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A Companion to Magical Realism

A Companion to Magical Realism

Stephen M. Hart
Wen-chin Ouyang
Series: Monografías A
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    A Companion to Magical Realism
    Book Description:

    The Companion to Magical Realism provides an assessment of the world-wide impact of a movement which was incubated in Germany, flourished in Latin America and then spread to the rest of the world. It provides a set of up-to-date assessments of the work of writers traditionally associated with magical realism such as Gabriel García Márquez (in particular his recently published memoirs), Alejo Carpentier, Miguel ngel Asturias, Juan Rulfo, Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel and Salman Rushdie, as well as bringing into the fold new authors such as W.B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, José Saramago, Dorit Rabinyan, Ovid, María Luisa Bombal, Ibrahim al-Kawni, Mayra Montero, Nakagami Kenji, José Eustasio Rivera and Elias Khoury, discussed for the first time in the context of magical realism. Written in a jargon-free style, and with all quotations translated into English, this book offers a refreshing new interdisciplinary slant on magical realism as an international literary phenomenon emerging from the trauma of colonial dispossession. The companion also has a Guide to Further Reading. Stephen Hart is Professor of Hispanic Studies, University College London and Doctor Honoris Causa of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima, Peru. Wen-chin Ouyang lectures in Arabic Literature and Comparative Literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. CONTRIBUTORS: Jonathan Allison, Michael Berkowitz, John D. Erickson, Robin Fiddian, Evelyn Fishburn, Stephen M. Hart, David Henn, Stephanie Jones, Julia King, Efraín Kristal, Mark Morris, Humberto Núñez-Faraco, Wen-Chin Ouyang, Lois Parkinson Zamora, Helene Price, Tsila A. Ratner, Kenneth Reeds, Alejandra Rengifo, Lorna Robinson, Sarah Sceats, Donald L. Shaw, Stefan Sperl, Philip Swanson, Jason Wilson.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-388-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Globalization of Magical Realism: New Politics of Aesthetics
    (pp. 1-22)
    Stephen M. Hart and Wen-chin Ouyang

    From a term used in 1925 by a German art critic, Franz Roh, to indicate the demise of Expressionism,¹ magical realism grew to become an important feature of the Boom literature of the 1960s in Latin America (particularly in Gabriel García Márquez’sOne Hundred Years of Solitudeof 1967) until it became, by the 1990s, in the words of Homi Bhabha ‘the literary language of the emergent postcolonial world’.² Unpacking that history is a complex one and beyond the scope of this introductory essay, but a few lines may be drawn in the sand. InNach-Expressionismus, Magischer Realismus: Probleme der...


    • Introduction
      (pp. 25-27)
      Stephen M. Hart

      This section uses three related but distinct motifs – genealogy, myth, and archive – in order to address the foundational moment of magical realism. In ‘Swords and Silver Rings: Magical Objects in the Work of Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez’, Lois Parkinson Zamora traces the complex genealogy of magic through a set of key figures. She identifies a line of continuity running from Franz Roh’s sense of the ‘oppositional energy’ inherent in the painted objects of magical-realist painting, through Borges’s portrayal of objects via an iconography she labels ‘magical idealism’, up to the ‘baroque objects’ which populate García...

    • Swords and Silver Rings: Magical Objects in the Work of Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez
      (pp. 28-45)
      Lois Parkinson Zamora

      As is well known, the term ‘magical realism’ was first applied to the visual arts in 1925, when the German art critic Franz Roh used it to describe a group of painters whom we now categorize generally as Post-Expressionists. The term had been coined more than a century earlier by the German Romantic philosopher Novalis to describe an idealized philosophical protagonist capable of integrating ordinary phenomena and magical meanings.² Novalis may have been Roh’s source for the term, given certain marked similarities in their arguments, most particularly in their refusal of the either/or structures of instrumental reason and their shared...

    • The Presence of Myth in Borges, Carpentier, Asturias, Rulfo and García Márquez
      (pp. 46-54)
      Donald L. Shaw

      The only critical text which attempts to deal directly with the mythical roots of magical realism is Graciela Ricci’sRealismo mágico y conciencia mítica en América Latina(Magical Realism and Mythic Consciousness in Latin America, 1983).¹ Unlike Seymour Menton in hisHistoria verdadera del realismo mágico(True History of Magical Realism, 1998)² she accepts both the ‘marvelousness’ which is alleged to be inherent in external reality and the marvelousness which derives from the act of perception on the part of a certain category of viewers. Following Carpentier, in his famous prologue toEl reino de este mundo (The Kingdom of...

    • The Earth as Archive in Bombal, Parra, Asturias and Rulfo
      (pp. 55-66)
      Julia King and Stephen M. Hart

      The term ‘archive’ is common currency in criticism on Latin American literature,¹ and especially in the analysis of magical realism.² The term has often been used to locate early twentieth-century Latin American novels in relation to their successors during the 1960s Boom generation. In this way the archive constitutes a residual reference point from which the so-called Latin American legacy³ can be extracted. In this essay, however, the term ‘archive’ takes on a different meaning, becoming an active source which cannot be conceived of in its entirety. It is an archive similar to that referred to by Foucault since it...

    • Alejo Carpentier’s Re-invention of América Latina as Real and Marvellous
      (pp. 67-78)
      Jason Wilson

      The work of the Cuban novelist and musicologist Alejo Carpentier (1901–1980) was a nodal point in the debate about how to define Latin American uniqueness. His fiction struggled to identify this Latin American cultural uniqueness within the long-standing history of Latin American dependence on and mimicry of Europe – in essence, Paris. Paris, as is often cited, was the capital of the nineteenth century,² where the life of the mind vibrated most contagiously, to para-phrase Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío,³ famously accused by the Spanish critic Juan Valera in 1888 of having adopted a French mindset. A crucial moment in...

    • The Golden Age Myth in Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Ovid’s Metamorphoses
      (pp. 79-87)
      Lorna Robinson

      In the prologue to his novelEl reino de este mundo,¹ the Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier writes the following: ‘Because of the virginity of the land, our upbringing, our ontology, the Faustian presence of the Indian and the black man, the revelation constituted by its recent discovery, its fecund racial mixing, America is far from using up its wealth of mythologies. After all, what is the entire history of America if not a chronicle of the marvellous real?’ (Carpentier, p. 88). Carpentier’s formulation of magical realism, as a mode of literature emerging essentially from the largely untapped and Baroque magnificence...

    • Lessons from the Golden Age in Gabriel García Márquez’s Living to Tell the Tale
      (pp. 88-98)
      Efraín Kristal

      One April day in 1950 the 22-year-old writer, eaten up with nerves, offers the rough typescript of his first novel to the old Catalan dramatist, Don Ramón Vinyes, leading spirit of their bohemian group. Putting on his spectacles, Don Ramón smooths the pages out on the café table and reads, without any variation in his expression, the opening section of what would becomeLeaf Storm. Then, replacing his spectacles in their case, and the case in his breast pocket, he makes a few comments on the novelist’s handling of time – which was, as García Márquez admits here, ‘my life-or-death...


    • Introduction
      (pp. 101-102)
      Stephen M. Hart

      It was Stephen Dedalus, a character in Joyce’sUlysses(1922), who once famously stated that ‘history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’, and some of the edge of Dedalus’s idea animates the essays brought together in this section. One of the most contentious areas surrounding the analysis of magical realism is the intrinsic depth attached to the use of fantasy in magical-realist novels. Is fantasy, for example, simply a case of escapism or does it voice a concrete political critique? Does the fantasy in a magical-realist novel indicate the hallucinations of an artist who is in...

    • History and the Fantastic in José Saramago’s Fiction
      (pp. 103-113)
      David Henn

      In Lisbon, during the second half of 1709, a Brazilian-born priest and inventor, Bartolomeu Lourenço de Gusmão, made a number of attempts to launch a balloon-type apparatus. Eventually the craft, popularly known as thePassarola(Great Bird), took off from the heights of St George’s castle, overlooking the centre of the city, and apparently carried Lourenço down to the vicinity of the River Tagus – a distance of about one kilometre.¹

      Father Bartolomeu Lourenço, who was referred to in his day as ‘the flying man’ (Corrêa Neves, p. 19), is one of the principal characters of José Saramago’sBaltasar and...

    • Magical-realist Elements in José Eustasio Rivera’s The Vortex
      (pp. 114-122)
      Humberto Núñez-Faraco

      José Eustasio Rivera published his only novel,The Vortex, four years before his untimely death in 1928. It is now considered the greatest novel of the jungle and one of the most influential books in the development of Spanish American narrative during the first half of the century. It describes the cruelties and injustice endured by rubber workers at a time when the growing demand for rubber from Europe and North America had made it a profitable enterprise in a region which, up to then, had been virtually ignored by the Colombian civil authorities. I refer to the forests of...

    • Beyond Magical Realism in The Red of His Shadow by Mayra Montero
      (pp. 123-130)
      Alejandra Rengifo

      It is not obvious at first glance why a writer like Mayra Montero should be included in a volume of this kind. Yet the oblique manner in which the legacy of writers such as Carpentier and García Márquez operates in some of the works of this Cuban-Puerto Rican novelist is precisely what makes her novels rich and, in a very particular way, has allowed her to re-theorize magical realism within her texts. The purpose of this study is to see how, through the portrayal of Voodoo practices, beliefs and rituals Montero conjures up, especially inEl rojo de su sombra...

    • Cops, Robbers, and Anarcho-terrorists: Crime and Magical Realism’s Jewish Question
      (pp. 131-141)
      Michael Berkowitz

      This essay considers the novels of two Israelis,The Zigzag Kid(1994, Eng. trans., 1997) by David Grossman¹ andFour Mothers(1996, Eng. trans., 1999) by Shifra Horn,² and four by American Jews:Leviathan(1992) by Paul Auster,³Bee Season(2000) by Myla Goldberg,⁴The Escape Artist(1997) by Judith Katz,⁵ andThe Isaac Quartet(orig. 1974; most recent compilation, 2002) by Jerome Charyn.⁶ My aims in this essay are threefold: first, to call attention to the fact that there are a number of contemporary Jewish authors who may be understood and appreciated through the lens of magical realism. Although...

    • Flights of Fancy: Angela Carter’s Transgressive Narratives
      (pp. 142-150)
      Sarah Sceats

      Angela Carter (1940–1992) is on the face of it an unlikely candidate for inclusion in this volume. The perspective from which she writes, however, is a peculiar one. Stimulated by her sojourn in Japan in 1969–72 (where she claims to have become radicalised) and by travels in Australia, Asia, Europe and the United States, she adopts the ‘view from elsewhere’, seeing British culture as wonderfully strange, peculiar, exotic. In her journalism especially, she anatomises cultural detail – clothing, fashion, make-up, food, shops, politicians, pop music – with the defamiliarising eye of a poet. On one particularly involving trip,...


    • Introduction
      (pp. 153-154)
      Wen-chin Ouyang

      There is perhaps no need to reiterate that magical realism is inherently political concerned not only with the continuing influence of empire in the postcolonial world but also with the corruption of political authority set up in the postindependence nation-states, not to mention the attendant cultural politics that partake in the formulation of a plausible postcolonial national identity. But there is politics and there is politics. All roads may lead to empire and nation, but not all forms of power politics chip at the grand narratives in the same way. For one thing, there is that mysterious discourse driving ideology...

    • Humour and Magical Realism in El reino de este mundo
      (pp. 155-167)
      Evelyn Fishburn

      The episode of the burning at the stake of Makandal encapsulates perfectly what I consider to be the principal and distinguishing feature of Latin American magical realism: the juxtaposition of European and native American or Afro- American perceptions of events. It also serves as a key example of ‘bisociative shock’, a neologism invented by Arthur Koestler to describe what he considers an important trigger of humour. In this pivotal chapter ofEl reino de este mundo(The Kingdom of this World), the scene is set for theauto da feof the runaway slave, an event which will be understood...

    • Magical Realism and Children’s Literature: Isabel Allende’s La Ciudad de las Bestias
      (pp. 168-180)
      Philip Swanson

      Magical realism is an inevitably paradoxical term. Thus the most obvious question to ask about it is also the most fraught: how far does it reveal or obscure reality? In the study of Latin American literature, critics have, historically, been divided broadly between those who see the magical or fantastic dimension as underlining the essentially fictional or unknowable nature of both literature and reality, and those who see the magical or fantastic as a means of opening up imaginative new perspectives on social or political reality.

      There is no doubt that political readings of Latin American literature are now in...

    • Unsavoury Representations in Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate
      (pp. 181-190)
      Helene Price

      Of all the novels to come out of Latin America, Laura Esquivel’sComo agua para chocolate(1989)² is surely one of the most commercially successful. The same may be said of its cinematic counterpart, which was directed by the novelist’s then husband Alfonso Arau in 1992, when Arau wrote a screenplay that faithfully emulated the structure and spirit of his wife’s work. The film was, to a large extent, responsible for the regeneration of the Mexican film industry, as the country’s most commercially successful film of the decade of its release. The statistics are now familiar: the book was the...

    • Not So Innocent – An Israeli Tale of Subversion: Dorit Rabinyan’s Persian Brides
      (pp. 191-198)
      Tsila (Abramovitz) Ratner

      Persian Brides, a novel by the Israeli woman writer Dorit Rabinyan, takes place in the Jewish quarter of a small Persian village ruled by cunning ghosts, devils and strong-minded women, at the turn of the twentieth century.¹ The plot revolves around the desperate journeys of two girls/women, that of the pregnant fifteen-years-old Flora who sneaks out of her mother’s house at night to look for her swindler husband who has deserted her, and that of little eleven years old Nazie, Flora’s orphaned cousin, who leaves the same house at dawn to seek the local mullah’s permission to marry her cousin...

    • Magical Realism as Ideology: Narrative Evasions in the Work of Nakagami Kenji
      (pp. 199-209)
      Mark Morris

      I’m haunted by one character in Mario Vargas Llosa’sThe Green House. He’s known by the name Fushía – which could come from the Japanese surname Fujiya; he is often addressed by the nickname Japonito – the little Jap. (The English translation opts for Jappy – not a word I’ve ever heard.) He’s wandered over the border from Brazil into Peru after a violent gaol-break: ‘Do you know that I sent them to the hospital? The newspapers talked about Japanese cruelty, … Oriental vengeance’.¹ He will become a pirate, organising one group of native jungle ‘indios’ to prey on others...

    • Legend, Fantasy and the Birth of the New in Los funerales de la Mamá Grande by Gabriel García Márquez
      (pp. 210-222)
      Robin Fiddian

      Critics have for a long time acknowledged the insight and artistry of Gabriel García Márquez’s fictional representations of the mindsets – political, religious, cultural, and imaginative – of Latin American societies of contemporary and recent times. In the context of a colloquium on magical realism and fantastic modes of writing, the title story of the author’s first major collection of short fictions,Los funerales de la Mamá Grande (Big Mama’s Funeral)(1962), cries out for attention, representing, as it does, a landmark in García Márquez’s evolution away from a realistic style of writing that he practised with few exceptions during...


    • Introduction
      (pp. 225-227)
      Wen-chin Ouyang

      More than two decades after the publication of these famous words, Benedict Anderson’s reflection on the grip of nation-ness in contemporary imaginings of community continues to hold true even today, when observers of the dire consequences of nationalism gone awry have been cautioning against militant nationalism and advocating a move towards postnational construction of community for just as long. Nationalism informs not only political thought and action, but also the ways in which history is written, literary texts shaped and literary criticism mapped. The seemingly conflicting impulses driving political, literary or critical discourses today may be seen as differing responses...

    • Magical Nationalism, Lyric Poetry and the Marvellous: W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney
      (pp. 228-236)
      Jonathan Allison

      If the ‘literary fantastic’, in Tzetvan Todorov’s terms, is applicable to fictional narratives only, not to poetry, in what ways can we approach the use of marvellous and fantastic elements in poetry so as to make sense of their aesthetic and ideological functions?¹ I focus on what Todorov might call the ‘marvellous’ in Irish legendary narratives, with particular emphasis on how one modern poet, W.B. Yeats (1865–1939) and one contemporary poet, Seamus Heaney, have adapted traditional materials for their own lyric purposes. I will argue that lyric poems using fantastic elements, shaped from indigenous folklore narratives, have the power...

    • Empire and Magic in a Tuareg Novel: Ibrāhīm al-Kawnī’s al-Khusūf (The Lunar Eclipse)
      (pp. 237-246)
      Stefan Sperl

      Ibrāhīm al-Kawnī was born in 1948 in a remote region of the Libyan desert near the border with Algeria and Niger. According to his own testimony he grew up speaking Tamashek, the Tuareg language, and only learnt Arabic after the age of twelve when he went to school in one of the oasis towns of Southern Libya. He states that from an early age onwards he had developed the ambition of writing what he calls ‘the epic of the desert’, a task which, in his view, had yet to be accomplished.¹ After a long period of gestation, much of it...

    • Magical Realism and Nomadic Writing in the Maghreb
      (pp. 247-255)
      John D. Erickson

      In one of his poems the American poet Robert Frost speaks of coming to a fork in the road and choosing one of the diverging ways. But he wonders about the ‘road not taken’, which will always hold its allure for him. Magical realism, following Frost’s ‘road not taken’, opens onto different ways, alternate paths to perceiving the world and the interrelation between empirical reality and the fantastic.

      Most critics have viewed magical realism as a mode of literary and artistic expression whose view and mapping of the world depart from those of mainstream Western thought and literature, evolving from...

    • Of Numerology and Butterflies: Magical Realism in Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses
      (pp. 256-266)
      Stephanie Jones

      The Satanic Versesbegins and does not begin with a blast, a terrorist bomb in the skies above the English Channel.¹ The text actually opens with the moments after the blast: the explosion is only told on page 87. The millenarian explosion of terrorist activity is, then, itself blasted out of its own sense of place in time – denied its self-aggrandising space in history – by the text itself. This textual explosion conjures Walter Benjamin’s ‘materialist historiography’ which ‘blasts open the continuum of history’. Against ‘historicism’, Benjamin writes of the ‘constructive principle’ of historiography that crucially works from ‘the...

    • From The Thousand and One Nights to Magical Realism: Postnational Predicament in The Journey of Little Ghandi by Elias Khoury
      (pp. 267-280)
      Wen-chin Ouyang

      This refrain, repeated at the beginning of all the middle five chapters in Elias Khoury’s novel,The Journey of Little Ghandi,¹ anticipates the type of story and storytelling that will follow, and encapsulates the kind of intellectual crises Lebanese writers have had to grapple with during and subsequent to the Lebanese civil war (1975–91). Written and published towards the end of the war, 1989, the novel tells the stories of an array of characters who die or disappear in a random fashion during and immediately after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and occupation of Beirut (1982–84). The stories...

  9. Guide to Further Reading
    (pp. 281-284)
    Stephen M. Hart and Kenneth Reeds
  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 285-290)
  11. Index
    (pp. 291-293)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 294-294)