Erin McCartney
English 277b
April 18, 2000

Magical Realism


In researching the literary mode magical realism, one finds the definitions vague, and practically devoid of examples of usage beyond the levitations and flying carpets of Marquez and the labrynths of Borges. The definitions struggle, perhaps knowing that they can never really do justice to the term. Decidedly, magical realism is at its best when experienced. Again, while researching, the names Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie are most often associated with magical realism. Though Latin America is said to be the birth place of magical realism, it quickly spread beyond Latin America to other parts of the world.

There is a strong connection between magical realism and gothic tradition. It is said to be one of the products of a land rich in history and culture. The oldest of cultures, those most wreaked in turmoil, history, religion and spirituality are often prime candidates for magical realism in their literature. That is why there has been major controversy over the fact that there can never really be a true American gothic, though Toni Morrison may have succeeded in discrediting that assertion with Beloved, the concern lies in the fact that America is such a relatively young and unhistoried land. Morrisonís history however is African-American, not just American, though one could argue that no American is ever simply ìAmericanî. The addition of the African part is what adds to the layers of the culture she describes. She plays upon the notion of hybridity that one sees so often in South Asian post-colonial writing. Gothic tradition is founded in shadows, secrets, tragedy and mystery- many, many layers. An unhistoried land lacks those elemental layers.

It is within these layers that magical realism is allowed to thrive. It bounces out of the shadows and toys with the mystery incorporating fantastic allusions with the ordinary, day-to-day occurrences. Magic realism ìaims to seize the paradox of the union of oppositesî as one commentary read. Perhaps it can be defined as an attempt to exhume the mysteries of the past, the spirit and soul of the history and inject it into the present, very realistic lives and settings of fictional characters. Magical realism is a style that manipulates reality with elements of the supernatural, fantastical, magical and imaginary.

Given this definition of gothic, which so many of the pieces we have read this semester strongly embody, and magical realism, it is easy to see how South Asian post-colonialism fits so perfectly into that realm. Undeniably rich in culture and obviously having a long history that positively oozes conflict, turmoil, chaos and spirituality, it seems that some of the best magical realism would be South Asian, hence; Rushdie. Though I am without a doubt quite ignorant of Rushdieís works, from the blurbs I have read he does just what is described; intertwines the magic of the culture, the turmoil of the history and the starkness of the reality to create what some would call a highly gothic and stunning use of magical realism. What is more is that South Asia also possesses the element of hybridity; adding the clash of culture, religion and caste to the melting pot of magical realism possibilities.

Thus, magical realism is quite the necessary tool in post-colonial literature, one that is employed to add depth and emphasis its works. Its coupling of the normal or natural with the fantastic or supernatural in the common world setting is a powerful and effective method of projecting the post-colonial experience to readers of all backgrounds.