Magic Realism discussion

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Magic(al) Realism vs. Fabulism?

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message 1: by James (new)

James (eisigeyes) | 16 comments What are your thoughts? Some view the latter as an international manifestation of the oft-touted Latin American phenomenon of magic realism. I subscribe to the world phenomenon idea of magical realism, which thus embraces fabulism from the point of view of cultural experience and religious viewpoints. Counter?


message 2: by Julia (new)

Julia (juliastrimer) Retired English teacher here--old enough that for much of my career I'd never used terms like "magical realism" or "fabulism" (academics certainly love their "isms"). Science fiction was one class, fantasy another, "literature" the king of the heap.

However, after my daughter introduced me to Haruki Murakami, I was both awed and humbled to realize the previous labels--so neatly divided--were artificial ways to create English classes.

Since I've come to dislike the separating with which I taught for so long, I choose to view "fabulism" as part of magical realism, while others will differ.

The "realism" side of "magical realism" is going to vary--and readers' comfort levels will vary depending on their familiarity with location, culture, language, etc. So while Murakami appeals to me, I haven't read the Latin American authors because of my cultural separation from their reality.

However, the "magical" side is universal, a "world phenomenon" as you say, which transcends whatever "reality" we THINK we inhabit. And "magic" is a powerful word, containing awe and horror and wonder and mystery. In the midst of the world's growing technological "progress", a universal sense of loss is haunting the human heart. We are hungry to have the skin of "reality" stripped back so we can reconnect with mystery, miracle, and magic.

This is not a new movement, just because it has a different label from the ones I used to teach. Science fiction and fantasy literature have crossed over into mainstream literature as we've come to realize just how alone we are in the universe--so that we must seek our "magic" within THIS world if we are to give our lives meaning.

Some will still seek that magic through religion (although the only diffence between mythology and religion is that you believe in one myth over another). As we have flung our Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft toward the stars, we humans--aware of it or not--have a growing sense of being orphans in a universe of billions of galaxies.

So the magical realists/fabulists give us back to ourselves--that part of us which wants so badly to believe that SOMETHING lies beneath and above and within this short race from birth to death. And if that "something" contains terror as well as beauty, I--for one--am willing to pay the price without much concern for what label to apply to the work.




message 3: by James (new)

James (eisigeyes) | 16 comments "In the midst of the world's growing technological "progress", a universal sense of loss is haunting the human heart. We are hungry to have the skin of "reality" stripped back so we can reconnect with mystery, miracle, and magic."

I think that was a really eloquent way of stating some of the tensions that are present in this fiction. I would agree that we seem to come up with so many "isms," which make it much easier to teach specific courses on subjects.


message 4: by Gail (new)

Gail Gray | 3 comments I'm so glad you wrote this. I've tried to explain to friends what magical realism is, and can never find a way. You've put this so well. I was hooked on the concept when I first read Green Mansions years ago, yet I don't often see it included in the magical realisms lists but it was the first book which taught me about the freedom to read and write what's beyond the veil.
Thanks for writing this. I've always been hungry to read the books where someone very much in the real world suddenly encounters the magical or mythical, and doesn't take it for granted. They may come to need it but remain in a state of reverence, maybe even fear. I'm still not putting this well. It all has to do with the sacred in the moment and the reverence for the small things just below the surface which signify ways to view the big concepts.


message 5: by Gail (new)

Gail Gray | 3 comments James: I think magical realism is international and not limited to one culture or part of the world. However, at times, books tend to get shuffled into other isms or categories, such as post-modernism, depending on the trends of the times.
The term was actually coined before the South American trend back in the 1920's, at first re: German art and then in relation to writers like Kafka, yet the term stuck with the Latin magical realists authors, as if they were the only culture writing magical realism. Not so, every culture has it's way of touching the sacred, magical and divine behind the cuurtain of everyday life and civilization's conditioning.
A lot of the books I consider magical realism, The Magus by John Fowles, for example, was at first considered magical realism and was then shuffled into post-modernism.
I do see the use of using terms like "fabulist" for books like those of Salman Rushdie where the writing is over the top, and I want to recommend the book to friends. But I'm on the fence about the "isms" when they splinter off into such limited mindsets that they leave out big chunks of literature from all over the world.
It's a tough question because publishers and bookstores need the "isms" to shelve books, yet reviewers, if they rely too heavily on the "isms" can latch onto these terms and exclude good books, even books considered part of the "ism" in earlier years.


message 6: by Michael (new)

Michael | 6 comments Mod
Interesting comment there on the relation between MR and postmodernism. I always say that the two get confused (sometimes purposefully) because they do share a lot of qualities -- distrust of metanarratives, primarily, but also all the tricks that go with that: intertextual play, self-reflexive narratives, etc.

However, not all pomo novels are magic realist, and some, particularly those from cultures that can claim those qualities independent of the Western literary tradition (e.g. Latin American, Native American...) are not pomo or even magic realist at all, despite whatever 'isms' we need to apply to them.

Still, such isms are useful if they help us talk about the kinds of books we like, I suppose. As long as we keep the definitions broad and fluid...


message 7: by Julie (new)

Julie Weinstein (julieannw) | 5 comments Here's my take on magic realism. I don't view it as region specific but rather a take on reality with aspects of the supernatural woven into the mix.

I think of it as reality that is slightly bent as opposed to science fiction, which is completely bent. Stories of this nature have a subtle and bewitching way of blending the out of the ordinary with everyday life. In my writing, it's often a surreal landscape where the question of what is a dream and what is reality blur. Along those lines, it can be a place where the intangible becomes tangible, whether it's a ghost or a flower, vegetable or a grain of sand talking.


message 8: by Ilie (new)

Ilie Ruby (goodreadscomilie_ruby) | 3 comments Julie, I'm with you. I explain it as a blending of the mythic with the every day -- a state of being firmly rooted in real life, yet with the mythic woven throughout the text in a way that feels organic, almost natural.


message 9: by Julie (new)

Julie Weinstein (julieannw) | 5 comments Illie,
I agree with you. I too the love the mystic in everyday life. One of my favorite authors in this regards is Isabelle Allende and Aimee Bender Lemoncake book.

I think it's also about a general way of looking at the world through metaphysically dipped glasses to some extent. Many of my favorite authors seem to have that kind of dipping.


message 10: by Ilie (new)

Ilie Ruby (goodreadscomilie_ruby) | 3 comments I, too, am a fan. Isabel Allende says that if you're aware of the magic in the every day, the explainable coincidences, the synchronicities, the chance occurrences, the power of dreams and the natural world, then surely it must come out in your writing (as it has in mine). This is how she explains magical realism.

I love that--metaphysically dipped glasses.

The Language of Trees by Ilie Ruby


message 11: by Julie (new)

Julie Weinstein (julieannw) | 5 comments Oh, I love that passage of hers. Thank you for sharing that, Ilie. I strive as a human being first and as a writer second to always see the wonder and magic in the world.

I'm very happy, but even on a dark day if I see one things that's wonderful it's a blessing. And if I see more it's all the more beautiful.

I wonder if most magic realist writers and artists have felt the deep metaphysical connection that we're discussing. A friend of mine is a surrealist photographer and creates Salvador Dali like images. Shed has never consciously spoken of this. I see it and feel it in her art work. I imagine you've noticed the same thing.


message 12: by g (new)

g martinez cabera (thecircularrunner) | 1 comments Dear All,

Oh I feel like I've arrived at a great party a bit too late. I know Julia's comment is more than a year old, but I love it and am including it below:

In the midst of the world's growing technological "progress", a universal sense of loss is haunting the human heart. We are hungry to have the skin of "reality" stripped back so we can reconnect with mystery, miracle, and magic.

I shouldn't obsess about the classification of things, but as a writer with a new collection stories that I am readying to send off, it just feels like you have to at least know what labels connote. I too have heard that Magical Realism is Latin American movement, but Cheever's The Amazing Radio or The Swimmer certainly seem like they would fit the descriptions given above so it would seem that the label could apply to works that are neither POMO nor Latin American. But here's a rub, and I'd love to get someone's feedback on this: my stories slightly bend reality, but my wife, who is a great reader, is against me calling what I do Magical Realism because for her, MR has magic happen to people who accept the magic as if it were real. Think Garcia-Marquez. Whereas what I write (and what many of the writers mentioned above) are about normal people reacting to something non-real happening.

Thoughts?


message 13: by Lina (last edited Jul 14, 2011 04:16PM) (new)

Lina (lcyberlina) | 2 comments g wrote: "But here's a rub, and I'd love to get someone's feedback on this: my stories slightly bend reality, but my wife, who is a great reader, is against me calling what I do Magical Realism because for her, MR has magic happen to people who accept the magic as if it were real. Think Garcia-Marquez. "

Magic Realism is not about bending reality. It is about explaining reality in a light of a vivid and magical imagination. So for example, someone who writes in the magical realism/Fabulism (they interchange in my mind) instead of saying that they have fallen in-love and that they feel a strange sensation in their stomach, might write something like: "The earth started to tremble under my feet. I was scared and thought I was going to die. My heart was on my mouth. The eartquake was so hard, I almost fell on my back. It is a good thing he was holding my hand".... :)

You can almost think of magical realism as describing ordinary situations in rather extraordinary and exaggerated terms. It could very well become a long metaphor like Kafka's Metamorphosis, but the only difference is that the people are real people experiencing and conveying their life in a rather magical way.


message 14: by Benjamin (new)

Benjamin Uminsky (benjaminu) | 2 comments Lina wrote: "g wrote: "But here's a rub, and I'd love to get someone's feedback on this: my stories slightly bend reality, but my wife, who is a great reader, is against me calling what I do Magical Realism bec..."

I don't think I am in agreement with you definition as to "magical realism". What you have described as magical realism very nicely describes Bruno Schulz. Schulz took the mundane and banal and transformed it into the fantastic and wondrous.

I think of magical realism as more along the lines as Stephen Milhauser. Here we have an author who provides scenes and settings of the wondrous and bizare and presents them in a matter of fact way, as if the characters in that setting simply accept it for what it is... (I'm referring to some scenes in his novel MARTIN DRESSLER)

Another fine example of magical realism is Murilo Rubiao (Brazilian). He starts us off in one of his short stories ("The Dragons") with the following passage:

"The first dragons to appear in our city suffered a great deal due to the backwardness of our customs. They received precarious training at best, and their moral instruction was compromised dreadfully by absurd discussion which their arrival had somehow prompted."

This is absurdity at its finest. The author is conveying to us that dragons are like any other immigrant suffering from the same issues of cultural assimilation and that any discussion about them being dragons is absurd. They are simply dragons... whats the big deal?

Just my thoughts... I am by no means any kind of authority on this at all. I'd be interested to get others folks' take on this topic.


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