Sunday, January 24, 2010

Magical Realism: still a mystery

Just as I begin to think I'm grasping an understanding of this "magical realism" thing, it turns out everything I thought I knew about magical realism is not necessarily wrong, but not necessarily right either.

After reading "Leyendas de Guatemala", I formed a definition of magical realism as being a style of literature set in a real environment, in an existing place, where out-of-the-ordinary things happen (such as talking birds, tortoises, etc. etc.)

However, after reading the first half of "El Reino de este Mundo", it's difficult to understand how both novels can be described as "magical realism". "El Reino de este Mundo" presents a very different approach to the style of magical realism. There are no talking birds, or any other animal for that matter. The story is based on events that took place in Haiti. The one part I found that fit my previous definition of magical realism was when "dotado del poder de transformarse en animal de pezuna, en ave, pez o insecto, Mackandal visitaba continuamente las haciendas de la llanura para vigilar a sus fieles..." (p. 41). However, other than this small section, and perhaps a few others, I could not find any other elements that fit my definition of "magical realism".

I suppose this is why the "Prologo" is so important, as it is here that Carpentier elaborates on "lo maravilloso" which is the term he uses to describe his writing style. As opposed to being out-of-the-ordinary, or magical and mystical, Carpentier describes "lo maravilloso" as "una inesperada alteracion de la realidad" (p. 7) and "una ampliacion de las escalas y categorias de la realidad, percibidas con particular intensidad en virtud de una exaltacion del espiritu que lo conduce a un modo de 'estado limite'" (p. 8). What stands out to me in Carpentier's definition is the focus on "la realidad". "Lo maravilloso" is not based on other-worldly elements, actions, characters, etc. but rather is an amplification of what already exists in our world.

Carpentier's definition of "lo maravilloso" has expanded my understanding of magical realism. However, is "lo maravilloso" a type of magical realism? Or can we separate "lo maravilloso" into a different category entirely?

On another note, with "Leyendas de Guatemala" we discussed the elements of transculturation and hybridization present in the text. These elements also appear in "El Reino de este Mundo". I found it interesting that it is a Spanish text written about Haiti, a French-speaking country. I also found it interesting that the French excerpts included in the text were not translated (somewhat frustrating for a non-French speaker!). However, had they been translated I suppose it would be somewhat confusing, as I might think that the excerpt was originally in Spanish, and would wonder why, since they don't speak Spanish in Haiti.

Hopefully these questions will be answered in this week's class discussions. Looking forward!

1 comment:

  1. In high school I was taught that magical realism was a more beautiful way of describing reality: for instance, instead of saying someone ran away you could say they flew away, or disintegrated... something like that.

    In university I learned that it is about the way you see the world: interpreting fairly mundane facts and events as extraordinary. Kind of the way children see the world (little fairies doing things).

    I think it's pretty much both of those things. So, when Mackandal flies away when he's being burned, I suppose it's either a way of describing his struggle to escape or maybe it's just the way the slaves saw it.

    I hope that helps... I'm not even sure if it's right!