Saturday, April 10, 2010

Magical Realism: an inside joke?

Wow, it's hard to believe how unbelievably fast this semester (or this year, or the past 4 years even) have gone by. Sitting here writing this last blog post, I'm trying to reflect through the whirlwind that has been the semester to try to come to terms with magical realism.

We have seen that it's a genre primarily associated with the latin american literature "boom". It uses the supernatural or fantastical and makes it appear as a commonality and ordinary to, presumably, explain the current state of things. The works we've examined seem to have common elements: a marginalized or repressed group, which is usually the cause of conflict; an ambiguous timeline, and, as aforementioned, the inclusion of the fantastical in daily life.
I still question the use of the genre as a means to explain the current state of things. As I previously mentioned, it seems nonsensical to use magical realism to explain the present. Why not base it in historical fact? Sure, a basic time line such as: "in year x this happened, etc." is boring. But it creates a lot less confusion for the reader to understand the current state of Guatemala, Haiti, Colombia or elsewhere. So why not tell it as it is, rather than using moving mountains and other fantastical elements? It seems sometimes that the writers are on mushrooms or trying to create a feeling akin to it.

But maybe there is a purpose to include fantastical elements. As Jon commented on my post, it's the use of the myth that forms magical realism. Maybe, then, it makes sense to use magical realism as a myth. Here's why: myths are usually told and kept within a distinct culture, so the fantastical elements present within a book would make sense to someone from Guatemala or Haiti since they might carry the nuances that take shape as a result of a group's history, geography, and culture. So maybe what it is is is a sort of inside joke. Sure, you can read about the moving mountains of Guatemala, but you had to be there to understand it.
Any thoughts?


brhoads said...

Actually yes, I do have a thought. Not a very profound or interesting one, but a thought none-the-less. I liked what you had to say about having to be there to actually understand much of the magical realism. I completely agree that it is a confusing genre.

What I do not completely agree with though is the idea that the novels should be based solely on historical fact. Where's the fun in that? Wouldn't that be basically reading a history book? I think that the magical realism aspect provides an interesting perspective into Latin American culture that a western audience probably would not otherwise have picked up on; a somewhat fantastical, fun, and unique perspective on the workings of the world, especially regarding the oppression of people.

Jon said...

"It seems sometimes that the writers are on mushrooms or trying to create a feeling akin to it."


Anyhow, beyond the points that Brittney also raises, I think that fans of magical realism would say that, well, sometimes life does seem pretty absurd. And that perhaps it seems so more often in Latin America than elsewhere, and that a magical or fantastical explanation seems to make as much sense--perhaps more--than a strictly rational one.

I think this is in part Carpentier's point: that Latin American history often seems so fantastical, or to have such extraordinary elements, that the only way to make sense of it is via an understanding of the power of myth.