Magic realism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Magic realism, or magical realism, is an artistic genre in which magical elements or illogical scenarios appear in an otherwise realistic or even "normal" setting. It has been widely used in relation to literature, art, and film.

As used today the term is broadly descriptive rather than critically rigorous: Matthew Strecher has defined magic realism as "what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something "too strange to believe."[1] The term was initially used by German art critic Franz Roh to describe painting which demonstrated an altered reality, but was later used by the Venezuelan Arturo Uslar-Pietri to describe the work of certain Latin American writers.


[edit] History

The term magic realism was first used in 1925 by the German art critic Franz Roh to refer to a painterly style also known as Neue Sachlichkeit (the New Objectivity)[2]. It was later used to describe the unusual realism by American painters such as Ivan Albright, Paul Cadmus, George Tooker and other artists during the 1940s and 1950s. However, in contrast to its use in literature, when used to describe visual art, the term refers to paintings that do not include anything fantastic or magical, but are rather extremely realistic and often mundane.

The Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier (a friend of Uslar-Pietri) used the term "lo real maravilloso" (roughly "marvelous reality") in the prologue to his novel The Kingdom of this World (1949). Carpentier's conception was of a kind of heightened reality in which elements of the miraculous could appear while seeming natural and unforced. Carpentier's work was a key influence on the writers of the Latin American "boom" that emerged in the 1960s such as Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez, who confessed, "My most important problem was destroying the line of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic."[3]

More recent Latin American authors in this vein include Isabel Allende.[4] Wendy Faris in her article "Scheherezade's Children: Magical Realism and Postmodern Fiction" examines how postmodernist examples of magical realism are frequently more accessible than their modernist predecessors: "Magic realist fictions do seem more youthful and popular than their modernist predecessors, in that they often (though not always) cater with unidirectional story lines to our basic desire to hear what happens next. Thus they may be more clearly designed for the entertainment of readers."[5]

[edit] Definition in literature

The Mexican critic Luis Leal has said, "Without thinking of the concept of magical realism, each writer gives expression to a reality he observes in the people. To me, magical realism is an attitude on the part of the characters in the novel toward the world," or toward nature. He adds, "If you can explain it, then it's not magical realism."[6]

Prominent English-language fantasy writers have stated that "magic realism" is only another name for fantasy fiction. Gene Wolfe said, "Magic realism is fantasy written by people who speak Spanish,"[7], and Terry Pratchett said magic realism "is like a polite way of saying you write fantasy".[8]

In Leal's view, magical realism has a tropical (or llano [plains] or desert) context,[9] but he says that the fiction of Julio Cortázar contains only "the fantastic", not magical realism.[10] He distinguished as follows:

In fantastic literature, in Borges for example, the writer creates new worlds, perhaps new planets. By contrast, writers like García Márquez, who use magical realism, don't create new worlds, but suggest the magical in our world.[11]

But for him, even Cortázar's short story "Casa Tomada", about a brother and sister whose house is taken over by someone or something mysterious, is an example of the fantastic, not magical realism.[12]

[edit] Visual art

[edit] Magic realism which excludes the overtly fantastic

When art critic Franz Roh introduced the term magic realism with reference to visual art in 1925, he was designating a style of visual art which brings extreme realism to the depiction of mundane subject matter, revealing an "interior" mystery, rather than imposing external, overtly magical features onto this mundane reality. In Roh's own words, as quoted on a public resource page provided by professor Albert Ríos at the website of Arizona State University:

"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.... it is a question of representing before our eyes, in an intuitive way, the fact, the interior figure, of the exterior world." [13]

In painting, magical realism (in this sense) is a term often used interchangeably with post-expressionism, as Ríos also shows, for the very title of Roh's 1925 essay was "Magical Realism:Post-Expressionism".[13] Indeed, as Dr. Lois Parkinson Zamora of the University of Houston writes, "Roh, in his 1925 essay, described a group of painters whom we now categorize generally as Post-Expressionists." [13] Roh used this term to describe painting which signaled a return to realism after expressionism's extravagances which sought to redesign objects to reveal the spirits of those objects. Magical realism, according to Roh, instead faithfully portrays the exterior of an object, and in doing so the spirit, or magic, of the object reveals itself.

Other important aspects of magical realist painting, according to Roh, include:

  • A return to mundane subjects as opposed to fantastical ones.
  • A juxtaposition of forward movement with a sense of distance, as opposed to Expressionism's tendency to foreshorten the subject.
  • A use of miniature details even in expansive paintings, such as large landscapes.

The pictorial ideals of Roh's original magic realism continued to attract new generations of artists through the latter years of the 20th century and beyond. In a 1991 New York Times review, critic Vivien Raynor remarked that "John Stuart Ingle proves that Magic Realism lives" in his "virtuoso" still life watercolors.[14] Ingle's approach, as described in his own words, reflects very much the early inspiration of the magic realism movement as described by Roh; that is, the aim is not to add magical elements to a realistic painting, but to pursue a radically faithful rendering of reality; the "magic" effect on the viewer comes from the intensity of that effort: "I don't want to make arbitrary changes in what I see to paint the picture, I want to paint what is given. The whole idea is to take something that's given and explore that reality as intensely as I can." [15][16]

[edit] Later development: magic realism which incorporates the fantastic

While Ingle represents a "magic realism" that harks back to Roh's ideas, the term "magic realism" in recent visual art has tended to refer to work which incorporates overtly fantastic elements, somewhat in the manner of Latin American literary magic realism.

Occupying a somewhat intermediate place in this line of development, the work of several American painters whose most important work dates from the 1930s and 1940s, including Paul Cadmus, Ivan Albright, Philip Evergood, George Tooker, even Andrew Wyeth, is often designated as "magic realist". Some of this work departs sharply from Roh's definition, in that it (according to "is anchored in everyday reality, but has overtones of fantasy or wonder." [17] In the work of Cadmus, for example, the surreal atmosphere is sometimes achieved via stylized distortions or exaggerations which are not, strictly speaking, realistic.

More recent "magic realism" has gone beyond mere "overtones" of the fantastic or surreal to depict a more frankly magical reality, with an increasingly tenuous anchoring in "everyday reality". Artists associated with this kind of magic realism include Marcela Donoso[18][19][20][21][22] and Gregory Gillespie.[23][24][25]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Matthew C. Strecher, Magical Realism and the Search for Identity in the Fiction of Murakami Haruki, Journal of Japanese Studies, Volume 25, Number 2 (Summer 1999), pp. 263-298, at 267.
  2. ^ Franz Roh: Nach-Expressionismus. Magischer Realismus. Probleme der neuesten europäischen Malerei. Klinkhardt & Biermann, Leipzig 1925.
  3. ^ Interview in Revista Primera Plana - Año V Buenos Aires, 20-26 June 1967 Nº 234, pages 52-55. I have not been able to get my hands on the original material but it is quoted in [1] as "Mi problema más importante era destruir la línea de demarcación que separa lo que parece real de lo que parece fantástico. Porque en el mundo que trataba de evocar esa barrera no existía. Pero necesitaba un tono convincente, que por su propio prestigio volviera verosímiles las cosas que menos lo parecían, y que lo hicieran sin perturbar la unidad del relato" and this agrees well (minor textual variants) with the other quotations I have found in [2] “El problema más importante era destruir la línea de demarcación que separa lo que parece real de lo que parece fantástico porque en el mundo que trataba de evocar, esa barrera no existía. Pero necesitaba un tono inocente, que por su prestigio volviera verosímiles las cosas que menos lo parecían, y que lo hiciera sin perturbar la unidad del relato. También el lenguaje era una dificultad de fondo, pues la verdad no parece verdad simplemente porque lo sea, sino por la forma en que se diga” other quotations on the internet can be found in [3] and [4]. All of these quotations reinforce the rough English translation of the first sentence given in the main text of this article. For those who wish to seek the original interview, the front cover and table of contents are reproduced at
  4. ^ García, Mario (2000). Luis Leal: An Auto/biography. University of Texas Press. p. 91. ISBN 0292728298. Retrieved on 2009-01-20. 
  5. ^ Wendy Faris, "Scheherezade's Children: Magical Realism and Postmodern Fiction," in Zamora and Faris, eds., Magical Realism, p. 163.
  6. ^ García, Leal, p. 127–128
  7. ^ Wolfe, Gene; Baber, Brendan. "Gene Wolfe Interview". in Wright, Peter. Shadows of the New Sun: Wolfe on Writing/Writers on Wolfe. Retrieved on 2009-01-20. 
  8. ^ "Terry Pratchett by Linda Richards". 2002. Retrieved on February 17. 
  9. ^ García, Leal, p. 90
  10. ^ García, Leal, p. 93.
  11. ^ García, Leal, p. 89.
  12. ^ García, Leal, p. 93.
  13. ^ a b [5]
  14. ^ [6]
  15. ^ [7]
  16. ^ [8]
  17. ^ [9]
  18. ^ Elga Perez-Laborde:"Marcela Donoso", jornal do Brasilia, 10/10/1999
  19. ^ Elga Perez-Laborde:"Prologo",Iconografía de Mitos y Leyendas, Marcela Donoso, ISBN 956-291-592-1 12/2002
  20. ^ "with an impressive chromatic delivery, images come immersed in such a magic realism full of symbols", El Mercurio - Chile, 06/22/1998
  21. ^ Dr. Antonio Fernandez, Director of the Art Museum of Universidad de Concepción:"I was impressed by her original iconographic creativity, that in a way very close to magic realism, achieves to emphasize with precision the subjects specific to each folkloric tradition, local or regional", Chile, 29/12/1997
  22. ^
  23. ^ [10]
  24. ^ [11]
  25. ^ [12]

[edit] External links

Personal tools