Monday, February 8, 2010

What is Magical Realism?

What is Magical Realism - part I

Over the next few blog entries, I'm going to discuss the style of magical realism.  It's an illusive term, often confused and misinterpreted and I have my own interpretation to add.  It's not necessarily a scholarly one, but a personal approach, launched by all the books I've read since the mid 1970's that seem to fit the term.

As an intersting sidenote, Jennifer Mattison, a literary agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency,has written an entry on her website predicitng magical realism may be a field mined for the next big thing in YA books.While I don't write YA books, I find this interesting since the YA and adult markets often cross-reference. So you might want to check out her opinion.

so off we go on this magical mystery ride...
What is Magical Realism?

a very brief overview...

Readers may ask what is magical realism. This literary style conjures authors like Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez, thanks to Venezuelan, Arturo Uslar-Pietri who adopted the term. He used it to describe the work of  particular Latin American writers who wrote in a vivid style laced with folklore and the acceptance of magic in the everyday world.

.However, the term – magic realism - was coined many decades earlier in the writings of a German art historian. At the same time, in a Jungian synchronistic way, separately and without communication, an Italian magazine editor mentioned the term.

“Franz Roh in the 1920’s presented magic realism as a reaction to expressionism, and independently in the Italian journal Novecento, edited by writer and critic Massimo Bontempelli. It was adopted during the 1940's by Latin American authors who combined the theories of Roh and Bontempelli with French surrealist concepts of the marvelous, and incorporated indigenous mythologies within traditional mimetic conventions in their quest for the original Latin American novel. From the 1960's to the present, there has been a strong current of magic realism within the general movement of post-modernism, especially in British and North American literature.” -- the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

And while magical realism started out to first describe paintings following the expressionist period, when it turned to fiction, the shift was dramatic and took on more momentum in literature than it had in art. Franz Kafka, one of the first authors to be labeled with the term, was followed in later decades by English authors, W.H. Hudson and John Fowles in the humanist-realist 50’s movement, also called 'historiographic metafiction. This was also linked to late modernism's experimentalism, and then later with the 'fabulation' of authors such as Thomas Pynchon and Salman Rushdie.

Granted, many changes and terms were thrown around in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s following the period of the deconstruction of the novel and dramatic new swings in all of the arts.  Latin American novels, along with the works of the likes of Rushdie brought magical realism to the bestseller racks and a renewed curiousity from the general reading public.

to be continued....

In the next section I'll discuss the various elements often found in magical realism which sets it apart form straight literay or genre fiction.

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