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Transcript of Magic Realism
“Everything you can imagine is real.”
Key Characteristics of Surrealism
• The exploration of the dream and unconsciousness as a valid form of reality, inspired by Sigmund Freud's writings.
• A willingness to depict images of perverse sexuality, scatology, decay and violence.
• The desire to push against the boundaries of socially acceptable behaviors and traditions in order to discover pure thought and the artist's true nature.
• The incorporation of chance and spontaneity.
• The influence of revolutionary 19th century poets, such as Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud and Isidore Ducasse.
• Emphasis on the mysterious, marvelous, mythological and irrational in an effort to make art ambiguous and strange.
• Surrealism gave artists permission to express their most basic drives: hunger, sexuality, anger, fear, dread, ecstasy, and so forth.
• Exposing these uncensored feelings as if in a dream.
• The use of the language of fragmentation and dispersal.
Fiction was invented the day Jonas arrived home and told his wife that he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale.
Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.
Surrealism is movement in visual art and literature, flourishing in Europe between World Wars I and II. Surrealism grew principally out of the earlier
movement, which before World War I produced works of anti-art that deliberately
; but Surrealism’s emphasis was not on negation but on
The movement represented a reaction against what its members saw as the destruction brought by the
that had guided European culture and politics in the past and that had
culminated in the horrors of World War I.
According to the major spokesman of the movement, the poet and critic André
, who published
“The Surrealist Manifesto” in 1924
, Surrealism was a means of reuniting
conscious and unconscious
realms of experience so completely that the world of dream and fantasy would be joined to the everyday rational world in
“an absolute reality, a surreality.”
Drawing heavily on theories adapted from Sigmund Freud, Breton saw
the unconscious as the wellspring of the imagination.
He defined genius in terms of accessibility to this normally untapped realm, which, he believed, could be attained by poets and painters alike.
MANIFESTO OF SURREALISM BY ANDRÉ BRETON (1924)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Magical realism refers to the
occurrence of supernatural, or anything that is contrary to our conventional view of reality [it is] not divorced from reality either, [and] the presence of the supernatural is often attributed to the primitive or 'magical'
, which coexists with European
. Floyd Merrel explains that 'magical realism stems from the conflict between two pictures of the world'. Magical realism is thus based on reality, or a world with which the author is familiar, while expressing the myths and superstitions of the American Indians, [and it]
allows us to see dimensions of reality of which we are not normally aware.
(Amaryll Beatrice Chanady. Magical Realism and the Fantastic Resolved versus Unresolved Antinomy. New York: Garland Publishing, 1985. 16-31).
Magical realism manages
to present a view of life that exudes a sense of energy and vitality in a world that promises not only joy, but a fair share of misery as wel
l. In effect, the reader is rewarded with a perspective on the world that still includes much that has elsewhere been lost. Where
'possible' is instantly transformed into probable
as we are transported from the domain of the real to the magically real...
(David K. Danow. The Spirit of Carnival Magical Realism and the Grotesque. Lexington: U of KY P, 1995, p. 65 ff).
The Supernatural as an Everyday Phenomenon
One of the key defining features of magical realism is the introduction of extraordinary events as everyday occurrences,
similar to the style of Kafka’s Metamorphoses. Garcia Marquez read a version of this story, and noted the similarity between this style and his grandmother’s method of storytelling, a manner of relating as he described “
the wildest things with a completely natural tone of voice.
” In this manner of narration, One Hundred Years of Solitude describes a plague of insomnia sweeping the village, ghosts who live and interact with the living, magic lamps, and flying carpets. Toni Morrison, by comparison, uses a scaled-down version of the supernatural, concentrating on a ghost who serves as a main character. Morrison, however,
still adheres to the method of treating the supernatural as ordinary, everyday phenomena, part of the lives of the characters and thus not unusual.
Characteristics of Magic Realism:
Rooted In the Real
This Kafka-esque style of treating the extraordinary as ordinary anchors the story in a world similar to our own, rather than creating an alternate universe as fantasy does.
The key to differentiating magical realism from fantasy is that the fantastic elements of the story are “breaking the rules” that have previously been established by realistic setting and tone of voice (Hegerfeldt)
. Garcia Marquez describes the people and events of his fictional town of Macondo in such a way that one gets the sense that an actual Chilean town could be being depicted, never mind that some of the events that happen here are unlikely. Morrison’s Beloved is set in the American South at the end of the Civil War. Both adhere to the idea that the world in which the novel takes place is not so extraordinary, simply that some of the events within it are
a departure from what a reader might expect.
What is crucial is that this departure exists solely in the minds of the readers, rather than in the narration, upholding the realism inherent in the telling, despite the magical elements.
Rendering the Ordinary as Strange
When treating the extraordinary as ordinary, sometimes
the ordinary becomes extraordinary i
n comparison. This technique is used by Garcia Marquez, who highlights the
“modern magic” of technology and science, and describes such elements as awesome and mystifying.
In this way, that which reads as the “magical elements” of the story are actually the products of the modern age, presenting a caricature of modernity. For example, Garcia Marquez describes
a block of ice
“an enormous, transparent block with infinite internal needles in which the light of the sunset was broken up into colored stars."
Elements such as these do not sever ties to realism, as the novel has already been placed within this context, but serve as a mirror of distortion to the aspects of modern society to which we have become accustomed.
The reader is thus challenged to reconsider their existing notions on things that tend to be taken for granted as facets of a modern world or empirical science, upending expected notions of progress, advancement, and modern society.
The Child-Like Narrator
Another common feature of magical realism, one that
serves to facilitate the ordinary as extraordinary and vice versa, is the child-like narrator
. This is either a child in the literal sense, or a relatively immature adult who is able to
navigate the world with a sense of wonder and awe
at things that we have come to take for granted, as well as
accepting more magical aspects
(Arva). Garcia Marquez, in his plethora of characters, has little difficulty finding a voice that embodies the necessary naiveté to allow for that effect. As a character becomes too worldly, too cynical, there is always a fresh point of view waiting in the wings. Toni Morrison uses the perspective of the youthful and encapsulated Denver to explore the supernatural aspect of Beloved. It is only when we see from the side of Denver, in all her sheltered innocence and immaturity, that we are presented with the idea of Beloved as a ghost, fully and unquestioned, rather than as a bizarre woman. It is only Denver’s innocence that is able to truly comprehend this fact,
yet still be grounded in reality, because as a naïve child she has not yet been overcome by notions of
how the world should be
The Circularity of Time and Post-Colonialism
The notion of the circularity of time is important to understanding magical realism as it is symbolic of the larger intent within the genre.
If we are to understand linear time as a feature of empiricism then cyclical time would stand to represent that which is a deviation from this tradition
. In “The ‘Epic Novel,” Ricardo Roque-Baldovinos suggests that within magical realism, the notion of being able to conceptualize or see all possible events or times, essentially “
dissolves” linear time, creating an “ultimate authority that is not one of rational knowledge but the voice of
” This collective memory, that which triumphs over the colonialist legacy, is a voice of myth, of superstition, of archetypes and of imagination, creating a form of literature which is deviates from the traditional modes of understanding and the expected form for a story or novel. According to Jean Weisgerber, “
Magical Realism attempts to grasp by intellect, intuition, or imagination, the ontological background (the metaphysical, the religious, the mythical) which underlies ... empirical reality."
Magical realism provides an alternative means of understanding our world, one in which there is room for magic, superstition, myth, philosophy, rather than a strictly fact-based realistic construct.
"Felt" Events: Use of Metaphor to Describe Trauma
Another technique that is often found in magical realism is the use of metaphor to describe horrific events. This is what Eugene Arva calls “felt” events
, because specific words denoting violence or gore are avoided, while the use of metaphors for such words anchor the experience in the senses, making them “felt,” rather than literally described.
In an area rich with a history of colonialism, brutal military regimes, and revolutions, the popularity of this device can be understood as an attempt to bear witness to these events without producing a heavy-handed work rife with bloodshed and examples of torture, violence, or death. The scene of the massacre in One Hundred Years of Solitude is an excellent example. Writes Garcia Marquez, “
the panic became a dragon’s tail as one compact wave ran against another…penned in, swirling about in a gigantic whirlwind that little by little was being reduced to its epicenter as the edges were systematically being cut off all around like an onion being peeled by the insatiable and methodical shears of the machine guns."
Here metaphor creates
a very concrete and emotional scene
, yet it is registered on a more palatable level
through the avoidance of overtly violent language
. Toni Morrison also makes use of this type of metaphor replacement. The character Sethe’s back, scarred from beating, is a “chokecherry tree,” the KKK is a “dragon that swam the Ohio at will…desperately thirsty for black blood."
What is the Magic? What is the Real?
Magic realism is often the vehicle used to introduce a non-Western viewpoint, and begs the question of which mode of reality is considered correct in understanding the world (Arva).
What Western audiences may consider magical, other cultures and belief structures may consider ordinary, plausible, and a part of everyday life
Magical realism expands ideas on how we can understand the world and its events
. As Arva says, the genre
“rejects the notion of
one mode of truth
, one reality,”
and leads to greater cultural expression. Through this genre and its associated techniques, writers such as Garcia Marquez, Allende, and Morrison are able to bend or
circumvent the rules of traditional realism to suit their purpos
e, and provide a greater range of both expression and interpretation concerning story, history, and our methods of experiencing and interpreting our world.
Baker, Anaya M. "Characteristics of Magical Realism" <http://www.humanities360.com/index.php/characteristics-of-magical-realism-18710/>
Arva, Eugene L. “Writing the Vanishing Real: Hyperreality and Magical Realism.”Journal of Narrative Theory. 38.1 (Winter 2008): 60-85,134.
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. 1967. New York: Harper Perennial Classics, 1998.
Hegerfeldt, Anne. "Magic Realism, Magical Realism". The Literary Encyclopedia. 6 February 2004.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. 1987. New York: Penguin Books, 1988.
Reeds, Kenneth. "Magical Realism: a Problem of Definition. " Neophilologus. 90.2 (2006): 175-196.
Roque-Baldovinos, Ricardo. “The ‘Epic Novel’: Charismatic Nationalism and the Avant-garde in Latin America.” Cultural Critique. 49 (Fall 2001) 58-83.
Big Fish + Magical Realism
J. R. R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories (1939)
Fantasy is rests on the assumption that “
another kind of real,
one that is truer to the
human spirit, demanding the pilgrim’s progress
to find it.” It reveals “that we do not live entirely
in the world of facts, that we also inhabit a
universe of the mind and spirit where the
creative imagination is permanently struggling to
meaning and values
(Modern Theorizing about
Fantasy: Waggoner, Hume, Attebery,)
1) a fictional narrative
2) about the adventures of (psychologically)
3) taking place in the Secondary World entirely
or intermittently in that and our Primary World,
4) constructed from a variety of artistically
re-imagined mythic materials—i.e. archetypes,
plot structures, characters, events, motifs, etc.
—which are presented as true in realistic
In the secondary world the supernatural objectively exists.
(vs suspension of disbelief)
(Mythopoeic) Fantasy ought to feel true
(presented in basic seriousness), real (consistent and believable), and non-didactic (morality instead of
moralizing). It aims to convey a feeling of the
supernatural, the mystical, and the spiritual,
but must establish moral premises for these
within the work itself. Although it is frequently
religious in mood, MF does not mention
religion which it replaces by universal ethics.
(Marek Oziewicz, One Earth, One People.)
Which of these represent
b. Magic Realism
c. Fantasy ?
“Ivan Yakovlevitch donned a jacket over his shirt for politeness' sake, and, seating himself at the table, poured out salt, got a couple of onions ready, took a knife into his hand, assumed an air of importance, and cut the roll asunder. Then he glanced into the roll's middle. To his intense surprise he saw something glimmering there. He probed it cautiously with the knife—then poked at it with a finger.
"Quite solid it is!" he muttered. "What in the world is it likely to be?"
He thrust in, this time, all his fingers, and pulled forth—a nose! His hands dropped to his sides for a moment. Then he rubbed his eyes hard. Then again he probed the thing. A nose! Sheerly a nose!”
“[Y]ou weren't born with a talent for witchcraft: it didn't come easily; you worked hard at it because you wanted it. You forced the world to give it to you, no matter the price, and the price is and always will be high...”
"My wife with buttocks of sandstone and asbestos
My wife with buttocks of swans' backs
My wife with buttocks of spring"
1. What is the genre of "Super Frog Saves Tokyo"? Justify your answer with examples from the story.
2. What kind of heroes are featured in Murakami's story? How do you explain
the existence of Frog
What does the story say about
? (References to classics of literature and Nietzsche?)
What is the Worm
? How do you understand the ending of the story?
3. What is the genre of "Black Cat City"?
4. What do cats and main characters' names symbolize? What is the significance of memory in "Black Cat City"?
5. Do you think "The Travelling Family" may be read metaphorically? If so, how would you interpret it?
Presentations and peer evaluation
1. a memory or memories shared or recollected by a group, as a community or culture.
2.any collection of memories passed from one generation to the next.