The magic realism is a literary school emerged in the early twentieth century. It is also known as fantastic realism or wonderful realism, the latter being used mainly in Spanish. It is considered the Latin American response to European fantastic literature.
Magical realism is a style of fiction and literary genre that paints a realistic view of the modern world while also adding magical elements. It is sometimes called fabulism, in reference to the conventions of fables, myths, and allegory. “Magical realism”, perhaps the most common term, often refers to fiction and literature in particular, with magic or the supernatural presented in an otherwise real-world or mundane setting, commonly seen in novels and dramatic performances. It is considered a subgenre of fantasy.
Magical realism developed strongly in the 1960s and 1970s, as a product of two views that coexisted in Hispanic America and also in Brazil: the culture of technology and the culture of superstition. It also emerged as a form of reaction, through the word, against the dictatorial regimes of this period.
Despite seemingly inattentive to reality, magical realism shares some characteristics with epic realism, such as the intention of giving internal verisimilitude to the fantastic and the unreal, thus differentiating itself from the nihilistic attitude originally assumed by the avant-garde of the early 20th century, such as the surrealism.
The travels in Europe of North or South American writers and the scholarship of others such as Jorge Luis Borges allow the import of the concept across the Atlantic. Thanks to the Spanish translation in 1928 of Roh’s book, the appellation ” realismo mágico ” became progressively popular first in Latin American literary circles in association with the 1967 Nobel Prize winner Miguel Ángel Asturias who used this term to define his work, then to Arturo Uslar Pietri or Julio Cortázar and, from 1955, among professors of Hispanic literature in American universities. The publication of the short story collections The Aleph and Fictions of Borges also facilitates the worldwide distribution of this expression in the press and readers. Meanwhile, the launch of the competing notion of ” real maravilloso ” in 1948 by the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier in the prologue of his novel The Kingdom of this world introduces a confusion which still feeds the Spanish-speaking critical discourse today and arouses the creation of the term ” wonderful realism »In Caribbean and Brazilian literary circles.
If the tendency to mix real and wonderful has been present for a long time and in all places in painting (Jérôme Bosch, El Greco, Pierre Paul Rubens, Francisco de Goya) as in literature (François Rabelais, Voltaire, Laurence Sterne or, more recently, Vladimir Nabokov, Mikhaïl Boulgakov and Günter Grass), it is in the South American narrative and poetic production of the 1960s and 1970s that magical realism finds a global influence, to the point of being associated only with it. AlbanianIsmail Kadare deplores this critical shortcut: “Latin Americans did not invent magic realism.
It has always existed in literature. One cannot imagine world literature without this dreamlike dimension. Can you explain the Divine Comedy of Dante, his visions of hell without appeal to magic realism? Do we not find the same phenomenon in Faust, in The Tempest, in Don Quixote, in the Greek tragedies where heaven and earth are always intertwined? I am amazed at the naivety of academics who believe that magic realism is specific to the imagination of the xx th century. “. Some academics, such as Seymour Menton, note for their part a form of secular magical realism intraditionalJewish or Yiddish literature ofwhich Isaac Bashevis Singer, André Schwartz-Bart and certain American Jewish authors are the heirs and which would have largely influenced Gabriel García Márquez for the writing of Hundred Years of Solitude.
Wonderful or magical realism generally aims to capture an established reality through the daily painting of Latin American or Caribbean populations to reveal all its fabulous substance, sometimes stretched to the rank of myth. They offer a vision of reality renewed and enlarged by the share of strangeness, irrationality, oddity or mystery that existence and the human spirit conceal. The idea is that the imagination is part of reality and that the border between the two must be abolished. The traditional notion of “realism” is overcome by the intervention of the paranormal or the supernatural in the work without its status being questioned by the plot and the characters. Spells, witchcraft, spells, miracles, events which are not comprehensible to the reader or communication with higher beings (gods, spirits etc.) go without saying. This process goes against thefantastic literature, characterized by the problematic, agonizing and ambiguous intrusion of the irrational into reality. Likewise, he departs from the manifest transgression of reality as practiced by surrealism and moves away from marvelous literature, like fantasy, in which magic is part of a distant world, out of all likelihood.
On the other hand, the question which continues to divide minds in the debates around magic realism and “real” or “marvelous realism” is that of the nature and role of the magical, marvelous and mythological elements identified in the texts and works. of art concerned. For some, these elements are authentic characteristics of the culture from which the work comes, such as indigenous mysticism, faith in magic and miracles among the indigenous populations as opposed to the rationalism attributed to Western civilization. This literary approach linked to costumbrismois purely objective insofar as “realism” includes the faithful testimony of the belief in the supernatural as a daily way of life of the tribes or peoples depicted. For the others, these are particular aesthetic aspects, subjective and inherent in the psyche of an author who questions, in the manner of modernist and postmodern literature, the concepts of “fiction”, “meaning” and ” truth ”. It is therefore a question of playing with the codes and artifices of the novel whose authority seems to be undermined.
We find in magical and marvelous realists, beyond cultural specificities, the major influence of certain Western authors like Nicolas Gogol, Fiodor Dostoïevski, Franz Kafka and William Faulkner, several novels of which are related to the Southern Gothic.
At the beginning of xxi th century the use of the respective terms “magical realism” and “magic realism” is complex. The first benefits from the wonderful sounding North American universities where Latin American literature and world literature anglophone meet within cultural studies, while the second is confined to Francophone communities Antilles and Canada. The field of study for general and comparative literature is fertile, especially as the concept knows several variants within world literature. When the Swedish Academyawards such as the Nobel Prize for Literature to Mo Yan, in 2012, she relates her work in ” hallucinatory realism, relatively similar to magic realism, which is paroxysmal expression in Chinese literary movement called ” Quest roots ». In 2013, Anglo-Saxon critics spoke of “allegorical realism” to characterize the novel A childhood of Jesus by South African JM Coetzee, most of whose texts relate to a symbolist, disembodied and post-modern vein.mixing everyday banality, political reality, myth, absurdity and delirium.
In Europe, we associate certain works by authors like Ernst Jünger, Johan Daisne, Hubert Lampo, Dino Buzzati, Julien Gracq, Italo Calvino or Milan Kundera, with magical realism as it was theorized in 1925 by Roh and, from 1926, by Massimo Bontempelli (realismo magico ou realismo metafisico). Their works make magic realism a state of mind that opens the way to an intellectual experience on the perception of a multiple reality, below and beyond things. They do not in any case follow the narrative mode integrating supernatural manifestations (levitation, flying carpets, stopping time, birth of children with an animal tail etc.) in a realistic context, perceived as normal, even banal by the characters in the playful way popularized by García Márquez in his novel One hundred years of solitude (1967) and in his short stories such as The Incredible and Sad History of the candid Eréndira and his diabolical grandmother (1972), with the Peruvian novelist Manuel Scorzain the five volumes of its romantic cycle of social and neo- indigenist protest (following José María Arguedas) ː The Silent War (1970s), mixing humor and tragedy, facetious or picaresque anecdotes, funny or sarcastic and fantastic s’ associating in a cry of revolt, a little like at García Márquez.
On the other hand, this penchant for European magic realism is already evident in La Métamorphose by Franz Kafka (1915), as in much of Marcel Aymé’s narrative production (La Jument verte 1933, Les Contes du chat perché published between 1934 and 1946 with their animals who only talk to little girls Delphine and Marinette in a context of farmer realism embodied by their parents, Le Passe-muraille collection of short stories from 1943, and La Vouivre, 1941) and in Le Tambour de Günter Grass (1959). It is also in this vein that Les Enfants de minuit (1981) and Les Versets sataniques (1988) by Salman Rushdie, Song of Salomon (1977) and Beloved (1987) by Toni Morrison or Le Château blanc (1985)) and My name is Rouge (2000) by Orhan Pamuk.
Characteristics of magical realism
The following aspects are present in many stories of magical realism, but not all. Likewise, works belonging to other schools may have some characteristics among those listed here:
Content of magical or fantastic elements perceived as part of “normality” by the characters;
Presence of magic elements sometimes intuitive, but never explained;
Presence of the sensorial as part of the perception of reality;
Reality of fantastic events, although some have no explanation or are unlikely to happen;
Perception of time as cyclical rather than linear, following traditions dissociated from modern rationality;
Distortion of time so that the present is repeated or resembles the past;
Transformation of the common and the everyday into an experience that includes supernatural or fantastic experiences;
Stylistic concern, participating in an aesthetic vision of life that does not exclude the experience of the real.
Magical realism portrays fantastical events in an otherwise realistic tone. It brings fables, folk tales, and myths into contemporary social relevance. Fantasy traits given to characters, such as levitation, telepathy, and telekinesis, help to encompass modern political realities that can be phantasmagorical.
The existence of fantasy elements in the real world provides the basis for magical realism. Writers do not invent new worlds but reveal the magical in this world, as was done by Gabriel García Márquez, who wrote the seminal work One Hundred Years of Solitude. In the world of magical realism, the supernatural realm blends with the natural, familiar world.
Authorial reticence is the “deliberate withholding of information and explanations about the disconcerting fictitious world”. The narrator is indifferent, a characteristic enhanced by this absence of explanation of fantastic events; the story proceeds with “logical precision” as if nothing extraordinary had taken place. Magical events are presented as ordinary occurrences; therefore, the reader accepts the marvelous as normal and common. Explaining the supernatural world or presenting it as extraordinary would immediately reduce its legitimacy relative to the natural world. The reader would consequently disregard the supernatural as false testimony.
In his essay “The Baroque and the Marvelous Real”, Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier defined the baroque by a lack of emptiness, a departure from structure or rules, and an “extraordinary” abundance (plenitude) of disorienting detail (citing Mondrian as its opposite). From this angle, Carpentier views the baroque as a layering of elements, which translates easily into the post-colonial or transcultural Latin American atmosphere that he emphasizes in The Kingdom of this World. “America, a continent of symbiosis, mutations… mestizaje, engenders the baroque”, made explicit by elaborate Aztec temples and associative Nahuatl poetry. These mixing ethnicities grow together with the American baroque; the space in between is where the “marvelous real” is seen. Marvelous: not meaning beautiful and pleasant, but extraordinary, strange, and excellent. Such a complex system of layering—encompassed in the Latin American “boom” novel, such as One Hundred Years of Solitude—aims towards “translating the scope of America”.
Magical realism plot lines characteristically employ hybrid multiple planes of reality that take place in “inharmonious arenas of such opposites as urban and rural, and Western and indigenous”.
This trait centers on the reader’s role in literature. With its multiple realities and specific reference to the reader’s world, it explores the impact fiction has on reality, reality on fiction and the reader’s role in between; as such, it is well suited for drawing attention to social or political criticism. Furthermore, it is the tool paramount in the execution of a related and major magic realist phenomenon: textualization. This term defines two conditions—first, where a fictitious reader enters the story within a story while reading it, making them self-conscious of their status as readers—and secondly, where the textual world enters into the reader’s (real) world. Good sense would negate this process but “magic” is the flexible convention that allows it.
Heightened awareness of mystery
Something that most critics agree on is this major theme. Magic realist literature tends to read at an intensified level. Taking One Hundred Years of Solitude, the reader must let go of pre-existing ties to conventional exposition, plot advancement, linear time structure, scientific reason, etc., to strive for a state of heightened awareness of life’s connectedness or hidden meanings. Luis Leal articulates this feeling as “to seize the mystery that breathes behind things”, and supports the claim by saying a writer must heighten his senses to the point of “estado limite” (translated as “limit state” or “extreme”) in order to realize all levels of reality, most importantly that of mystery.
Magic realism contains an “implicit criticism of society, particularly the elite”. Especially with regard to Latin America, the style breaks from the inarguable discourse of “privileged centers of literature”. This is a mode primarily about and for “ex-centrics”: the geographically, socially and economically marginalized. Therefore, magic realism’s “alternative world” works to correct the reality of established viewpoints (like realism, naturalism, modernism). Magic realist texts, under this logic, are subversive texts, revolutionary against socially dominant forces. Alternatively, the socially dominant may implement magical realism to disassociate themselves from their “power discourse”. Theo D’haen calls this change in perspective “decentering”.
In his review of Gabriel Garcia Márquez’ novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Salman Rushdie argues that the formal experiment of magic realism allows political ideas to be expressed in ways that might not be possible through more established literary forms:
“El realismo mágico”, magic realism, at least as practised by Márquez, is a development out of Surrealism that expresses a genuinely “Third World” consciousness. It deals with what Naipaul has called “half-made” societies, in which the impossibly old struggles against the appallingly new, in which public corruptions and private anguishes are somehow more garish and extreme than they ever get in the so-called “North”, where centuries of wealth and power have formed thick layers over the surface of what’s really going on. In the works of Márquez, as in the world he describes, impossible things happen constantly, and quite plausibly, out in the open under the midday sun.
Literary magic realism originated in Latin America. Writers often traveled between their home country and European cultural hubs, such as Paris or Berlin, and were influenced by the art movement of the time. Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier and Venezuelan Arturo Uslar-Pietri, for example, were strongly influenced by European artistic movements, such as Surrealism, during their stays in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. One major event that linked painterly and literary magic realisms was the translation and publication of Franz Roh’s book into Spanish by Spain’s Revista de Occidente in 1927, headed by major literary figure José Ortega y Gasset. “Within a year, Magic Realism was being applied to the prose of European authors in the literary circles of Buenos Aires.”:61 Jorge Luis Borges inspired and encouraged other Latin American writers in the development of magical realism – particularly with his first magical realist publication, Historia universal de la infamia in 1935. Between 1940 and 1950, magical realism in Latin America reached its peak, with prominent writers appearing mainly in Argentina.
The theoretical implications of visual art’s magic realism greatly influenced European and Latin American literature. Italian Massimo Bontempelli, for instance, claimed that literature could be a means to create a collective consciousness by “opening new mythical and magical perspectives on reality”, and used his writings to inspire an Italian nation governed by Fascism. Pietri was closely associated with Roh’s form of magic realism and knew Bontempelli in Paris. Rather than follow Carpentier’s developing versions of “the (Latin) American marvelous real”, Uslar-Pietri’s writings emphasize “the mystery of human living amongst the reality of life”. He believed magic realism was “a continuation of the vanguardia [or avant-garde] modernist experimental writings of Latin America”.
Major topics in criticism
Ambiguities in definition
Mexican critic Luis Leal summed up the difficulty of defining magical realism by writing, “If you can explain it, then it’s not magical realism.” He offers his own definition by writing, “Without thinking of the concept of magical realism, each writer gives expression to a reality he observes in the people. To me, magical realism is an attitude on the part of the characters in the novel toward the world,” or toward nature.
Leal and Guenther both quote Arturo Uslar-Pietri, who described “man as a mystery surrounded by realistic facts. A poetic prediction or a poetic denial of reality. What for lack of another name could be called a magical realism.” It is worth noting that Pietri, in presenting his term for this literary tendency, always kept its definition open by means of a language more lyrical and evocative than strictly critical, as in this 1948 statement. When academic critics attempted to define magical realism with scholarly exactitude, they discovered that it was more powerful than precise. Critics, frustrated by their inability to pin down the term’s meaning, have urged its complete abandonment. Yet in Pietri’s vague, ample usage, magical realism was wildly successful in summarizing for many readers their perception of much Latin American fiction; this fact suggests that the term has its uses, so long as it is not expected to function with the precision expected of technical, scholarly terminology.
Western and native worldviews
The critical perspective towards magical realism as a conflict between reality and abnormality stems from the Western reader’s disassociation with mythology, a root of magical realism more easily understood by non-Western cultures. Western confusion regarding magical realism is due to the “conception of the real” created in a magical realist text: rather than explain reality using natural or physical laws, as in typical Western texts, magical realist texts create a reality “in which the relation between incidents, characters, and setting could not be based upon or justified by their status within the physical world or their normal acceptance by bourgeois mentality”.
Guatemalan author William Spindler’s article, “Magic realism: a typology”, suggests that there are three kinds of magic realism, which however are by no means incompatible: European “metaphysical” magic realism, with its sense of estrangement and the uncanny, exemplified by Kafka’s fiction; “ontological” magical realism, characterized by “matter-of-factness” in relating “inexplicable” events; and “anthropological” magical realism, where a Native worldview is set side by side with the Western rational worldview. Spindler’s typology of magic realism has been criticized as “an act of categorization which seeks to define Magic Realism as a culturally specific project, by identifying for his readers those (non-modern) societies where myth and magic persist and where Magic Realism might be expected to occur. There are objections to this analysis. Western rationalism models may not actually describe Western modes of thinking and it is possible to conceive of instances where both orders of knowledge are simultaneously possible.”
Lo real maravilloso
Alejo Carpentier originated the term lo real maravilloso (roughly “the marvelous real”) in the prologue to his novel The Kingdom of this World (1949); however, some debate whether he is truly a magical realist writer, or simply a precursor and source of inspiration. Maggie Bowers claims he is widely acknowledged as the originator of Latin American magical realism (as both a novelist and critic); she describes Carpentier’s conception as a kind of heightened reality where elements of the miraculous can appear while seeming natural and unforced. She suggests that by disassociating himself and his writings from Roh’s painterly magic realism, Carpentier aimed to show how—by virtue of Latin America’s varied history, geography, demography, politics, myths, and beliefs—improbable and marvelous things are made possible. Furthermore, Carpentier’s meaning is that Latin America is a land filled with marvels, and that “writing about this land automatically produces a literature of marvelous reality”.
“The marvelous” may be easily confused with magical realism, as both modes introduce supernatural events without surprising the implied author. In both, these magical events are expected and accepted as everyday occurrences. However, the marvelous world is a unidimensional world. The implied author believes that anything can happen here, as the entire world is filled with supernatural beings and situations to begin with. Fairy tales are a good example of marvelous literature. The important idea in defining the marvelous is that readers understand that this fictional world is different from the world where they live. The “marvelous” one-dimensional world differs from the bidimensional world of magical realism, as in the latter, the supernatural realm blends with the natural, familiar world (arriving at the combination of two layers of reality: bidimensional). While some use the terms magical realism and lo real maravilloso interchangeably, the key difference lies in the focus.
Critic Luis Leal attests that Carpentier was an originating pillar of the magical realist style by implicitly referring to the latter’s critical works, writing that “The existence of the marvelous real is what started magical realist literature, which some critics claim is the truly American literature”. It can consequently be drawn that Carpentier’s “lo real maravilloso” is especially distinct from magical realism by the fact that the former applies specifically to America. On that note, Lee A. Daniel categorizes critics of Carpentier into three groups: those that do not consider him a magical realist whatsoever (Ángel Flores), those that call him “a mágicorealista writer with no mention of his “lo real maravilloso” (Gómez Gil, Jean Franco, Carlos Fuentes)”, and those that use the two terms interchangeably (Fernando Alegria, Luis Leal, Emir Rodriguez Monegal).
Latin American exclusivity
Criticism that Latin America is the birthplace and cornerstone of all things magic realist is quite common. Ángel Flores does not deny that magical realism is an international commodity but articulates that it has a Hispanic birthplace, writing that “Magical realism is a continuation of the romantic realist tradition of Spanish language literature and its European counterparts.” Flores is not alone on this front; there is argument between those who see magical realism as a Latin American invention and those who see it as the global product of a postmodern world. Guenther concludes, “Conjecture aside, it is in Latin America that [magic realism] was primarily seized by literary criticism and was, through translation and literary appropriation, transformed.”:61 Magic realism has taken on an internationalization: dozens of non-Hispanic writers are categorized as such, and many believe that it truly is an international commodity.
The Hispanic Origin Theory: If considering all citations given in this article, there are issues with Guenther’s and other critic’s “Hispanic origin theory” and conclusion. By admission of this article, the term “magical realism” first came into artistic usage in 1927 by German critic Franz Roh after the 1915 publication of Franz Kafka’s novella “The Metamorphosis”, both visual and literary representations and uses of magic realism, regardless of suffix nitpicking. The Russian author Nikolai Gogol and his story “The Nose” (1835) is also a predecessor to the Hispanic origin theory. All this further called into question by Borges’ critical standing as a true magical realist versus a predecessor to magic realism and how the dates of publications between Hispanic and European works compare. Magic realism has certainly enjoyed a “golden era” in the Hispanic communities. It cannot be denied that Hispanic communities, Argentina in particular, have supported great movements and talents in magic realism.
One could validly suggest that the height of magic realism has been seen in Latin American countries, though, feminist readers might disagree. Virginia Woolf, Angela Carter, Toni Morrison and Charlotte Perkins Gilman being excellent critical challenges to this notion of Hispanic magic realism as a full and diversely aware aesthetic. Allende being a later contribution to this gender aware discourse. Frida Kahlo, of course, being important to this as well but also at a later date than Woolf and Gilman. This feminist mapping, however, is unnecessary in identifying a basic truth. Kafka and Gogol predate Borges. They may each have their own forms of magic realism, but they are each by the broader definition solidly within this article’s given identification: “a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe….”
This issue of feminist study in magic realism and its origination is an important discourse, as well. It should not be ignored. Given that magic realism, by nature of its craft, allows underrepresented and minority voices to be heard in more subtle and representational contexts, magic realism may be one of the better forms available to authors and artists who are expressing unpopular scenarios in socio-political contexts. Again, Woolf, Allende, Kahlo, Carter, Morrison and Gilman being excellent examples of diversity in gender and ethnicity in magic realism. To this end, Hispanic origin theory does not hold.
Gender diversity aside, magic realism’s foundational beginnings are much more diverse and intricate than what the Hispanic origin theory would suggest as defined in this article. Early in the article, we read a broader definition: “[magic realism is] what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe…” This “too strange to believe” standard being relative to European aesthetics—i.e. Woolf’s, Kafka’s and Gogol’s work. Later, we read another definition and seeming precedent to the Hispanic origin theory: “Magical realism is a continuation of the romantic realist tradition of Spanish language literature.”
This “continuation” is a subset of a broader magic realism definition and standard. The Hispanic “continuation” and “romantic realist tradition of Spanish language” subset certainly identifies why magic realism took root and further developed in Hispanic communities, but it does not set a precedent for ground zero origination or ownership purely in Hispanic cultures. Magic realism originated in Germany as much as it did in Latin American countries. Both can claim their more specific aesthetics, but to identify the broader term of magic realism as being Hispanic is merely a theory unsupported by the citations within this article. Perhaps it is time to identify each as its own as part of a broader and less biased umbrella.
Magic realism is a continued craft in the many countries that have contributed to it in its earliest stages. Germany being first and Latin American countries being a close second. There are certainly differences in aesthetics between European and Hispanic magic realists, but they are both equally magic realists. For this reason, the Hispanic magic realists should really have proper designation as such but not the overarching umbrella of the broader term as this article suggests.
Taking into account that, theoretically, magical realism was born in the 20th century, some have argued that connecting it to postmodernism is a logical next step. To further connect the two concepts, there are descriptive commonalities between the two that Belgian critic Theo D’haen addresses in his essay, “Magical Realism and Postmodernism”. While authors such as Günter Grass, Thomas Bernhard, Peter Handke, Italo Calvino, John Fowles, Angela Carter, John Banville, Michel Tournier, Giannina Braschi, Willem Brakman and Louis Ferron might be widely considered postmodernist, they can “just as easily be categorized… magic realist”.
A list has been compiled of characteristics one might typically attribute to postmodernism, but that also could describe literary magic realism: “self-reflexiveness, metafiction, eclecticism, redundancy, multiplicity, discontinuity, intertextuality, parody, the dissolution of character and narrative instance, the erasure of boundaries, and the destabilization of the reader”. To further connect the two, magical realism and postmodernism share the themes of post-colonial discourse, in which jumps in time and focus cannot really be explained with scientific but rather with magical reasoning; textualization (of the reader); and metafiction.
Concerning attitude toward audience, the two have, some argue, a lot in common. Magical realist works do not seek to primarily satisfy a popular audience, but instead, a sophisticated audience that must be attuned to noticing textual “subtleties”. While the postmodern writer condemns escapist literature (like fantasy, crime, ghost fiction), he/she is inextricably related to it concerning readership. There are two modes in postmodern literature: one, commercially successful pop fiction, and the other, philosophy, better suited to intellectuals. A singular reading of the first mode will render a distorted or reductive understanding of the text. The fictitious reader—such as Aureliano from 100 Years of Solitude—is the hostage used to express the writer’s anxiety on this issue of who is reading the work and to what ends, and of how the writer is forever reliant upon the needs and desires of readers (the market).
The magic realist writer with difficulty must reach a balance between saleability and intellectual integrity. Wendy Faris, talking about magic realism as a contemporary phenomenon that leaves modernism for postmodernism, says, “Magic realist fictions do seem more youthful and popular than their modernist predecessors, in that they often (though not always) cater with unidirectional story lines to our basic desire to hear what happens next. Thus they may be more clearly designed for the entertainment of readers.”
Comparison with related genres
When attempting to define what something is, it is often helpful to define what something is not. Many literary critics attempt to classify novels and literary works in only one genre, such as “romantic” or “naturalist”, not always taking into account that many works fall into multiple categories. Much discussion is cited from Maggie Ann Bowers’ book Magic(al) Realism, wherein she attempts to delimit the terms magic realism and magical realism by examining the relationships with other genres such as realism, surrealism, fantastic literature, science fiction and its African version, the animist realism.
Realism is an attempt to create a depiction of actual life; a novel does not simply rely on what it presents but how it presents it. In this way, a realist narrative acts as framework by which the reader constructs a world using the raw materials of life. Understanding both realism and magical realism within the realm of a narrative mode is key to understanding both terms. Magical realism “relies upon the presentation of real, imagined or magical elements as if they were real. It relies upon realism, but only so that it can stretch what is acceptable as real to its limits”.
Literary theorist Kornelije Kvas wrote that “what is created in magic(al) realism works is a fictional world close to reality, marked by a strong presence of the unusual and the fantastic, in order to pint out, among other things, the contradictions and shortcomings of society. The presence of the element of the fantastic does not violate the manifest coherence of a work that is characteristic of traditional realist literature. Fantastic (magical) elements appear as part of everyday reality, function as saviors of the human against the onslaught of conformism, evil and totalitarianism. Moreover, in magical realism works we find objective narration characteristic of traditional, 19th-century realism”.
As a simple point of comparison, Roh’s differentiation between expressionism and post-expressionism as described in German Art in the 20th Century, may be applied to magic realism and realism. Realism pertains to the terms “history”, “mimetic”, “familiarization”, “empiricism/logic”, “narration”, “closure-ridden/reductive naturalism”, and “rationalization/cause and effect”. On the other hand, magic realism encompasses the terms “myth/legend”, “fantastic/supplementation”, “defamiliarization”, “mysticism/magic”, “meta-narration”, “open-ended/expansive romanticism”, and “imagination/negative capability”.
Surrealism is often confused with magical realism as they both explore illogical or non-realist aspects of humanity and existence. There is a strong historical connection between Franz Roh’s concept of magic realism and surrealism, as well as the resulting influence on Carpentier’s marvelous reality; however, important differences remain. Surrealism “is most distanced from magical realism [in that] the aspects that it explores are associated not with material reality but with the imagination and the mind, and in particular it attempts to express the ‘inner life’ and psychology of humans through art”. It seeks to express the sub-conscious, unconscious, the repressed and inexpressible. Magical realism, on the other hand, rarely presents the extraordinary in the form of a dream or a psychological experience. “To do so,” Bowers writes, “takes the magic of recognizable material reality and places it into the little understood world of the imagination. The ordinariness of magical realism’s magic relies on its accepted and unquestioned position in tangible and material reality.”
“Imaginary realism” is a term first coined by Dutch painter Carel Willink as a pendant of magic realism. Where magic realism uses fantastical and unreal elements, imaginary realism strictly uses realistic elements in an imagined scene. As such, the classic painters with their biblical and mythological scenes, can be qualified as ‘imaginary realists’. With the increasing availability of photo editing software, also art photographers like Karl Hammer and others create artistic works in this genre.
Fabulism traditionally refers to fables, parables, and myths, and is sometimes used in contemporary contexts for authors whose work falls within or relates to magical realism.
Though often used to refer to works of magical realism, fabulism incorporates fantasy elements into reality, using myths and fables to critique the exterior world and offer direct allegorical interpretations. Austrian-American child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim suggested that fairy tales have psychological merit. They are used to translate trauma into a context that people can more easily understand and help to process difficult truths. Bettelheim posited that the darkness and morality of traditional fairy tales allowed children to grapple with questions of fear through symbolism. Fabulism helped to work through these complexities and, in the words of Bettelheim, “make physical what is otherwise ephemeral or ineffable in an attempt…of understanding those things that we struggle the most to talk about: loss, love, transition.”
Author Amber Sparks described fabulism as blending fantastical elements into a realistic setting. Crucial to the genre, said Sparks, is that the elements are often borrowed from specific myths, fairy tales, and folktales. Unlike magical realism, it does not just use general magical elements, but directly incorporates details from well known stories. “Our lives are bizarre, meandering, and fantastic,” said Hannah Gilham of the Washington Square Review regarding fabulism. “Shouldn’t our fiction reflect that?”
While magical realism is traditionally used to refer to works that are Latin American in origin, fabulism is not tied to any specific culture. Rather than focusing on political realities, fabulism tends to focus on the entirety of the human experience through the mechanization of fairy tales and myths. This can be seen in the works of C.S. Lewis, who was once referred to as the greatest fabulist of the 20th century. His 1956 novel Till We Have Faces has been referenced as a fabulist retelling. This re-imagining of the story of Cupid and Psyche uses an age-old myth to impart moralistic knowledge on the reader. A Washington Post review of a Lewis biography discusses how his work creates “a fiction” in order to deliver a lesson. Says the Post of Lewis, “The fabulist…illuminates the nature of things through a tale both he and his auditors, or readers, know to be an ingenious analogical invention.”
Italo Calvino is an example of a writer in the genre who uses the term fabulist. Calvino is best known for his book trilogy, Our Ancestors, a collection of moral tales told through surrealist fantasy. Like many fabulist collections, his work is often classified as allegories for children. Calvino wanted fiction, like folk tales, to act as a teaching device. “Time and again, Calvino insisted on the ‘educational potential’ of the fable and its function as a moral exemplum,” wrote journalist Ian Thomson about the Italian Fabulist.
While reviewing the work of Romanian-born American theater director Andrei Serban, New York Times critic Mel Gussow coined the term “The New Fabulism.” Serban is famous for his reinventions in the art of staging and directing, known for directing works like “The Stag King” and “The Serpent Woman,” both fables adapted into plays by Carl Gozzi. Gussow defined “The New Fabulism” as “taking ancient myths and turn(ing) them into morality tales.” In Ed Menta’s book, The Magic Behind the Curtain, he explores Serban’s work and influence within the context of American theatre. He wrote that the Fabulist style allowed Serban to neatly combine technical form and his own imagination. Through directing fabulist works, Serban can inspire an audience with innate goodness and romanticism through the magic of theatre. “The New Fabulism has allowed Serban to pursue his own ideals of achieving on sage the naivete of a children’s theater,” wrote Menta. “It is in this simplicity, this innocence, this magic that Serban finds any hope for contemporary theatre at all.”
Prominent English-language fantasy writers have said that “magic realism” is only another name for fantasy fiction. Gene Wolfe said, “magic realism is fantasy written by people who speak Spanish”, and Terry Pratchett said magic realism “is like a polite way of saying you write fantasy”.
However, Amaryll Beatrice Chanady distinguishes magical realist literature from fantasy literature (“the fantastic”) based on differences between three shared dimensions: the use of antinomy (the simultaneous presence of two conflicting codes), the inclusion of events that cannot be integrated into a logical framework, and the use of authorial reticence. In fantasy, the presence of the supernatural code is perceived as problematic, something that draws special attention—where in magical realism, the presence of the supernatural is accepted. In fantasy, while authorial reticence creates a disturbing effect on the reader, it works to integrate the supernatural into the natural framework in magical realism.
This integration is made possible in magical realism as the author presents the supernatural as being equally valid to the natural. There is no hierarchy between the two codes. The ghost of Melquíades in Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude or the baby ghost in Toni Morrison’s Beloved who visit or haunt the inhabitants of their previous residence are both presented by the narrator as ordinary occurrences; the reader, therefore, accepts the marvelous as normal and common.
To Clark Zlotchew, the differentiating factor between the fantastic and magical realism is that in fantastic literature, such as Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, there is a hesitation experienced by the protagonist, implied author or reader in deciding whether to attribute natural or supernatural causes to an unsettling event, or between rational or irrational explanations. Fantastic literature has also been defined as a piece of narrative in which there is a constant faltering between belief and non-belief in the supernatural or extraordinary event.
In Leal’s view, writers of fantasy literature, such as Borges, can create “new worlds, perhaps new planets. By contrast, writers like García Márquez, who use magical realism, don’t create new worlds, but suggest the magical in our world.” In magical realism, the supernatural realm blends with the natural, familiar world. This twofold world of magical realism differs from the onefold world that can be found in fairy-tale and fantasy literature. By contrast, in the series “Sorcerous Stabber Orphen” the laws of natural world become a basis for a naturalistic concept of magic.
“Animist realism” is a term for conceptualizing the African literature that has been written based on the strong presence of the imaginary ancestor, the traditional religion and especially the animism of African cultures.
The term was used by Pepetela (1989) and Harry Garuba (2003) to be a new conception of magic realism in African literature.
While science fiction and magical realism both bend the notion of what is real, toy with human imagination, and are forms of (often fantastical) fiction, they differ greatly. Bower’s cites Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World as a novel that exemplifies the science fiction novel’s requirement of a “rational, physical explanation for any unusual occurrences”. Huxley portrays a world where the population is highly controlled with mood enhancing drugs, which are controlled by the government. In this world, there is no link between copulation and reproduction. Humans are produced in giant test tubes, where chemical alterations during gestation determine their fates. Bowers argues that, “The science fiction narrative’s distinct difference from magical realism is that it is set in a world different from any known reality and its realism resides in the fact that we can recognize it as a possibility for our future. Unlike magical realism, it does not have a realistic setting that is recognizable in relation to any past or present reality.”
Major authors and works
Although critics and writers debate which authors or works fall within the magical realism genre, the following authors represent the narrative mode. Within the Latin American world, the most iconic of magical realist writers are Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende, and Nobel Laureate Gabriel García Márquez, whose novel One Hundred Years of Solitude was an instant worldwide success.
García Márquez confessed: “My most important problem was destroying the line of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic.” Allende was the first Latin American woman writer recognized outside the continent. Her most well-known novel, The House of the Spirits, is arguably similar to García Márquez’s style of magical realist writing. Another notable novelist is Laura Esquivel, whose Like Water for Chocolate tells the story of the domestic life of women living on the margins of their families and society. The novel’s protagonist, Tita, is kept from happiness and marriage by her mother. ”
Her unrequited love and ostracism from the family lead her to harness her extraordinary powers of imbuing her emotions to the food she makes. In turn, people who eat her food enact her emotions for her. For example, after eating a wedding cake Tita made while suffering from a forbidden love, the guests all suffer from a wave of longing. The Mexican Juan Rulfo pioneered the exposition through a non-linear structure with his short novel Pedro Páramo that tells the story of Comala both as a lively town in times of the eponymous Pedro Páramo and as a ghost town through the eyes of his son Juan Preciado who returns to Comala to fulfil a promise to his dead mother.
In the English-speaking world, major authors include British Indian writer Salman Rushdie, African American novelists Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor, Latinos, as Ana Castillo, Rudolfo Anaya, Daniel Olivas, and Helena Maria Viramontes, Native American authors Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie; English author Louis de Bernières and English feminist writer Angela Carter. Perhaps the best known is Rushdie, whose “language form of magical realism straddles both the surrealist tradition of magic realism as it developed in Europe and the mythic tradition of magical realism as it developed in Latin America”. Morrison’s most notable work, Beloved, tells the story of a mother who, haunted by the ghost of her child, learns to cope with memories of her traumatic childhood as an abused slave and the burden of nurturing children into a harsh and brutal society. Jonathan Safran Foer uses magical realism in exploring the history of the stetl and Holocaust in Everything Is Illuminated.
In the Portuguese-speaking world, Jorge Amado and Nobel prize-winning novelist José Saramago are some of the most famous authors of magic realism.
In Norway, the writers Erik Fosnes Hansen, Jan Kjærstad and the young novelist Rune Salvesen have marked themselves as premier writers of magical realism, something that has been seen as very un-Norwegian.
Dimitris Lyacos’s Poena Damni trilogy, originally written in Greek, is also seen as displaying characteristics of magic realism in its simultaneous fusion of real and unreal situations in the same narrative context.