Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What is Magical Realism?

"Just when I thought you were gone... you came back." 
~ Bob Dylan, Born In Time

From my youth I've had an interest in dreams, fantasy and science fiction. Somewhere along the way I discovered the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, godfather of magical realism. His influence has been immense, inspiring writers all over the world from Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Umberto Eco to Italo Calvino and Isabel Allende. I, too, have been so influenced. Unremembered Histories, my first volume of short stories, is a small collection of what I consider the best of my efforts in this genre.

For this reason I believed it may be useful to explain this particular story form in greater detail.

From Wikipedia
Magic realism or magical realism is a genre where magical or unreal elements play a natural part in an otherwise realistic (often mundane) environment. Although it is most commonly used as a literary genre, magic realism also applies to film and the visual arts.

One example of magic realism occurs when a character in the story continues to be alive beyond the normal length of life and this is subtly depicted by the character being present throughout many generations. On the surface the story has no clear magical attributes and everything is conveyed in a real setting, but such a character breaks the rules of our real world. The author may give precise details of the real world such as the date of birth of a reference character and the army recruitment age, but such facts help to define an age for the fantastic character of the story that would turn out to be an abnormal occurrence such as someone living for two hundred years.

The term is broadly descriptive rather than critically rigorous: Professor Matthew Strecher defines magic realism as "what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe."

From the Oxford Dictionary
Definition of magic realism in English: noun
A literary or artistic genre in which realistic narrative and naturalistic technique are combined with surreal elements of dream or fantasy.

From Mitchell's Introduction to Magical Realism: "an unexpected alteration of reality [. . .] an unaccustomed insight that is singularly favored by the unexpected richness of reality or an amplification of the scale and categories of reality" (Alejo Carpentier)

More specifically, magical realism achieves its particular power by weaving together elements we tend to associate with European realism and elements we associate with the fabulous, and these two worlds undergo a "closeness or near merging."

From Cliffs Notes
To understand magical realism, it helps to have a sense of mystery - an increased appreciation of the transcendent. In so doing, you'll savor works like the landmark One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez.

The basic structure of One Hundred Years chronicles the life of the Buendía family for over a century. It is the history of a family with inescapable repetitions, confusions, and progressive decline. Magical realism is manifested in a mythical city of mirrors, an insomnia plague, prophecy and ghosts, time displacement, a family curse, and more.

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There are a number of Dylan songs that could be expressionistic forms of magical realism. I think here of Changing of the Guard, or maybe even Ballad of a Thin Man, which defies comprehension on a rationalistic level.

Life is a great mystery filled with wonders. All too often, subsumed as we are in the day-to-day, we lose sight of the wonder. Stories of this sort can resonate with parts of our soul -- conscious and unconscious -- in ways that an ordinary story might fail. This is, in part, one of the aims of all my stories in general, and these stories in particular.

As the saying goes, "Try it. You'll like it." It's currently my personal best seller, even if it isn't on the New York Times lists. 

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