What is magical realism?
It is one of the most important literary movements of this artistic field that began in the 1930s in the American continent, but found its greatest boom between the 1960s and 1970s. This movement coincides with the emergence of another important process in literature, called the Latin American Boom, which we will discuss in depth in another section.
One of the axes that characterize magical realism has to do with the fact that its authors try to show the strange or unreal, as something everyday, typical of common reality. Thus, the main objective of magical realism is not the gestation of emotions, but the expression of these from a particular stance to reality. That is to say, we are talking about a type of narrative based on the observation of reality that opens space to the unreal. They are works that often break the temporal linearity of history and express value through the perception of the sensory from the reality they experience.
How did magical realism come about?
It is known that the term was used by the author Arturo Uslar Pietri, who used the term in the literary field to refer to a movement, and who uses the term in his book Letras y hombres de venezuela (Letters and men of Venezuela). After a long debate about the characteristics of the term itself, Uslar Pietri explains that he used the term by associating the characteristics of the type of literature with the idea used by the German-born critic Franz Roh of magical realism to refer to a pictorial style in another artistic field.
In this way, the term will also be implemented in the literary field in order to relate those artistic proposals in which an attempt is made to place magical or unreal facts or places under the light of everyday reality. Thus, the term magical realism can later be used to refer to the two movements independently.
It is important to consider that magical realism, according to the author who coined the term, as a kind of response to the literary tradition that focused on faithfully portraying the Latin American territory, as will be the use of the inherited currents, among which was the romanticism then adopted, as well as the costumbrismo and modernism. In this sense, Pietri considered that the currents did not capture the Latin American reality in its most complex sense, so the term will be used to enable the recognition of Latin America’s own literature.
Development of magical realism in literature
William Spindler maintains that there are three types of magical realism in literature, although they are not totally independent of each other. Among them it is possible to identify the following:
Metaphysical magical realism
He will use this first category to introduce the metaphysical, inspired by the European continent, in which the meaning resembles the exemplification by fiction, taking Kafka as a reference point.
Ontological magical realism
In this second classification the works are characterized by maintaining a certain level of seriousness in relation to the way in which they interact with unusual events or occurrences.
Anthropological magical realism
In this last category are works whose base maintains a native cosmovision that is integrated with the rational cosmovision of the West.
It is time to go to other fundamental aspects of magical realism in the development of the texts. Thus, we can find the following points of coincidence in the writing:
In magical realism it is possible to find several ways of handling time. On the one hand there is the chronological time in which there is a logical linearity, there is also the combination of temporal planes with present, past, returns and advances, the static time in which the thoughts of the characters stop and pass, and finally a form of inverted time in which time is disrupted with alterations of the natural sequence of its course.
As for the space in which these types of texts take place, it is important to consider that they are usually very well defined environments within the characterization of magical realism. Thus, they are spaces of great rawness in terms of scarcity marked by social marginality and poverty. It is in these spaces that the mythical conception is often built with unreal events.
Main characteristics of magical realism
We now turn to the most important characteristics of this movement and trend that soon gave way to a large production of literary works that begin to experiment under these bases. Among them, we find the following:
One of the most important characteristics of magical realism has to do precisely with the starting point that underlies the observation of the environment. The authors of this type of literature and movement start from the observation of the reality in which they are located for the writing of their works. Let us remember that the process of observation implies a knowledge and recognition of the area in which the gaze is deposited.
Normalization of rarity
Among the most important features of magical realism we find that in their works, authors normalize unreal aspects or peculiarities that they incorporate in them, instead of changing them for processes of reality, giving life to a real world with magical elements. At this point it is also important to mention that in the course of the story, the narrator does not provide explanations for the peculiar events that arise.
The feature of metafiction, in particular, is located in front of the role of the reader in literature. This is because, taking into account the diversity of realities in addition to the particular reference to the reader’s world, the reader undertakes the exploration and impact that fiction has on reality vis-à-vis the universe presented to him or her. The reader, who remains in the middle of these two scenarios, reflects the author’s position to offer events that generate the reader’s gaze in the face of social criticism.
Symbols of culture
One of the frequent and typical elements of magical realism is directly related to the introduction of symbolic values of Latin American cultures within the universe they recreate. In this sense, it incorporates these elements as part of the reality they portray.
Characters in the face of the unreal
On the other hand, another important aspect that is typical of magical realism works is that the characters, although they are within a “real” or everyday scenario, do not show strangeness in the face of unusual events or elements out of reality that they themselves experience, which strengthens the intention that they appear normalized within the universe of the work.
As for the most important authors of this movement, we find artists such as Arturo Uslar-Pietri, Alejo Carpentier, Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, among others. It is also possible to identify English-speaking authors writing under the magical realism movement such as: Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, Louis de Bernières, Angela Carter, Salman Rushide, Günter Grass, Toni Morrison (“Beloved”) and Gloria Naylor, among others.
Among the main works of magical realism we find works such as Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo, Cien años de soledad by Gabriel García Márquez, Hombres de Maíz by Miguel Ángel Asturias, Historia Universal de la Infamia by Jorge Luis Borges, Bestiario and Final del juego, by Julio Cortázar, Aura by Carlos Fuentes, La casa de los espíritus by Isabel Allende, Doña Flor y sus dos maridos by Jorge Amado, Las Sangurimas by José de la Cuadra, La lluvia by Arturo Uslar Pietri, Bomarzo by Manuel Mujica Lainez, Siete lunas y siete serpientes by Demetrio Aguilera Malta, La harina mía by Mario Jorquera, among others.
If you want to know more about other movements and currents in the world of literature that have emerged throughout history, we invite you to continue browsing our section dedicated to this artistic field where you can find much more information and continue learning.