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Magic Realism in Latin American Literature

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Lesley McMillan

on 31 March 2014

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Transcript of Magic Realism in Latin American Literature

"Magic Realism" in Latin American Literature
Controversy and Confusion
“ Existe controversia y confusión al respecto [definir el realismo mágico] y aún no se cuenta con una acepción que tenga aceptación general”

(“Controversy and confusion exists in this matter [defining magic realism] and there is still no definition that has been universally accepted.”) (Batutista Gutiérrez, p. 13)

Gabriel García Márquez
(aka "Gabo")
Colombian novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist
winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature
first won international fame with his masterpiece, c
ien años de soledad
-What is magic realism?
-History of magic realism
-Magic realism as a movement
-Gabriel Garcia Marquez
-Jorge Luis Borges

Colonel Nicolás Ricardo Márquez Mejía
liberal veteran of the War of a Thousand Days
instead of telling Gabriel fairy tales when he was young, the Colonel would regale young Gabriel with horrifying accounts of the last civil war that free-thinkers and anti-clerics waged against the Conservative government
these stories would later influence Marquez's political and ideological views
Early Life
born on March 6, 1927 in the town of Aracataca, Colombia to Gabriel Eligio García and Luisa Santiaga Márquez
soon after being born his father became a pharmacist and moved to Baranquilla with his wife, leaving Gabito in Aracataca to be raised by his maternal grandparents
What Magic Realism IS and is NOT
Jorge Luis Borges
Doña Tranquilina
Iguarán Cotes

Art movement
Mix of art and fantasy
Makes us ¿?
Reality is Interpretation...
• Magic realism--the result of a unique fusion of the beliefs and superstitions of different cultural groups that included the Hispanic conqueror, his criollo (creole) descendants, the native peoples and the African slaves. Magic realism, like myth, also provides an essentially synthetic or totalizing way of depicting reality. It was firmly grounded in daily reality and expressed man's astonishment before the wonders of the real world, [and] convey[s] a vision of the fantastic features of reality. (Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century)
• Magic realism--a kind of modern fiction in which fabulous and fantastical events are included in a narrative that otherwise maintains the 'reliable' tone of objective realistic report. Designating a tendency of the modern novel to reach beyond the confines of realism and draw upon the energies of fable, folk tale, and myth while maintaining a strong contemporary social relevance. The fantastic attributes given to characters in such novels--levitation, flight, telepathy, telekinesis--are among the means that magic realism adopts in order to encompass the often phantasmagoric political realities of the 20th century. (The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms
Argentinian writer, poet, and translator
Often considered a leading writer of Magic Realism
Won National prize for Literature, Prix Formentor, and received a honourary doctorate from University of Cuyo.
Professor of English and American Literature, President of Argentine Society of Writers, and Director of the National Library.
Borges and Magic Realism

“Although Magic Realism is evident in Borges’ first stories of Historia universal de la infamia written in the 1930s, it was not until the 1950s that his fame attained international proportions, coinciding with the Latin American rejection of Criollismo and Social Realism and the reemergence of Magic Realism.”
Borges and Magic Realism

Borges is known to use a figure of speech called
Examples of oxymoron in Borges’ work are evident in the titles of his stories:

El espantoso redentor Lazarus Morell
[The Frightening Redeemer Lazarus Morell]

El impostor inversímil Tom Castro
[The Improbable Imposter Tom Castro]

El asesino disinteresado Bill Harrigan
[The Selfless Murderer Bill Harrigan]
Borges and Magic Realism

Another distinguishing characteristic of Borges’ work is the lack of emotion in both the characters and the reader.
This lack of emotion in his writing is due to the rejection of expressionism, by Magic Realism.
The reader is unable to select a protagonist or antagonist in his works because
Magic Realism does not display the good versus evil dichotomy.

• Magic realism--[is characterized by] the mingling and juxtaposition of the realistic and the fantastic, bizarre and skillful time shifts, convoluted and even labyrinthine narratives and plots, miscellaneous use of dreams, myths and fairy stories, expressionistic and even surrealistic description, arcane erudition, the elements of surprise or abrupt shock, the horrific and the inexplicable. (A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory)
• Magic realism--the capacity to enrich our idea of what is 'real' by incorporating all dimensions of the imagination, particularly as expressed in magic, myth and religion. (Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia)
Borges and Translation
Did not advocate for any particular theory of translation.
Believed in two ways for translation: literalness or paraphrase.
Borges did not favor arguments for literal translation, He favored more spiritual and poetic translation.
• Imitation/reflection of real life
• Bound by physical rules of nature →familiar
• Shatters/transcends those rules

Magic Realism:
Great deal to do with realism
but it doesn’t really concern magic
There is a “prospect of disorientation”
Confused with terms definitions such as:
 Fantastic
 Uncanny
 “Marvelous Reality”
 Surrealism
 Supernatural

Impact of Borges’
Magic Realism
on Cinema Today

Director Christopher Nolan admitted in a New York Times interview that Borges was a major influence on his work, Inception

The blockbuster film shows great similarities to Borges’ short story The Other

Borges’ writings also had influence on The Matrix.
20th Century
"In Gabo's world, where flowers rain from the sky and dictators sell the very ocean, reality is subject to emotional truths as well as physical boundaries. it is a world of great beauty and great cruelty; a world where love brings both redemption and enslavement; and a world where the lines between objective reality and dreams are hopelessly blurred. It is a wold very much like our own." (Martin, Gerald 2008)
"García Márquez has galvanized Colombian literature in an unprecedented way by giving a tremendous impetus to Colombian literature. Indeed, he has become a touchstone for literature and criticism throughout the Americas... No one can deny that García Márquez has helped rejuvenate, reformulate, and recontextualize literature and criticism in Colombia, as well as the rest of Latin America." (Sims 1994, p. 224)
History of Magic Realism
 Magical realism is often described as a unique product of Latin America, but German Franz Roh is actually credited for its inception.
 Introduced into the Spanish language from German with the Spanish translation of a book -- not on Latin American literature, but on European painting – by Franz Roh”

Franz Roh
History of Magical Realism
1985 Uslar Pietri
Confusion & Contradiction
Magic Realist Novels
Magic Realism Movement
she and her sisters would fill the house with stories of ghosts and premonitions, omens and portents
for Marquez, Doña was the source of the magical, superstitious and supernatural view of reality
fictional town described in Márquez's novel, cien años de soledad, home town of the Buendía family
based on his childhood town Aracataca
literally means "banana" in the bantu language
"the tone that I eventually used in One Hundred Years of Solitude was based on the way my grandmother used to tell stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness... What was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories and everyone was surprised. In previous attempts to write, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face." -Gabriel Márquez
when Jose Arcadio Buendia is killed, his blood weaves its way through the village as if it has a mind of its own, and makes its way to the Buendia house. The blood was "...hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs..."(Marquez 132)
when Amaranta is visited by an old woman (who is thought to be Death itself) who tells her that she is going to die as soon as she finishes her shroud- which would then be used at her own burial.
Film and Opera
Marquez founded and served as executive director of the Film Institute in Havana, was the head of the Latin American Film Foundation, and has written several screenplays
British director Mike Newell filmed Love in the Time of Cholera in Cartagena, Colombia, with the screenplay written by Ronald Harwood
More Examples of Magic Realsim
Flying Carpet/Magical Lamps - objects used for entertainment and recreation not for normal uses instead as amazement
Prudencio Aguilar's Ghost - constantly being seen by Ursula and Jose Arcadio Buendia
The Invincible Ants - they could not be killed by the broom, insecticides or lye
The Force - there was a force from an unknown source that lifted the children in Melquiades' room when they tried to destroy the parchments until Aureliano returned
and many more!
"Reality isn't just "out there", like some block of cement: reality is an interpretation. In a sense we co-create our reality. And we do that all the time, every day. One day we wake up and we’re in a great mood: the city we live in is a beautiful city, the next day it’s an ugly city. That’s just the way we interpret things. We’re not free necessarily to choose the facts of our life, but there is an element of freedom in how we interpret them.”
“I search for the realness, the real feeling of a subject, all the texture around it…I always want to see the third dimension of something…I want to come alive with the object.”
 In 1925 Coined the term “Magischer Realismus”
 The manner in which he described this new art represented a return to realism
“Magical Realism--We recognize the world, although now--not only because we have emerged from a dream--we look on it with new eyes. We are offered a new style that is thoroughly of this world that celebrates the mundane. This new world of objects is still alien to the current idea of Realism. It employs various techniques that endow all things with a deeper meaning and reveal mysteries that always threaten the secure tranquility of simple and ingenuous things. This [art offers a] calm admiration of the magic of being, of the discovery that things already have their own faces, [this] means that the ground in which the most diverse ideas in the world can take root has been re-conquered--albeit in new ways. For the new art it is a question of representing before our eyes, in an intuitive way, the fact, the interior figure, of the exterior world” (Franz Roh, Magic Realism: Post-Expressionism (1925).Magical Realism. Ed. L. P. Zamora and W. B. Faris. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. p. 15-32.).
Translated to Spanish by José Ortega y Gasset’s influential Revista de Occidente in Madrid
Term "appropriated" by
Arturo Uslar Piertri
“Lo que vino a predominar en el cuento [venezolano] y a marcar su huella de una manera perdurable fue la consideración del hombre como misterio en medio de datos realistas. Una adivinación poética o una negación poética de la realidad. Lo que a falta de otra palabra podrá llamarse un realismo mágico. (“El cuento…” p. 287)

“What has come to predominate in the [Venezuelan] short story and to leave a lasting mark was the consideration of man as a mystery in the midst of realistic data. A poetic negation of reality. What, lacking any other word, could be called a magical realism.”

1949 -
Alejo Carpentier
"lo real maravilloso" (marvelous [or'wonderous] reality")
- Angel Flores
sees magical realism as a Latin American invention
 Further broadens understanding of term Magic Realism
 Links it to conditions peculiar to Latin America – conditions impossible to reduce to any European model

1. Narrative is not limited strictly to a mirroring of objective reality
BROAD – allows for fuzzy perceptions of fantasy: uncanny, marvelous, wondrous, supernatural, surreal, anything not 100% reality based

2. Author happens to be Latin American
RESTRICTIVE – automatically excludes anyone not Latin American

Rationality vs. Irrationality

Includes Jorge Luis Borges among magical realists
Dates magical realism itself from the year Borges published “Historia universal de la infamis (1935)

Doubts that Borges (also: Ernesto Sábato, Cortázar, Fuentes) can be included among magic realists
Seen as too “European” (lacking indigenous inspiration) – their production often reflects urban rather than rural life

Angel Flores:
Lucila-Inés Mena
• Magic realist novels and stories have, typically, a strong narrative drive, in which the recognizably realistic merges with the unexpected and the inexplicable and in which elements of dreams, fairy[tale], or mythology combine with the everyday, often in a mosaic or kaleidoscopic pattern of refraction and recurrence. (Oxford Companion to English Literature)
Latin American invention vs. international commodity
 Suggests that cultures and countries differ in what they call "real."
 It is here that magical realism serves its most important function, because it facilitates the inclusion of alternative belief systems.
Examples of its popularity in many parts of the world just after WWII:

• International commodity:

Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina, South America)
 Gabriel García Márquez (Columbia, South America)
 Isabel Allende (Chile, South America)
 Günter Grass (Germany)
 Italo Calvino (Italy)
 Umberto Eco (Italy)
The book was written in English and contained 1001 pages.
On the yellow leather back I read these curious words which were
repeated on the title page: A First Encyclopedia of Tlön. Vol. XI. Hlaer
to Jangr. There was no indication of date or place. On the first page and
on a leaf of silk paper that covered on of the color plates there was
stamped a blue oval with this inscription: Orbis Tertius. Two years
before I had discovered, in a volume of a certain pirated encyclopedia, a
superficial description of a nonexistent country; now chance afforded me
something more precious and arduous. Now I held in my hands a vast
methodical fragment of an unknown planet's entire history, with its
architecture and its playing cards, with the dread of its mythologies and the murmur of its languages, with its emperors and its seas, with its minerals and its birds and its fish, with its algebra and its fire, with
its theological and metaphysical controversy
. And all of it articulated, coherent, with no visible doctrinal intent or tone of parody.
A First Encyclopaedia of Tlön. vol. XI. Hlaer to Jangr. No había indicación de fecha ni de lugar. En la primera página y en una hoja de papel de seda que cubría una de las láminas en colores había estampado un óvalo azul con esta inscripción:Orbis Tertius. Hacía dos años que yo había descubierto en un tomo de cierta enciclopedia práctica una somera descripción de un falso país; ahora me deparaba el azar algo más precioso y más arduo. Ahora tenía en las manos un vasto fragmento metódico de la historia total de un planeta desconocido, con sus arquitecturas y sus barajas, con el pavor de sus mitologías y el rumor de sus lenguas, con sus emperadores y sus mares, con sus minerales y sus pájaros y sus peces, con su álgebra y su fuego, con
su controversia teológica y metafísica
. Todo ello articulado, coherente, sin visible propósito doctrinal o tono paródico.
Magic Realism, as a term, was coined in Germany however it has become widely regarded with Latin American Literature.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges are two notable authors to emerge during this literary movement.
Magic Realism spread all over the globe and is still alive in literary works, art and cinema today.
"whether in fiction or nonfiction, in the epic novel or the concentrated story, Márquez is now recognized in the words of Carlos Fuentes as "the most popular and perhaps the best writer in Spanish since Cervantes." He is one of those very rare artists who succeed in chronicling not only a nation's life, culture, and history, but also those of an entire continent and a master storyteller who, as The New York Review of Books once said, "forces upon us at every page the wonder and extragagance of life." (Bill-Velada, Gene H. 1990)
Gabo's Legacy
Apuleyo Mendoza, Plinio; García Márquez:Garbriel (1983), The Fragrance of Carolina: University of North Carolina Press

Bautista Gutiérrez, Gloria. (1991) Realismo Mágico, cosmos latinoamericano: Teoría y práctica. Bogotá: América Latina

Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth | my daily art display. (2001). my daily art display. Retrieved from http://mydailyartdisplay.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/christinas-world-by-andrew-wyeth/

criollismo. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/143205/criollismo

Contreras, J. (2010). INCEPTION and Jorge Luis Borges. Americas, 62(6), 41

Flores, Ángel.(1955) “Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction,” Hispania, 38

García Márquez, Garbriel (2003), Living to tell the tale, New York: Alfred A. Knopf

Itzcoff, D. (2010). A man and his dream: Christopher nolan and ‘inception’. Arts Beat: The New York Times, Retrieved from

Jorge luis borges - biography. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.egs.edu/library/jorge-luis-borges/biography/

Tóibín, C. (2006). Don’t abandon me. [Review of the book Borges: A Life.] London Review of Books, 28(9), 19-26. Retrieved from http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n09/colm-toibin/dont-abandon-me.

Velinger, J. (2003). Current Affairs Interpretations of reality: Yann Martel's Life of Pi. Radio Prague. Retrieved from http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/interpretations-of-reality-yann-martels-life-of-pi

Waisman, S. (2005). Borges and translation : the irreverence of the periphery / Sergio Waisman. Lewisburg, Pa. : Bucknell University Press, c2005.

What is Magic Realism. (2011). What is Magic Realism. Retrieved from http://www.tendreams.org/magic-art.htm

Wimhurst, K. (2008). Serendipity - Magic(al) Realism by Katy Wimhurst.Serendipity - Magic(al) Realism by Katy Wimhurst. Retrieved from http://www.magicalrealism.co.uk/view.php?story=101

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Wikipedia (2014). Franz Roh. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Roh

Zamora, L., & Faris, W. B. (1995). Magical realism : theory, history, community. Durham, N.C. : Duke University Press, 1995.

LeBrun, L., & McCauley, G. (2001). Reality: Fact or Interpretation?. Reality: Fact or Interpretation?. Retrieved from http://www.wel-systems.com/articles/Reality.htm#.UzWhI6
Matrix - Wake-Up After Death.wmv [Video file]. Retrieved from
Seymour Menton. (1982). Jorge Luis Borges, Magic Realist. Hispanic Review, Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 411-426

Martin, Gerald (2008), Gabriel García Márquez: A Life, London Penguin

Marrya, Vibha (January 1983), "Gabriel García Márquez", Social Scientist (Social Scientist) 11 (1): 53-58

Mena, Lucila-Inés. (1975). “Hacia una formulación teórica del realismo mágico,” Bulletin hispanique, 77, 3-4, 395-407

Moore, L. (1998). Magical realism. Retrieved from http://postcolonialstudies.emory.edu/magical-realism/

Roh, Franz. (1974). “El cuento venezolano” in Letras y Hombres de Venezuela, 3rd Ed. Madrid: Editorial Mediterráneo

Saldívar, Dasso (1997), García Márquez: El viaje a la semilla: la biografía, Madrid: Alfaguara

Sims, Robert (1994), Review: Dominant, Residual, andEmergent: Revent Criticism on Colombian Literature and Gabriel García Márquez", Latin American Research Review (Larin American Studies Association) 29 (2): 223-23

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