follow the conventions of magical realism.
For example, in Tim Burton's Big Fish, unlike earlier, more fantastical works, the entire story takes place fairly grounded in reality with the memories and stories including magical elements that, most of the time, seem semi-plausible.
In film, like with the rest of the movement, magical realism has strong ties with expressionism and could be said to have developed out of it as a recent development influenced by older, German Expressionism.
However, as mentioned above - within film, the genre is not well established and therefore it is hard to come up with references to particular films that follow the conventions particularly strictly. For this reasons one must draw tenuous comparisons, rather than solid conclusions magical realisms place in film theory.
Two films that have been called magical realist works are Daughters of the Dust and Antonia's Line. Rooted in both historical detail and myth, these films incorporate symbolic rituals, legends, and folklore. They include multiple standpoints, weaving together different ways of seeing with the camera as well as narrative voice over. These are fluid films, where the real and the magical meet, and the narrative allows for unexpected moments to occur at almost any time without the story becoming full-on fantasy. Like many novels in the magical realist tradition, these films have political and post-colonial themes.
Other films that have been called magical realist works include Pan's Labyrinth, Urchin (film), Kala (film), Orphée, The Night of the Hunter, Amélie, An Autumn's Tale, The Science of Sleep, Apocalypse Oz, El Norte, and the The Milagro Beanfield War.
Magic realism has very recently become a little known but rapidly developing genre of music. Music of this genre is regarded as particularly expressive of its creator's emotions through the use of modern instruments as opposed to traditional instruments. In some cases "instruments", as they are traditionally thought of, are not used at all, with the musician fusing certain noises with others (such as the gentle rustling of leaves with the harsh noise of a kettle whistling) to create a surreal listening experience that is deeply emotive. Juxtaposition of sounds, like in the example mentioned above, is a common trait of magically realistic music.
Relation to other genres and movements
Magical realism often overlaps or is confused with other genres and movements.
- Postmodernism – Magical realism is often considered a subcategory of postmodern fiction due to its challenge to hegemony and its use of techniques similar to those of other postmodernist texts, such as the distortion of time.
- Surrealism – Many early magical realists such as Alejo Carpentier and Miguel Ángel Asturias studied with the surrealists, and surrealism, as an international movement, influenced many aspects of Latin American art. Surrealists, however, try to discover and portray that which is above or superior to the “real” through the use of techniques such as automatic writing, hypnosis, and dreaming. Magical realists, on the other hand, portray the real world itself as having marvelous aspects inherent in it.
- Fantasy and Science fiction – Fantasy and science fiction novels, using strict definitions, portray an alternate universe with its own set of rules and characteristics, however similar this universe is to our world, or experiment with our world by suggesting how a new technology or political system might affect our society. Magical realism, however, portrays the real world minus any definite set of rules. Some critics who define the genres more broadly include magic realism as one of the fantasy genres. The fantasy author Gene Wolfe sardonically defined magic realism as "fantasy written in Spanish."
- Slipstream – Slipstream describes fiction that falls between "mainstream" literature and the fantasy and science fiction genres (the name itself is wordplay on the term "mainstream"). Where science fiction and fantasy novels treat their fantastical elements as being very literal, real elements of their world, slipstream usually explores these elements in a more surreal fashion, and delves more into their satirical or metaphorical importance. Compared to magical realism the fantastical elements of slipstream also tend to be more extravagant, and their existence is usually more jarring to their comparative realities than that which is found in magic realism.
- McOndo – McOndo is a literary movement favored by several younger Latin American writers. It seeks to distance itself from magic realism and the stereotypes about Latin literature that some McOndo writers argue were perpetuated by magic realists and magic realism.
- Bizarro fiction - Bizarro is a genre of transgressive, often surreal literature. Bizarro literature encompasses many writing styles, including magic realism.
- Latin American Boom
- marvellous realism (lo real maravilloso, réalisme merveilleux)
- Fantastic realism
- Hysterical realism
- Postmodern literature
- Chanady, Amaryll. Magical Realism and the Fantastic: Resolved Versus Unresolved Antinomy, New York et Londres, Garland Publishing, 1985.
- Bowers, Maggie. Magical Realism, Routledge, 2004. ISBN 0-415-26854-0
- Carpentier, Alejo. (1993 Fall). "Prologue to The Kingdom of This World," Trans. Alfred Mac Adam. Latin American Literature and Arts (47) : 28-31.
- Schroeder, Shannin. Rediscovering Magical Realism in the Americas, Praeger, 2004. ISBN 0-275-98049-9
- Zamora, Lois Parkinson and Wendy B. Faris, eds. Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, Duke University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8223-1611-0