Magical realism definition origin characteristics exponents

Magical realism

The term magical realism has been used by literary criticism to encompass a series of literary works published mainly in Latin America from the third decade of the 20th century. Some authors, such as the Venezuelan critic Víctor Bravo, define it as “a poetic divination or a poetic denial of reality.” In this article we will provide you the definition of  Magical realism.

Works that incorporate into a realistic and especially critical discourse of social and political conditions, magical and fantastic elements, derived from popular beliefs or hyperbolic situations created by the authors, are considered part of this subgenre.

Magical realism is largely fed by the impact New World cultures have on European culture (the marveling vision of the chroniclers of the Indies), and on the social and political history of Spanish America.

The Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez and his Macondian saga, which culminates with his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, are considered the greatest exponent of magical realism .

García Márquez’s work will influence other Latin American authors, such as the Chilean Isabel Allende or the Peruvian Manuel Scorza, and authors from other continents, such as the Indo-British Salman Rushdie or the Japanese Haruki Murakami.

Origin of magical realism

Magical realism was initially used as a concept to describe the work of visual artists who incorporated fantastic elements in their paintings, such as the surrealists.

The term is used for the first time in 1925 by the German art critic Franz Roh, in his book precisely titled Magical Realism . But it is the Venezuelan essayist and writer Arturo Uslar Pietri who will use this term, in 1948, to apply it to Latin American literature .

The emergence of this current is also influenced by the impact on Latin American writers of the work of North American narrators such as William Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson.

The first authors to publish works considered magical realists are Arturo Uslar Pietri, with the Red Lances (1931), the Guatemalan Miguel Ángel Asturias with the novel Men of Corn , and the Mexican Juan Rulfo with his novel Pedro Páramo (1955).

But magical realism reached its highest level during the sixties with the emergence of novels and stories around the imaginary Macondo, created by the Colombian Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez.

Characteristics of magic realism

Wondering look

The cultists of this genre vindicate the spirit of chivalric novels, the astonished and imaginative gaze of the first chroniclers of the Indies, and the fantastic elements of Latin American popular culture.

The fantastic friendly

The fantastic erupts in the narratives without generating fear and as part of the daily life of the characters, which differs from fantasy literature, practiced by authors such as the Argentines Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar.

The magical and fantastic as reality

It differs from the “marvelous real”, a term coined by the Cuban narrator Alejo Carpentier, in that the latter exalts what is extraordinary and incredible that has existed both in the landscape and in Latin American history, while in magical realism the unreal and the fantastic they are part of history.

Baroque language

Both magical realism and the marvelous real tend to express themselves in sometimes convoluted language and to dwell on detailed descriptions of events and places. What has been called literary baroque.

History as a source

In magical realism the historical, political and social contexts play a determining role: the conflictive relationship with past and present colonial empires, the oppression of indigenous peoples, racism and classism, are always present in the narratives.

Treatment of fictional time

There is a tendency in works of this genre to treat time as something cyclical, and to treat different times in Spanish-American history simultaneously.

Unusual characters and events

The presence of magicians and sorcerers, miracles and extraordinary events, levitations, disappearances and resurrections are frequent in these stories, always treated as part of everyday life and without seeking logical explanations.

View from the underprivileged classes

Both magical realism and marvelous realism revived interest in the historical novel in Latin America, although approaching it from different perspectives. In magical realism the vision is privileged from the point of view of the humble or oppressed classes.

Exponents of magical realism

Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia, 1927-2014)

Colombian writer and journalist, Nobel Prize Winner for Literature in 1982 and considered the greatest representative of magical realism.

He is the author of an extensive work in which the colonel has no one who writes him (1961), Los funerales de la Mamá Grande (1962), One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967, considered a masterpiece of universal literature), El Autumn of the Patriarch (1975) and Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), among others.

One Hundred Years of Solitude , by Gabriel García Márquez, is the greatest novel of the magical realism subgenre. The drawing is an illustration of Colonel Aureliano Buendía, one of the novel‘s characters, in his workshop

Arturo Uslar Pietri (Venezuela, 1906-2001)

Venezuelan playwright, politician, essayist and storyteller, who in addition to coining the term “magical realism”, pioneered this style with his novel Las lanzas coloradas (1931).

Juan Rulfo (Mexico, 1917-1986)

This Mexican writer, screenwriter and photographer, despite his brief work, is considered one of the great Latin American writers. His works include El llano en llamas (1953) and Pedro Páramo (1955).

Carlos Fuentes (Mexico, 1928-2012)

Mexican diplomat and writer, author of an extensive narrative and essay work. He dabbled in magical realism with novels such as Aura (1962) and Terra Nostra (1975).

Miguel Ángel Asturias (Guatemala, 1899-1974)

Guatemalan diplomat and writer, Nobel Prize Winner for Literature in 1967 and author of novels such as Leyendas de Guatemala (1930), El Señor Presidente (1946) and Hombres de Corn (1949).

Manuel Scorza (Peru, 1928-1983)

Editor, politician, poet and novelist, this Peruvian writer is considered one of the greatest representatives of neo-indigenousism, and is the author of novels such as Redoble por Rancas (1970) and Cantar de Agapito Robles (1977), among others.

Isabel Allende (Chile, 1942)

Chilean writer of American nationality, she has been greatly influenced by the work of García Márquez, especially in her first novelLa casa de los espíritus (1982).

Haruki Murakami (Japan, 1949)

Japanese writer and essayist who has recognized influences in his work of surrealism, and to whom influences of magical realism are attributed in novels such as The Death of the Commander (2017).

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