Magic realism refers to literature in which elements of the marvelous, mythical, or dreamlike are injected into an otherwise realistic story without breaking the narrative flow. The term is descended from the German phrase magischer realismus, introduced by Franz Roh in his book Nach-Expressionismus (Magischer Realismus): Probleme der neuesten Europaischen Malerei, published in 1925, to describe a school of painting. Later, Latin-American writer Alejo Carpentier coined the term real maravilloso, which built on the idea of magischer realismus and added elements of surrealism. Today there is much discussion and disagreement about what exactly defines magic realism, but most critics agree about the importance of differentiating between magic realism and other genres that employ the marvelous, such as fables and fairy tales. Unlike those genres, magic-realist texts generally feature the fantastic in a way that does not distinguish between realistic and nonrealistic events in the story and does not result in a break in the narrator's or characters' consciousnesses. Magic realism is used by writers around the world, but it is most strongly concentrated in the work of Latin-American writers. Many critics speculate that magic realism appears most often in the literature of countries with long histories of both mythological stories and sociopolitical turmoil, such as those in Central and South America. Still others question the validity of the term at all, maintaining that it is used irresponsibly to describe any work that is not ultra-realistic and that this usage leads to the stereotyping of minority writers. Finally, some critics maintain that the term magic realism is irrelevant given the newer category of postmodernism, in which the narrative stream typically continues uninterrupted despite elements similar to those that appear in magic realism. Regardless, magic realism continues to be employed by writers as diverse as Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko, Salman Rushdie, and W. P. Kinsella, each of whom brings a variety of personal, social, and political concerns to the genre.
La casa de los espíritus [The House of the Spirits] (novel) 1982
Los cuentos de Eva Luna [The Stories of Eva Luna] (short stories) 1990
El plan infinito (novel) 1991
Jorge Luis Borges
Ficciones (short stories) 1962
Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings (short stories and essays) 1964
The Lost Steps (novel) 1953
El reino de esté mundo [The Kingdom of This World] (novel) 1949
Le Cornet acoustique [The Hearing Trumpet] (novel) 1974
The Stone Door (novel) 1978
Shadow Dance (novel) 1966; also published as Honeybuzzard 1967
The Magic Toyshop (novel) 1968
Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces (short stories) 1974; also published as Fireworks: Nine Stories in Various Guises, 1981
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (short stories) 1980
Final del juego (short stories) 1956
Voices Made Night (novel) 1986
José de la Cuadra
Los Sangurimas (novel) 1934
Like Water for Chocolate (novel) 1989
Not Wanted on the Voyage (novel) 1984
The Telling of Lies...
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Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: “Magical Strategies: The Supplement of Realism,” in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 34, No. 2, Summer, 1988, pp. 140-54.
[In the following essay, Simpkins attempts to define magic realism and argues that the genre is hindered by linguistic limitations.]
Magic realism seems plagued by a distinct dilemma, a problem arising primarily from its use of supplementation to “improve” upon the realistic text. The source of this nagging difficulty can be attributed to the faulty linguistic medium that all texts employ, and even though the magic realist text appears to overcome the “limits” of realism, it can succeed only partially because of the frustrating inadequacies of language. The magical text appears to displace these shortcomings through a textual apparition, but this appearance itself illustrates the representational bind which hampers its desired success. And thus the magic realists, always trying to overcome textual limitations, continuously fall short of their numinous goal.
In Don Quixote, Cervantes offers an appropriate example of the textual strategies employed in magical texts, and their ultimate failure, as Sancho betrays the creaky machinations that fool the less wary reader (Don Quixote himself, in this instance). Sancho, after all, is not deceived by “magic”—although Don Quixote insists otherwise.
Jorge Luis Borges and...
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SOURCE: “Discarding Magic Realism: Modernism, Anthropology, and Critical Practice,” in ARIEL, Vol. 29, No. 2, April, 1998, pp. 95-110.
[In the following essay, Connell argues against the use of the term “magic realism,” maintaining that it serves to stereotype the works of certain writers as primitive and “Third World.”;]
The formal characteristics of a literature described as Magic Realist are hard to distinguish from the formal characteristics of early-twentieth-century Modernism; to that end, attempts to keep these movements distinct through the categorization of one sort of literature as modern and another as magical, as well the various attempts to define the genre through a series of extra-literary criteria, merely serve to codify a set of prejudices about Western European and non-Western societies and their respective modes of thinking.1 That is to say that non-Western societies are persistently characterized through a series of indicators which are categorized as primitive—one of which is a residual belief in myth, magic, and the use of ritual. Western nations by contrast are characterized as progressive, developing, modern. They then are allowed literary forms called Modernism, where their non-Western counterparts can only write Magic Realism.
The fact that this article was originally given as a paper at a conference devoted...
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Criticism: Magic Realism In African Literature
SOURCE: “The Famished Road: Magical Realism and the Search for Social Equity,” in Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature, No. 43, 1995, pp. 25-30.
[In the following essay, Aizenberg contends that magic realism as it appears in Ben Okri's The Famished Road, as well as the works of other writers, frequently comments on social ills.]
My topic is magical realism—a maddening, marvelous, carnivalesque topic, dizzyingly imprecise, and deeply hurtful. Contrary to popular opinion, magical realism is not primarily Remedios the Beautiful flying heavenward in Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, or Clara the Clairvoyant foretelling the future in Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, or Azaro the Abiku shuttling between the realms of the living and the dead in Ben Okri's The Famished Road. Magical realism is just as much the block of frozen water melting in the tropics, fueling and destroying dreams of an ice factory that would transform García Márquez's village, Macondo, into a developed wintery city; or protest singer Pedro Tercero García's sliced-off fingers in The House of the Spirits, the product of a class hatred and an authoritarianism so profound that they severed the Chilean body politic into bloody bits; or García Márquez's Big Mama and Okri's Madame Koto, well-fed, well-clothed, well-connected, political and economic...
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SOURCE: “The Psychopathology of Post-Colonial Mozambique: Mia Couto's Voices Made Night,” in American Imago, John Hopkins University Press, Vol. 55, No. 1, Spring, 1998, pp. 155-84.
[In the following essay, Long-Innes explores the psychoanalytic implications of Mia Couto's use of magic realism in Voices Made Night.]
Where does this black sun come from? Out of what eerie galaxy do its invisible, lethargic rays reach me, pinning me down to the ground, to my bed, compelling me to silence, to renunciation?
The new world, necessarily political, is unreal. We are living the reality of a new suffering world.
Mia Couto has recently been acclaimed as “probably the most original Mozambican writer to date,” a significant figure in the new wave of writers moving away from the “documentary approach” that has characterised Lusophone African literature from its beginnings (Gray 1993).1 In place of the tradition of nineteenth century Western realism upon which this literature has long been dependent, Couto, along with one or two others, has begun developing a new literary language based in the African oral tradition and on African transformations of spoken Portuguese. In Portugal, Couto is said to have acquired a reputation as a writer come in from the...
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Criticism: Magic Realism In American Literature
SOURCE: “Forging an American Style: The Romance-Novel and Magical Realism as Response to the Frontier and Wilderness Experiences,” in The Frontier Experience and the American Dream: Essays on American Literature, edited by David Morgan, Mark Busby, and Paul Bryant, Texas A & M University Press, 1989, pp. 51-64.
[In the following essay, Ude examines magic realism in the works of early American writers.]
A nation's literature cannot be studied only through the examination of content; a history of literature is also a history of technique. That is especially true of the United States, where our literary history has been bound up, perhaps more than in most cultures, with a search for both the techniques and the conceptual framework which might be capable of containing and presenting the full range of realities within which Americans have lived. Understandably, those realities begin with, and often return to, the experiences of wilderness and frontier. That search led our writers early on to what Northrop Frye called the American romance-novel,1 which Richard Chase suggested underwent a “definitive adaptation to America,”2 producing what we may as well call the American romance-novel. More recently, the traditional American romance-novel has developed into what we will call North American Magical Realism.3
But there was no American literary tradition...
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SOURCE: “Succeeding Borges, Escaping Kafka: On the Fiction of Steven Millhauser,” in Salmagundi, No. 92, Fall, 1991, pp. 115-44.
[In the following essay, Kinzie comments on elements of both magic realism and horror in the works of Steven Millhauser.]
“Sinbad shifts in his seat.” So reads a sentence from a remarkable new story by Steven Millhauser, “The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad.”1 The diction, demeanor, indeed the whole rhetorical and genre “set” of that sentence is peculiar. Sinbad, the quasi-mythic hero of the Thousand and One Nights, the object (as Millhauser points out) of Scheherazade's meticulous suspensions of plot over the abyss of her death-sentence, and finally a meandering and befuddled narrator (of particular interest to our author) who can remember each voyage in greater detail than any text has ever suggested but who can no longer recall the order in which his voyages occurred—this classic wanderer, erotic experimenter, and sublime storytelling projection is brought down to a cliché of localized realism as he shifts in his seat.
The remark is a clue to the mode of parody in which Millhauser excels—the spoof of contemporary realistic narration in fiction. He incorporates into his metafictional sublime parodic imitations of what has come to be called fictional minimalism. Millhauser does not entirely believe in the...
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SOURCE: “‘Magic Realism,’ Or, The Split-Fingered Fastball of W. P. Kinsella,” in Aethlon, Vol. IX, No. 2, Spring, 1992, pp. 1-10.
[In the following essay, Hamblin discusses magic realism in the baseball stories of W. P. Kinsella.]
As Robert Francis's well-known poem, “Pitcher,” persuades us, the actions and intentions of a baseball pitcher and a writer are remarkably analogous, since both employ indirection, subtlety, deception, and suspense to achieve their desired effects. That being the case, it seems appropriate to develop the subject of this paper, the intertwining of fact and fantasy in W. P. Kinsella's baseball fiction, through the use of a pitching metaphor. As I hope to demonstrate, Kinsella as author is a master of a variety of deliveries, or “pitches.”
Undoubtedly the characteristic of Kinsella's stories that initially impresses a reader is his celebration of the power of creative invention, or (to use the current critical term) “fabulation.” In Kinsella's fictional world, it would appear, nothing is impossible; whatever the human imagination is capable of conceiving is considered appropriate subject matter for fiction. His two baseball novels demonstrate this point. In Shoeless Joe an Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella hears an anonymous voice telling him, “If you build it, he will come” (3). The it is understood to be a baseball field in the...
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Criticism: Magic Realism In Canadian Literature
SOURCE: “Middlewatch as Magic Realism,” in Canadian Literature, No. 92, Spring, 1982, pp. 10-21.
[In the following essay, Maillard discusses magic realist elements in Susan Kerslake's novel Middlewatch.]
I read Susan Kerslake's first novel, Middlewatch,1 in the spring of 1977. I found it a book not without minor flaws. Kerslake's fragile style, depending for effect upon juxtaposition of intense lyricism with a simple, folkloric narrative line, was a difficult one to control, and she faltered occasionally. But, after finishing the book, I was ready to forgive her anything. Wisps of Middlewatch persisted at the back of my mind for years—the magical shimmer of the writing, the resonance, the sheer importance of what was being said in such a quiet way. For me Kerslake had “that voice,” as Michael Ondaatje wrote of Márquez, “whose greatest power is that we trust it.”2
Shortly after I read Middlewatch, I discovered that I had been labelled, for the second time, a “magic realist.” My publisher, Dave Godfrey, had done it first in the dust jacket blurb of Two Strand River; he had meant it as more than merely a catch phrase to help sell books. My work, he told me, reminded him of the painting of Alex Colville and Ken Danby: the meticulous detailing so realistic it reverses into dream. But then Geoff Hancock, in the...
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SOURCE: “Magic or Realism: The Marvellous in Canadian Fiction,” in Magic Realism and Canadian Literature: Essays and Stories, edited by Peter Hinchcliffe and Ed Jewinski, University of Waterloo Press, 1986, pp. 30-48.
[In the following essay, Hancock provides an overview of magic realism in Canadian writing, arguing that Canada's vast wilderness and archeological history encourage a sense of the marvelous in its writers and artists.]
The extraordinary events I'm about to describe actually happened to me. As a western Canadian, whose home town was New Westminster, B.C., I experienced the improbable on a daily basis. You might expect logging, fishing, mining, but you would be amazed by the magic, myth and metaphor in the midst of such everyday occurrence.
As I thought about my remarkable personal life, I realized the strength of memory. My memory tells me I have experienced the incredible. Memory, as you know, contains two streams of images: the conscious and the unconscious. The images in my memory mix the probable and improbable. I realized at an early age that the source of magic realism is the realization that literature does not end at the point where our mental habits usually locate books, on a linear plane, like the real external world.
As I recall my past, I see magic realism in nostalgic terms. Like Julio Cortázar, I ache with “the nostalgia of not being...
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Criticism: Magic Realism In European Literature
SOURCE: “Socialist and Magic Realism: Veiling or Unveiling,” in Journal of Baltic Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3, Fall, 1979, pp. 218-27.
[In the following essay, Birutė explains similarities and differences among magic realist works of Latin-American and European socialist writers.]
The choice of my topic—juxtaposition of two seemingly quite disparate literary trends—has been prompted by several factors: (1) a growing awareness of Latin-American narrative and its significance in Soviet literary criticism;1 (2) some evident echoes of the new techniques in the latest works of younger authors in Lithuania;2 (3) almost paradoxical similarity in the original intention of both socialist and magic realism: protest against dictatorship and exploitation of the lower strata in capitalist systems, concern for a total vision of society. The modes of carrying out such programs could not be more divergent, however. One could therefore ask which is more effective: total subordination to guide-lines prescribed by the party, with strong predominance of ideological aspects, or concentration on original creation of works of art which demask and denounce the evils through sheer perfection of expression.
Socialist realism as a literary doctrine was fully formulated in 1934 during the First Congress of Soviet Writers. At that time, Ždanov hammered in the basic principles which were...
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SOURCE: “The Last of the Just: Between Borges and Garcia Marquez,” in World Literature Today, Vol. 59, No. 4, Autumn, 1985, pp. 517-24.
[In the following essay, Menton discusses the influence of Latin-American magic-realist writers on André Schwarz-Bart's novel Le dernier des Justes.]
André Schwarz-Bart's Le dernier des Justes (The Last of the Just), an outstanding novel of the Holocaust and recipient of the 1959 French Prix Goncourt, is not only a prime example of magic realism but also provides a link between two of the tendency's most famous Latin American practitioners, Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez. Hailed by critics upon its publication, The Last of the Just as late as 1963 was called by Pierre de Boisdeffre one of the most significant novels of the preceding twenty years, along with The Plague by Albert Camus. However, in the ensuing twenty years, Schwarz-Bart's novel seems to have fallen victim to the same plight as its main characters. The Levy family is persecuted by the Germans for being Jews while the French government will not admit them because they are Germans. French critics and literary historians of the past two decades have tended to ignore the novel almost completely, possibly because it is not in the mainstream of French literature,1 whereas Holocaust critics and literary historians have tended to deprecate it on religious...
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SOURCE: “Magic Realism in The White Hotel: Compensatory Vision and the Transformation of Classic Realism,” in Southern Humanities Review, Vol. 20, No. 3, Summer, 1986, pp. 205-19.
[In the following essay, Foster maintains that D. M. Thomas's novel The White Hotel “stands at one extreme end” of magic realism and therefore encourages a new critical understanding of the literary and artistic movement.]
The title of a recent book on magic realism in painting reads like an urgent appeal to students of twentieth-century culture. As we look back at the wildly jumbled terrain pushed up by all the modern movements in literature and art, suddenly Seymour Menton sends the message, Magic Realism Rediscovered.1 To judge from Menton's discussion of painting, this concept deserves a place of its own in the historical-typological vocabulary with which we isolate distinctive trends and try to emphasize their main defining features.2 Because magic realism refers to an international cultural tendency, it is broader than any single group of writers and/or painters, such as Vorticism, Acmeism or De Stijl. At the same time, it lacks the all-encompassing cultural scope of categories like modernism, the avant garde, or postmodernism. Magic realism seems ultimately to belong with such intermediate terms as surrealism, expressionism, and futurism, all of which designate movements with a...
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Criticism: Magic Realism In Asian Literature
SOURCE: “Beyond Transient Applause,” translated by Eva Hung and D. E. Pollard, in Renditions, Nos. 35 & 36, Spring & Autumn, 1991, pp. 299-304.
[In the following essay, Ji Ji discusses magic realism in the works of contemporary Taiwanese writers.]
In any age works of literature are created against a unique background with a specific emphasis and appeal. The impact of literature on men, be it great or insignificant, is a reflection of society's pulsation; the two are inextricably linked.
On the whole, Taiwan has witnessed a surge in literary activities in recent years, and compared with the 1960s and 1970s, the development of literature has been more complex and multi-faceted. However, whether the overall standard of literary works has improved correspondingly is a question that remains to be answered.
I am not a pessimist as far as literature is concerned; I have always been a believer and an enthusiast. But one who works in the field of literature and who tries to apply the wider perspective of literary history to recent literary developments in Taiwan cannot but be worried by some of the current phenomena: the huge increase in quantity at the expense of quality, the myopic vision of writers looking for overnight fame and profit, the trend among publishers towards vulgarization, resulting in “bad money driving out good”, all...
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SOURCE: “The Magic of Identity: Magic Realism in Modern Japanese Fiction,” in Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, edited by Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, Duke University Press, 1995, pp. 451-75.
[In the following essay, Napier maintains that magic realism in Japanese literature is inherently linked with the Japanese crisis of identity regarding modernity and Western influence.]
Akutagawa Ryunosuke's 1920 short story “The Nose” (Hana) concerns an old priest in ancient Japan with an embarrassing problem: his nose is ridiculously, unbelievably, long. Although he realizes that he should be above such mundane matters, the priest feels humiliated by the mockery of others and tries a variety of remedies, eventually succeeding in shrinking his nose down to normal size. Surprisingly, the priest soon finds himself wishing for his old nose again, as everyone mocks him all the more in his new improved condition. One day he wakes up to find a miracle has occurred: his nose has returned to its old larger shape. Satisfied, he whispers to himself “Now no one will laugh at me any more,” his nose blowing softly in the breeze.
“The Nose” is an early but classic story by Akutagawa, one of the most brilliant and versatile of Japan's fantasy writers: it delivers a matter-of-factly surreal world in compact form with a distinctive twist that turns our expectations...
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Criticism: Magic Realism In Latin-American Literature
SOURCE: “Jorge Luis Borges, Magic Realist,” in Hispanic Review, Vol. 50, No. 4, Autumn, 1982, pp. 411-26.
[In the following essay, Menton discusses the works of Jorge Luis Borges and the difference between magic realism and fantastic, or marvelous, literature.]
In the epilogue to the 1949 edition of El Aleph, Jorge Luis Borges states that with the exception of “Emma Zunz” and “Historia del guerrero y de la cautiva,” “las piezas de este libro corresponden al género fantástico.”1 This statement by Borges confirms the axiom that an author's words about his own works may not always be taken at face value. Although some of the stories in the volume do fall into the category of the fantastic, it would be difficult to justify that label for “Biografía de Tadeo Isidoro Cruz (1829-1874),” “La otra muerte,” or “Deutsches Requiem.” However, in order to dispute Borges' statement, the term “género fantástico” must first be defined. Although Tzevetan Todorov's categories of the marvelous, the uncanny, and the fantastic are often cited,2 it is my contention that by contrasting the fantastic with Magic Realism, both terms will become more clearly delineated, and this in turn will help us arrive at a clearer understanding and appreciation of Borges' short stories.
It should first of all be pointed out that the two terms are essentially...
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SOURCE: “Magical Realism in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Cien Anos de Soledad,” in INTI, Nos. 16 & 17, Fall 1982 & Spring 1983, pp. 37-52.
[In the following essay, Hart examines Gabriel García Márquez's novel Cien años de soledad in an attempt to simplify and reinterpret the idea of magic realism.]
Ce qu'il y a d'admirable dans le fantastique, c'est qu'il n'y a plus de fantastique: il n'y a que le réel.
It was in an article by Ángel Flores published in 1955 that the term magical realism—originally used by a German critic to characterise a type of Expressionist art—was first employed as a yard-stick to measure, compare and evaluate modern Latin American fiction. In this article, Flores pointed out that one of the distinguishing features of magical realism is its ability to transform ‘the common and the everyday into the awesome and the unreal’.2 Flores' article also stressed the connections between magical realism and examples of European art such as Kafka's novels and Chirico's paintings. Flores' article, however, soon came under attack from various sources. In an article published in 1967, Luis Leal attempted to show that Flores' various statements about magical realism were ill-founded. The main aim of Leal's article is to see magical-realist artists—the...
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SOURCE: “An Introduction to the Realities of Fiction: Teaching Magic Realism in Three Stories by Borges, Fuentes, and Marquez,” in Kansas Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 3, Summer, 1984, pp. 125-31.
[In the following essay, Benevento suggests strategies for teaching about magic realism in the works of three preeminent Latin-American writers.]
As David Young and Keith Hollaman note in their introduction to the anthology Magical Realist Fiction, “The term ‘magical realism’ as applied to fiction has begun to have a certain currency since the recent award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Gabriel García Márquez.”1 Certainly García Márquez's novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, is, as David W. Foster argues, an elaboration of the basic premises of magic realism.2 However, García Márquez's “definitive novel of Latin America” (Foster, 41), though perhaps the best known example, is by no means the only work of magic realism available to North American audiences. Indeed, there are currently a number of short stories and novels available to us in translation that present magic realism at its best.
A simple definition of magic realism is probably not possible. It can be viewed as a “hybrid that somehow manages to combine the ‘truthful’ and ‘verifiable’ aspects of realism with the ‘magical’ effects we associate with myth, folktale...
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SOURCE: “Beyond Magic Realism,” in Commentary, Vol. 78, No. 6, December, 1984, pp. 63-7.
[In the following essay, Kaplan discusses sociopolitical events in Latin America and the ways in which they have been interpreted in works of magic realism.]
The Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa is known both for his interest in politics and for his realistic narratives, as contrasted with the experimental forms favored by a number of his Latin American contemporaries. In his most recent novel, The War of the End of the World, Vargas Llosa has expressed his views on the dynamics of his continent's politics more forthrightly than in any of his previous books. He has done so, moreover, by recreating with scrupulous precision a real historical event, and has even dedicated his work to the author of the primary source on this event, which carried within itself many if not most of the central elements, the important issues, of 20th-century Latin American politics.
That Vargas Llosa should have been willing to go back nearly a hundred years to this event and ask himself how it resembles the contemporary scene is in itself an act of intellectual courage in a continent that has all too often dealt with its problems by denying them. It is altogether fitting that his courage should have been rewarded with so fine a novel.
The event in question was a rebellion in 1896-97...
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SOURCE: “Borges, Cortazar, and the Aesthetic of the Vacant Mind,” in International Fiction Review, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter, 1985, pp. 3-10.
[In the following essay, Wheelock explains the notion of “magical causality” in the works of Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar.]
Fifty-two years ago Jorge Luis Borges wrote an essay, “Narrative Art and Magic,”1 in which he described a common narrative device—that of prefiguration by innuendo—to show how it produces in fiction the effect that he called “magical causality.” Such foreshadowing by suggestion replaces objective reality with an inner reality belonging to the text alone. By addressing the question of causality, and by reminding us that it is not necessarily rooted in everyday truth, Borges put his finger on the essence of an artistic credo that was destined to characterize the main line of Spanish-American fiction from 1940 onward. His essay, long familiar to critics, is attracting second looks nowadays and getting increased attention in relation to literature outside of Spanish America. Clark Zlotchew, in a recent article,2 has linked it to later comments by Borges on the nature of unrealistic fiction to show a relationship to the French nouveau roman, in which he notes the frequent occurrence of the artifice called the mise en abyme or work within a work. Zlotchew quotes various critics to show...
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SOURCE: “Magic Realism and Fantastic History: Carlos Fuentes's Terra Nostra and Giambattista Vico's The New Science,” in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer, 1988, pp. 249-56.
[In the following essay, Zamora examines Carlos Fuentes's use of magical realism to interpret historical fact in Terra Nostra.]
As Seymour Menton has recently reminded us in his study, Magic Realism Rediscovered, the term “magic realism” dates from the twenties in Germany, where it was used by the art critic Franz Roh to describe the relationship of painting to the reality it represented, and to suggest the desirability of a return to a more realistic mode than the expressionism predominant at the time.1 Recently, however, the term would seem to have been more or less permanently borrowed from the visual arts by critics of literary art, in particular, critics of contemporary Latin American fiction, who have—perhaps too unequivocally—shifted the original German emphasis on the second half of the term to the first half, to the magical or fantastical dimensions of literature. “Magic realism” in Latin American criticism is currently used to describe fiction which is not considered to be essentially realistic: Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) is often cited as the epitome of the mode, despite its very realistic bases in...
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SOURCE: “Magic Realism and Garcia Marquez's Erendira,” in Literature Film Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 2, 1989, pp. 113-22.
[In the following essay, Mills examines magic realism in Gabriel García Márquez's novella Eréndira and his screenplay for the film.]
“Magic realism” is a term that has developed a certain voguish contemporary usage to describe such diverse artistic achievements as the novels and stories of John Cheever, the theatrical spectacles of Martha Clarke, and the recent Robert Redford film The Milagro Beanfield War.
“Magic realism,” however, has been used most often in recent years as a critical term that describes a certain approach to subject matter and style found in the fiction of a number of Latin American novelists, notably in the work of pre-eminent Colombian writer and 1982 Nobel laureate Gabriel Garciá Márquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Love in the Time of Cholera, and Eréndira. In recent years, too, Latin-American filmmakers appear to have drawn inspiration from the magico-realist approach to fiction. Since Garciá Márquez is also a screenwriter, having adapted a number of his literary works into cinematic form, it might be of interest to examine the idea of “magic realism” from the vantage point of Eréndira, both the 1972 novella and the 1981...
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SOURCE: “The Dark Side of Magical Realism: Science, Oppression, and Apocalypse in One Hundred Years of Solitude,” in Modern Fiction Studies, John Hopkins University Press, Vol. 36, No. 2, Summer, 1990, pp. 167-79.
[In the following essay, Conniff explores the use of magic realism in One Hundred Years of Solitude to describe and interpret many of the dark events in Latin-American history.]
In criticism of the Latin American novel, “magical realism” has typically been described as an impulse to create a fictive world that can somehow compete with the “insatiable fount of creation” that is Latin America's actual history.1 This concept of magical realism received perhaps its most influential endorsement in the Nobel Prize acceptance speech of Gabriel García Márquez. The famous Colombian novelist began this speech, suggestively enough, with an account of the “meticulous log” kept by Magellan's navigator, Antonia Pigafetta. In the course of this fateful exploration of the “Southern American continent,” the imaginative Florentine recorded such oddities as “a monstrosity of an animal with the head and ears of a mule, the body of a camel, the hooves of a deer, and the neigh of a horse” (207). In the course of his Nobel speech, García Márquez recorded many less imaginative but equally improbable facts—“in the past eleven years twenty million Latin American...
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SOURCE: “Magical Realism in Spanish American Literature,” translated by Wendy B. Faris, in Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, edited by Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, Duke University Press, 1995, pp. 119-24.
[In the following essay, Leal presents an overview of magic realism in Latin-American fiction.]
In his article on “Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction,” Professor Angel Flores proposes the year 1935 as marking the birth of magical realism.1 For Flores, Jorge Luis Borges' book A Universal History of Infamy, which appeared that year, marks the new trend in Hispanic American narrative. According to Flores, Borges' work reflects the influence of Kafka, whose stories the author of the Aleph had translated and published two years earlier.2 “In his laboriously precisionist way,” says Flores, “Kafka had mastered from his earliest short stories—‘The Judgment,’ (1912) ‘Metamorphosis’ (1916)—the difficult art of mingling his drab reality with the phantasmal world of his nightmares. … The novelty therefore consisted in the amalgamation of realism and fantasy. Each of these, separately and by devious ways, made its appearance in Latin America: realism, since the Colonial Period but especially during the 1880s; the magical, writ large from the earliest—in the letters of Columbus, in the chroniclers, in the sagas of...
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Criticism: Magic Realism In Israeli Literature And The Novels Of Salman Rushdie
SOURCE: “Magic Realism in the Israeli Novel,” in Prooftexts, John Hopkins University Press, Vol. 16, No. 2, May, 1996, pp. 151-68.
[In the following essay, Alter provides an overview of Israeli novels containing elements of magic realism.]
Until the publication in 1986 of David Grossman's spectacular second novel, See Under: Love, the very conjunction of magic realism and the Israeli novel would have seemed like a contradiction in terms. Since then, the face of Israeli fiction has assumed new, at times surprisingly antic, features, and there have been abundant and exuberant transgressions of the conventions of realism of varying kinds. But it is important to keep in mind that any manifestation of fantasy in Hebrew fiction has to be made against the heavy weight of a dominant tradition of intent realism that goes all the way back to Hebrew writing in nineteenth-century Russia.
It is exemplary of the governing impulse of Hebrew fiction that when Mendele (S. Y. Abramovitsh, 1835-1917) adopted Gogol as an important literary model, he drew exclusively on Gogol the satiric realist, excluding Gogol the fantasist. A nose is a palpable Jewish nose in Mendele, drawn by the novelist to loom over tangled beard and greasy caftan, and by no means meant to detach itself from its realistic physiognomic moorings and to go strolling through the shtetl streets. Characteristically, when the next...
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SOURCE: “‘Forget Those Damnfool Realists!’ Salman Rushdie's Self-Parody as the Magic Realist's ‘Last Sigh’,” in ARIEL, Vol. 29, No. 4, October, 1998, pp. 121-39.
[In the following essay, Moss discusses Salman Rushdie's self-referential parody of magic realism in his novels.]
Magic realism is in danger of becoming what the Australian novelist Peter Carey has called a “cheap cliché” (11). Recently it has been so widely employed that it has lost its cachet as an avant garde form. The problem lies in its popularization by writers of divergent skills and the paradoxical critical depreciation of the form, which directly results from such mass popularity. Magic realism is the accepted juxtaposition of the ordinary and the extraordinary in a narrative that otherwise appears to be “reliable” and objective, but the extraordinary loses its extraordinariness when it becomes predictable through repetition. It becomes just a writerly trope. Such an emptying of the form has become troublesome for those writers who have come to be associated with magic realism. On one hand, Gabriel García Márquez, often cited as the father of the form, adamantly resists the imposition of the label magic realism on his work, as he argues that such writing is simple narrative trickery. García Márquez maintains that many of his European readers see the magic in his stories but do not see the realism, because...
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Criticism: Magic Realism In Literature Written By Women
SOURCE: “Naming, Magic and Documentary: The Subversion of the Narrative in Song of Solomon, Ceremony and China Men,” in Feminist Re-Visions: What Has Been and Might Be, edited by Vivian Patraka and Louise A. Tilly, Women's Studies Program, The University of Michigan, 1983, pp. 26-42.
[In the following essay, Rabinowitz examines magic realism in works by American minority women.]
I write as an outsider. As a woman, I will always be an outsider within patriarchal culture, as a white woman, I will always be an outsider to the experiences of the oppressed minorities in America; however, as a feminist, I wish to begin bridging those gaps which racism has created among all women, to eradicate sexism. The work of feminist critics needs to be expanded to include understandings of racism, class bias and cultural imperialism as they modify women's experiences.
Frantz Fanon (1967) suggests that the awareness of racial difference alters the construction of self among colonized people, creating a permanent sense of otherness. This extreme alienation is often manifested psychologically in the individual, politically in the state, socially in the economy of imperialism, and culturally in language. Recently, Ellen Willis (1982: 1) has speculated about the radical otherness experienced by black women: perhaps, in a racist culture, the experience of the racially oppressed woman...
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SOURCE: “Special Effects, Special Pleading,” in The New Criterion, Vol. 6, No. 5, January, 1988, pp. 34-40.
[In the following essay, Bayles argues that Toni Morrison's use of magic realism led her to ignore her greatest strengths as a novelist and caused her work to be mediocre at best.]
Eighteen years later, as he gazed out over the literary landscape, the swaggering, mustachioed Colombian called Gabriel García Márquez was to recall the remote afternoon when he slipped his magnum opus, One Hundred Years of Solitude, into the wax-cold, ink-smudged hands of a New York Times literary critic whose mother had named him John Leonard, and a great event happened that neither García Márquez's kindly mother nor the white-haired Mrs. Leonard could have foreseen, namely the Colombian's words set the North America's “mind on fire,” causing jewel-bright hardback copies, followed by glittering rows of paperbacks, to replicate like dragon's teeth on the shelves of a thousand bookstores, touching off aesthetic conflagrations in a million gringo skulls that had never, in their wildest fantasies of world domination through advanced technology, dreamed of an enchantment like the new Latin American novel.
Hey, this magic realism stuff is easy, once you get the hang of it.
Toni Morrison would never put it that way. But you can bet she was impressed back in 1970,...
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SOURCE: “The Real and the Marvelous in Charleston, South Carolina: Ntozake Shange's Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo,” in Genealogy and Literature, edited by Lee Quinby, University of Minnesota Press, 1991, pp. 175-92.
[In the following essay, Saldivar traces the magic realism in the works of Ntozake Shange to both Latin-American and Afro-Caribbean influences.]
It is probably true that critics of African and Afro-American literature were trained to think of the institution of literature essentially as a set of Western texts.
—Henry Louis Gates Jr. The Signifying Monkey
Ntozake Shange has been widely praised for her oppositional feminist “combat-breathing” poetics in her explosive Broadway choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1976) and for her powerful “lyricism” in Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo (1982), but her use of Afro-Caribbean and Latin American magic realism has received little attention, owing to an inadequate understanding of a vast and rich literary and cultural movement in the Americas that began over forty years ago.1
The reasons for this state of affairs are complex. Henry Louis Gates correctly claims that critics of African American texts are trained to think of “the institution of literature essentially as a...
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SOURCE: “Past-On Stories: History and the Magically Real, Morrison and Allende on Call,” in Feminist Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2, Summer, 1992, pp. 369-88.
[In the following essay, Foreman provides a feminist reading of the magic realism in works by Isabel Allende and Toni Morrison.]
The storyteller takes what [she] tells from experience—[her] own or that reported by others. And [she] in turn makes it the experience of those who are listening to [the] tale. … In every case the storyteller is a [wo]man who has counsel for [her] reader. … Today having counsel is beginning to have an old-fashioned ring … because the communicability of experience is decreasing.
—Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller,” in Illuminations
In the postmodern world of dead authors and destabilized subjects, “experience” resounds like something embarrassingly anti-quated. Nonetheless, repossessing historical experience which “reclaim[s] the past”1 is Isabel Allende's work, as it is, similarly, Toni Morrison's. In The House of the Spirits, Allende writes to “keep alive the memory” of her country, Chile. Similarly, in Song of Solomon, Morrison is explicitly concerned with the process of “rememory,” as she will be later in Beloved. “Somewhere,” she often says, “someone forgot to tell somebody...
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SOURCE: “Magic Feminism in Isabel Allende's The Stories of Eva Luna,” in Multicultural Literatures through Feminist/Post Structuralist Lenses, edited by Barbara Frey Waxman, The University of Tennessee Press, 1993, pp. 103-36.
[In the following essay, Hart provides a feminist interpretation of Isabel Allende's Eva Luna.]
Magic used to show the reader what equality between the sexes should be is a key technique employed by Isabel Allende in The Stories of Eva Luna.1 In the long tradition of magic realism in Latin American letters, the point has never been to hold up an exact mirror to reality, but rather to reflect deeper truths about human nature, sociopolitical conditions, and mortality through what on the surface often appear flamboyant, contradictory, or impossible events. That is exactly what Allende does in this book with such major feminist concerns as prostitution, child abuse, and rape. Reality is transformed to force us to recognize truths about these subjects we may previously have ignored.
A lot of critics of Isabel Allende's first book, The House of the Spirits, seized on her blending of magic, hyperbole, and realism to insist that the book was a shallow rip-off of Colombian Gabriel García Márquez, not perceiving her vast fundamental differences from the Nobel laureate, or that most of the superficial similarities to One Hundred Years...
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SOURCE: “Voyages of Discovery: Leonora Carrington's Magical Prose,” in Women's Studies, Vol. 23, No. 3, July, 1994, pp. 271-84.
[In the following essay, Gaensbauer describes Leonora Carrington's works of magic realism as “subversive voyages of self-discovery.”]
Surrealism has always been associated with the act of discovery, and the surrealists have frequently been compared to the explorers who came to the “New World” in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In his comprehensive study of the movement, Michael Carrouges portrays surrealism as a crossing of the “tropical jungles,” of the “prodigious savage continent opened up by Freud,” and the discovery of “new paths to penetrate toward the mysteries of our own bodies, toward the mental currents that unite all humanity and toward the cosmic mysteries themselves.”1 Among the surrealists, few, perhaps only Antonin Artaud, have penetrated this “prodigious savage continent” more deeply than the artist and writer Leonora Carrington.2 In her writing, Carrington risked her words—and her worlds—like ships, in fantastic autobiographical tales that became subversive voyages of self-discovery.3 “Words are treacherous,” says a character in her first novel, The Stone Door, “because they are incomplete. The written word hangs in time like a lump of lead. Everything should move with the ages...
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SOURCE: “El Plan Infinito: Isabel Allende's New World,” in Secolas Annals, Vol. 25, March, 1994, pp. 55-61.
[In the following essay, Perricone briefly discusses magic realism in Isabel Allende's novel El Plan Infinito as a natural element of her characters' lives.]
Isabel Allende's latest novel El plan infinito1 coincides with the new life she has begun in California with significant implications on her subject matter and stylistic approach while retaining her interest in social and feminist concerns. Deriving from an intimate connection between life and art, she (as both the real and the created author of the novel), relates and explores life and society in the United States from the 1930's through the late 1980's. So captivated is this Chilean author by what is a new world for her—all her previous novels dealt with Latin America—that she is able to create an authentic work of the epoch of radical change which characterized the half century she presents. In El plan infinito, a novel of 359 pages and constructed in four sections which correspond to the principal character's life, Allende deals with numerous social and political complexities of the twentieth century: the Depression; World War II, especially the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; changing attitudes towards and experimentation with new religions, particularly the oriental; the sexual...
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SOURCE: “Usurping Difference in the Feminine Fantastic from the Riverplate,” in Studies in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 20, No. 1, Winter, 1996, pp. 235-49.
[In the following essay, Clark discusses magic realism in works by women writers of the Riverplate region of Argentina and Uruguay.]
The Riverplate region of Argentina and Uruguay witnessed a flowering of fantastic literature with precursors such as Leopoldo Lugones and Horacio Quiroga in the early decades of the twentieth century, and Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar as internationally acclaimed figures in the 1960s and 1970s. Borges and Cortázar transcended the marginalized position associated with a literary form which, in the predominantly realistic tradition of Latin American literature, was often considered to be second-rate and escapist. Today, the fantastic narrative has been recognized as a valid tool for the creation of a totalizing view and transcription of experience, however, while women writers from Argentina and Uruguay have had a share in the renovation and maturation of Latin America's esthetic and literary consciousness, their contributions have been studied only in isolated cases. Overshadowed and marginalized by a focus on the critically acknowledged male masters of the fantastic, women writers were not in a position to benefit from the favorable climate of the Boom and this marginalization is illustrated in the...
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SOURCE: “‘To Build Is to Dwell’: The Beautiful, Strange Architectures of Alice Hoffman's Novels,” in Hollins Critic, Vol. XXXIII, No. 5, December, 1996, pp. 1-15.
[In the following essay, Davidson argues that the magic realism in Alice Hoffman's novels is characterized by Romantic individualism.]
When I was a child and hours inched with gargantuan infinitude beyond me, past me, I can remember my near-sensual craving, the detail-mongering distilled into a ravenousness, the morning a crow flapped down into my driveway. In that immaculate environment, my mother'd set me out to play: here were no grease marks, oil spots, tire streaks, only the sunstruck expanse of white stretching beyond my hands. Suddenly, he was there, ebony as a night of imploded stars, his wings wind-ruffled, his beak sharp as a wound; he was there, eyeing me then strutting across our driveway with the cool impunity any nightmare from the subconscious, materialized, might possess. And, studying him with my child's brain, it was as if I were falling, plummeting into that welter of sleek black feathers blue-sheened, green-glowing, over the grit and dust of his pale, pale skin, into his blank gold eye cocked toward me, into the struggling mass of details which was the only existence I knew. Understood. Possessed.
Reading Alice Hoffman's novels. I'm reminded again of that crow, of how I pulled the...
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SOURCE: “From Magical Realism to Fairy Tale: Isabel Allende's The Stories of Eva Luna,” in West Virginia University Philolocial Papers, Vols. 42-44, 1997, pp. 103-07.
[In the following essay, Buehrer questions whether magic realism has degenerated into fairy tale in Isabel Allende's The Stories of Eva Luna.]
While Latin American fiction has undergone a veritable renaissance in this country during the past quarter century, its reputation until quite recently has been restricted to a recognition of that handful of magical realist male novelists, such as Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Carlos Fuentes, whose works were first translated into English during the early 1960s. The apparent dearth of women writers on the Latin American literary scene over the same period may be attributed to several factors, not the least of which include a staunchly patriarchal Euro-American publishing industry and what might be more vaguely called, to borrow Harold Bloom's phrase, an “anxiety of influence.”1 Specifically, magical realism, or that strange “intermingling of the fantastic and the realistic, … the penchant for kaleidoscopic dissolves, the sheer dazzle of language that evokes fairy tale at one level and family chronicle at the other,”2 has become by now a household phrase, at least among most readers and scholars of contemporary fiction. Hence, Latin...
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SOURCE: “Gloria Naylor's Mama Day as Magic Realism,” in The Critical Response to Gloria Naylor, edited by Sharon Felton and Michelle C. Loris, Greenwood Press, 1997, pp. 177-86.
[In the following essay, Hayes describes the magic realism of Gloria Naylor's novel Mama Day and the writing of other African Americans as “postmodern subversiveness at its best.]
Three days before the hurricane of the century has even been predicted by the National Weather Service, Miranda (“Mama”) Day is in her kitchen peeling peaches for a pie when suddenly she “feels death all around her” (226). Looking out the back door of her trailer to find “wind steady from the southeast and not a cloud in the sky,” she nevertheless unequivocally knows that not only will a hurricane hit Willow Springs, but it will “be a big, big storm,” a hurricane “born in hell” (227), “an 18 & 23er” (228). No one in the world except Miranda knows that this hurricane is coming to devastate the southeastern United States, and only after she has intuited the future arrival and magnitude of the as-yet-unformed hurricane does she recall empirical evidence from nature that could support her intuition. Her foreknowledge is presented as magical—that is, rationally unexplainable according to the laws of nature as we know them—and at the same time absolutely real, as the hurricane later proves by arriving as she...
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SOURCE: “Supernatural Interactions, Eastern Ghosts, and Postmodern Narrative: Angela Carter's Fireworks,” in ARIEL, Vol. 30, No. 3, July, 1999, pp. 63-85.
[In the following essay, Goh explores magic realism, feminism, and postmodernism in Angela Carter's short story collection Fireworks.]
The work of deconstructing and dismantling “orientalist” discourses by such scholars as Edward Said and Chris Bongie reaches an impasse at the borders of the postmodern narrative. Said's key work, Orientalism, in the first place, is essentially a historiography concerned with “a Western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient” (3). This historiography encounters—and sets itself—certain limits in space and time: it is primarily interested in the “Franco-British involvement in the Orient,” particularly “from the beginning of the nineteenth century until the end of World War II” (3, 4). Secondly, Said generally focuses on a relatively straightforward mode of discourse, what he calls “scholarship,” which from a poststructuralist point of view might be seen as an old-fashioned belief in objective “facts” of society, an observation that is true even of more recent versions of orientalism in the 1960s and 1970s. Said himself disparages this “new American social-science attention to the Orient” (4), which reduces Islamic cultures by failing to...
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SOURCE: “Rethinking the Relevance of Magic Realism for English-Canadian Literature: Reading Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees,” in Studies in Canadian Literature, Vol. 24, No. 1, 1999, pp. 1-19.
[In the following essay, Andrews argues for a revision of definitions of magic realism in Canadian literature based on Ann-Marie MacDonald's lesbian feminist novel Fall on Your Knees.]
Magic realism remains a vexed concept for Canadian literature, despite having been adopted to describe a specific group of English-Canadian texts, including Robert Kroetsch's What the Crow Said and Jack Hodgins's The Invention of the World. Traditionally, magic realism has referred to Latin America fiction. Thus, this transplanting of magic realism to a Canadian context created a series of debates during the 1970s and 1980s regarding definitions of the phrase, its applicability to English-language works produced in regions outside of “the third world,” and the relationship of magic realism to other critical frameworks, including postmodernism and postcolonialism (Slemon 9). Over the last decade, however, examinations of Canadian magic realism have dwindled. Such neglect raises the question of whether magic realism is still relevant or potentially useful to the field of Canadian literature. The publication of a voluminous critical anthology by Duke University Press in 1995, called Magical...
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Bakker, Martin. “Magic Realism and the Archetype in Hubert Lampo's Work.” Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies Revue 12, No. 2 (Fall 1991): 17-21.
Discusses archetypal mythology in the magic realism of Flemish writer Hubert Lampo.
Bartlett, Catherine. “Magical Realism: The Latin American Influence on Modern Chicano Writers.” Confluencia 1, No. 2 (Spring 1986): 27-37.
Argues that contemporary American Chicano writers take the bulk of their inspiration from Mexican and South-American writers of magic realist fiction rather than from Anglo-American writers.
Chamberlain, Lori. “Magicking the Real: Paradoxes of Postmodern Writing.” In Postmodern Fiction: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide, edited by Larry McCaffery, pp. 5-21. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986.
Discusses the place of magic realism in postmodern fiction.
Cohn, Deborah. “To See or Not to See: Invisibility, Clairvoyance, and Revisions of History in Invisible Man and Las Casa de los espíritus.
Argues that Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Isabel Allende's La casa de los espíritus use magic realism to explore the experiences of the marginalized in their respective societies.
D'Haen, Theo. “Irish Realism, Magic Realism and...
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