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magic realism

lo real maravilloso, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, The Passion of New Eve

reality fantastic magical hand

a term coined in 1928 by the art critic Franz Roh to describe a school of German painting, has been most frequently used in the discussion of modern Latin American fiction. Writers who have been gathered under the label include the Guatemalan Miguel Angel Asturias (18991974), the Cuban Alejo Carpentier (190480), the Colombian Gabriel García Márquez (1928), and the Chileans José Donoso (1924) and Isabel Allende (1942). The term itself seems to signal confused, if not contradictory, attributes. On the one hand it indicates a form of writing which seeks to catch the extraordinary, magical-seeming properties of reality itself—of a (particularly South American) world which looks fantastic but isn't. This is what Carpentier meant by his phrase ‘the marvellous real’, lo real maravilloso. The realism mirrors reality, the idea of magic is a metaphor for the writer's delighted surprise. On the other hand, much of this fiction deals with events which are magical by any standards, even in South America—levitation, clairvoyance, sundry miracles, imaginary diseases, deaths without cause or reason, ghosts, lives of Biblical longevity—and the realism concerns the tone in which these events are reported. The narrative treats them as quite ordinary, not to be distinguished from the most mundane occurrences. Magic is written as if it were real, as if the fantastic had simply vanished from the world. It is the second mode which seems dominant, although the British practitioners of magic realism—notably Angela Carter and Salman Rushdie—manage to put both modes together with some success. For them reality, even domestic reality and especially political reality, is fantastic; but their narrative voices, although less studiously neutral than that of García Márquez, for example, remain ironic rather than agitated, expressive of hilarity and dismay but not astonishment. Carter's chief works in this vein are The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972), The Passion of New Eve (1977), and Nights at the Circus (1984); Rushdie's are Midnight's Children (1981), Shame (1983), and The Satanic Verses (1988).

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