Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Genre: Magical Realism

This is a repost by Emily Cross from The Writer’s Chronicles dated July 30, 2002.

Now i thought i had a handle on Slipstream/New Wave Fabulism. Recently though i wandered into a Waterstones in Dublin and came across the category 'Magic Realism'. Now i've heard of this genre type before, but when i looked at the books in the section, such as the dream eaters and the princess bride, i got more confused. Both would be considered slipstream?!?! Wouldn't they?
So now i'm going to 'try' and tackle 'magic realism'

While looking up this genre, i came across the Encyclopedia of SF and this is what they stated:

Magic realism (or magical realism) is an artistic genre in which magical elements appear in an otherwise realistic setting. 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 without seeming forced and unnatural. Carpentier's work was a key influence on the writers of the Latin American "boom" that emerged in the 1960s.

With the elements of Magic Realism being:

  • Contains fantastical elements
  • The fantastic elements may be intrinsically plausible but are never explained
  • Characters accept rather than question the logic of the magical element
  • Exhibits a richness of sensory details
  • Uses symbols and imagery extensively.
  • Emotions and the sexuality of the human as a social construct are often developed in great detail
  • Distorts time so that it is cyclical or so that it appears absent. Another technique is to collapse time in order to create a setting in which the present repeats or resembles the past
  • Inverts cause and effect, for instance a character may suffer before a tragedy occurs
  • Incorporates legend or folklore
  • Presents events from multiple standpoints - ie. alternates detached with involved narrative voice; likewise, often shifts between characters' viewpoints and internal narration on shared relationships or memories.
  • Mirrors past against present; astral against physical planes; or characters one against another.
  • Open-ended conclusion leaves to the reader to determine whether the magical and/or the mundane rendering of the plot is more truthful or in accord with the world as it is.

Also reading this article, a number of the books mentioned in my previous post about slipstream are included under the genre of Magic Realism e.g. One Hundred years of solitude. The article does highlight however that the genre has recently been too broadly used to describe Harry Potter and the Stepford Wives.
Now i'm completely confused.
I'm hoping this might clear things up slightly though.

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.
  • 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.

So - basically the difference is extremely minor between MR and Slipstream - it really is down to a matter of degrees of the 'extravagent fantasy'. Honestly between all the labels/genre names which exist for essential the same body of literature - it makes me wonder why all our little books don't have mutliple personality disorder!?!??!

Authors who have written in the style of magic realism (Encyclopedia source)
Authors A - H Authors H - W
  • Chris Adrian
  • Rudolfo Anaya
  • Chris Adrian
  • Rudolfo Anaya
  • Isabel Allende
  • Sherman Alexie
  • Jorge Amado
  • Mário de Andrade
  • Miguel Ángel Asturias
  • Louis de Bernières
  • Doris Betts
  • Jonathan Carroll
  • Adolfo Bioy Casares
  • Jorge Luis Borges
  • Mikhail Bulgakov
  • Italo Calvino
  • Alejo Carpentier
  • Angela Carter
  • Julio Cortázar
  • Steve Erickson
  • Laura Esquivel
  • Carlos Fuentes
  • Dias Gomes
  • Michael Gow
  • Günter Grass
  • Gilbert Hernandez
  • Jaime Hernandez
  • Alice Hoffman
  • Ernst Jünger
  • Franz Kafka
  • Daniel Kehlmann
  • Milan Kundera
  • Onat Kutlar
  • Saulius T. Kondrotas
  • Jonathan Lethem
  • Mario Vargas Llosa
  • George MacDonald
  • Subcomandante Marcos
  • Gabriel García Márquez
  • Yann Martel
  • Toni Morrison
  • Haruki Murakami
  • Tim O'Brien
  • Ben Okri
  • Arturo Uslar-Pietri
  • Franz Roh
  • Arundhati Roy
  • Juan Rulfo
  • Salman Rushdie
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer
  • Ngugi wa Thiong'o
  • Jeanette Winterson
  • *All above links connect to Encyclopedia of Speculative Fiction.

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