Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism/MAGICAL REALISM AT WORLD'S END by Michael Valdez Moses -- footnotes

Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism


Note about "modernity" -- Michael Valdez Moses defines modernity as "that political, cultural, scientific and philosophical complex which first begins to emerge in Western Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Its first decisive political articulation comes with the American and French Revolutions of the late eighteenth century. I would argue that 'modernity' implies at least four related developments: 1) the rise of modern theoretical natural science and the technologies which follow from it 2) the liberalization of rules governing economic life -- that is, the rise of free markets and capitalism, along with an attendant decline in pre-capitalist forms of economic life: slavery, manorialism, mercantilism 3) the increasing secularization of political life (religion becomes increasingly a matter of personal choice and is no longer the basis of political rule) 4) the increasing democratization of political life and the attendant decline and delegitimization of non-democratic principles of government: monarchy, aristocracy, theocracy, etc. There are a number of other features of modernity (urbanization, the rise of the nation-state), but I would regard these as of secondary and possibly even of passing significance.

(1) See Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, "Introduction," Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community (Durham, 1995). They argue that "magical realism is not a Latin American monopoly," pointing out that their collection of essays "considers magical realism an international commodity" with a "market worldwide." They observe that "magical realist writers are reading and responding to each other across national and linguistic borders." (2, 5).

(2) For the claim that the global spread of magical realism represents the realization of Goethe's conception of Weltliteratur, see Franco Moretti, Modern Epic: The World System from Goethe to García Márquez (London, 1996), p. 233.

(3) These earlier supergenres, however popular and successful, achieved preeminence only in regions of the world (though these regions might be quite large: e.g. the Roman Empire, Western Europe). Morever, the dissemination of these forms was often temporally protracted, such that the emergence of a genre in one part of the world often coincided with its relative decline in areas where it had enjoyed prior success.

(4) For a discussion of the possible influence of Roh on Bontempelli, see Irene Guenther, "Magical Realism, New Objectivity, and the Arts during the Weimar Republic," in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, p. 60. Roh used the term first in an article and then in a book, both published in Germany in 1925. The book appeared as Nach-Expressionismus, Magischer Realismus: Probleme der neuesten Europäischen Malerei (Leipzig, 1925). Both the article and book were translated into Spanish in 1927. The article was published by Ortega y Gasset in Madrid as "Realismo mágico: Problemas de la pintura europea mas reciente," trans. Fernando Vela, in Revista de Occidente 16 (April, May, June 1927). An English translation of the Spanish version of Roh's article appears as "Magic Realism: Post-Expressionism" in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, pp. 15-27. Roh's book appeared as Realismo mágico: Problemas de la pintura europea mas receinte, trans. Fernando Vela (Madrid, 1927). Thus, the term "realismo mágico" enters the Spanish-speaking world at an early date, well before the Latin American "boom" in magical realist fiction.

(5) For his discussion of "lo real maravilloso" see Alejo Carpentier's 1949 preface to El reino do este mundo (The Kingdom of this World), which was later expanded as an essay, "De lo real maravilloso americano, " in Tientos y diferencias (Montevideo, 1967), pp. 96-112; the latter essay has been translated as "On the Marvelous Real in America" in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, pp. 76-88. It was the literary critic, Angel Flores, who played the most influential role in putting the term "magical realism" into general circulation with his 1955 essay, "Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction." The essay has also been republished in Parkinson Zamora and Faris' Magical Realism, pp. 109-118. For an illuminating and detailed theoretical discussion of the distinction between "realismo mágico" and "lo real maravilloso," see Seymore Menton, Historia verdadero del realismo mágico (Mexico City, 1998), pp. 161-204. By no means do all theorists and critics of magical realism distinguish as sharply as Menton between "realismo mágico" and "lo real maravilloso;" see for example, Franco Moretti, Modern Epic: The World System from Goethe to García Márquez (London, 1996), p. 234; Fredric Jameson, "On Magic Realism in Film," Critical Inquiry 12 (Winter 1986): 301-02; Luis Leal, "El realismo mágico en la literaturea hispanoamericana," Cuadernos americanos 43.4 (1967): 230-35, which appears as "Magical Realism in Spanish American Literature," in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, pp. 119-23; and Alejo Carpentier, "Lo barroco y lo real maravilloso," in La novela latinoamericana en vísperas de un nuevo siglo (Mexico City, 1981), which appears as "The Baroque and the Marvelous Real," in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, pp. 89-108.

(6) Carpentier, "On the Marvelous Real in America," pp. 84-88.

(7) Julian Barnes's amusing parody of magical realism in Flaubert's Parrot, with its call for "a quota system . . . to be introduced on fiction set in South America" and a corresponding "development grant" for "novels set in the Arctic and Antarctic," might be taken as a indication of the degree to which even the most sophisticated and widely-read novelists tended to associate the literary movement exclusively with Latin America; for an illuminating analysis of the passage, see Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, pp. 1-2.

(8) See Angel Flores, "Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction," David Mikics, "Derek Walcott and Alejo Carpentier: Nature, History, and the Caribbean Writer," and Stephen Slemon "Magic Realism as Postcolonial Discourse," in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, pp. 112, 399, and 409-11, respectively.

(9) For the claim that One Hundred Years of Solitude is "the story of Buddenbrooks -- in the context of the world system," see Moretti, Modern Epic, p. 238.

(10) Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, p. 3.

(11) Mario Vargas Llosa has famously called Cien años de soledad "our" (that is, Latin America's) Amadís de Gaul.

(12) See Carpentier, "The Baroque and the Marvelous Real," p. 100, and Mikics, "Derek Walcott and Alejo Carpentier," in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, pp. 372, 374-78, 399.

(13) On the exotic appeal of magical realist works for European readers, see Moretti, Modern Epic, p. 249.

(14) Modernity, I would argue, is not essentially Western. It is an occidental export only insofar as it happens in the West before it occurs elsewhere. Prior to the advent of modernity in Western Europe, modernity is no more occidental than it is oriental. On magical realism as the representation of a sedimented culture consisting of nonsynchronous elements drawn from different and even competing cultural traditions and political systems, see Moretti, Modern Epic, pp. 239-45; Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious (Ithaca, 1981), p. 148; and Jameson's "On Magic Realism in Film," pp. 301-25.

(15) García Márquez would seem to be a notable exception. One Hundred Years of Solitude, for example, purports to be a self-consuming artifact. At least fictively, it is a prophetic manuscript written on parchment by the "gypsy" and magician, Melquíades, in his mother tongue, Sanskrit, and encoded alternately in the private cipher of the Emperor Augustus and a Lacedemonian military code. If the novel insists on its own status as a written document, it is nevertheless the case that García Márquez's style is famously conversational. Consider for example, how García Márquez captures the cadences and tone of an oral tale in the opening sentence of Cien años de soledad: "Muchos años despues, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo." ('Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.') See Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad (Caracas, 1967), p. 53 and One Hundred Years of Solitude, trans. Gregory Rabassa (New York, 1971), p. 11. The elaborate fiction of Melquíades' handwritten and encoded manuscript, while it removes the story from the realm of oral narrative, nonetheless defamiliarizes the text. Fictively, it ceases to be a mere modern novel and symbolically partakes of the archaic, exotic, mystical, and premodern character of ancient narrative.

(16) Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (New York, 1980), pp. 48-49.

(17) Theo L. D'haen, "Magical Realism and Postmodernism: Decentering Privileged Centers," in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, p. 195. In their "Introduction," Parkinson Zamora and Faris argue that "in magical realist texts, ontological disruption serves the purpose of political and cultural disruption: magic is often given as a cultural corrective, requiring readers to scrutinize accepted realistic conventions of causality, materiality, motivation . . . . Magical realism's assault on these basic structures of rationalism and realism has inevitable ideological impact . . . . Magical realist texts are subversive: their in-betweenness, their all-at-onceness encourages resistance to monologic political and cultural structures, a feature that has made the mode particularly useful to writers in postcolonial cultures and, increasingly, to women" (3,6). This thesis is supported with some qualifications by Amaryll Chanady, who argues that "magical realism in Asturias juxtaposes two worldviews without establishing a hierarchy between them, thus relativizing the dominant Western rational paradigm." See Chanady, "The Territorialization of the Imaginary in Latin America: Self-Affirmation and Resistance to Metropolitan Paradigms," in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, p. 141. Chanady acknowledges the "imperfect and artificial" character of certain magical realist efforts to "represent an indigenous worldview" (140). See also Stephen Slemon's "Magical Realism as Postcolonial Discourse," in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, pp. 407-26. In an unusually sophisticated and guarded assessment of the critical potential of magical realist works, Slemon implicitly acknowledges that Western modernity is both dominant and corrigible. He further suggests that a critical assessment of the present social imaginary is a dialogic and symbolic undertaking that necessarily moves forward from prevailing historic conditions. Slemon's analysis does not address the question of whether marginalized voices speak for themselves or whether readers hear only the ventriloquized lament of the dead.

(18) Carpentier famously argues that "the phenomenon of the marvelous presupposes faith;" see his "On the Marvelous Real in America," in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, p. 86. I remain skeptical that Carpentier or the vast majority of his Latin American readers (especially academic critics of his novel) truly believe that the historical figure, Mackandal, who appears in The Kingdom of this World, possessed lycanthropic powers and escaped execution by metamorphosing himself into a wolf.

(19) See Salman Rushdie, "In Good Faith: A Pen Against the Sword," Newsweek, February 12, 1990: 47-57.

(20) Rushdie, "In Good Faith: A Pen Against the Sword," pp. 53, 56.

(21) Ibid., p. 52.

(22) Guenther points out that Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg) used the term, "Magischer Realismus" as early as 1797; see her "Magical Realism, New Objectivty, and the Arts," in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, p. 34.

(23) For the suggestion that the roots of magical realism may be traced to the works of the German Romantics, including Kleist and Hoffmann, see Angel Flores, "Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction," in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, p. 111. Among those whom Flores names as predecessors of Spanish American magical realism are Proust, de Chirico, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Strindberg, Stifter, Poe, Melville, and especially Kafka. For a wide-ranging and erudite discussion of the early twentieth-century European sources of magical realism in literature and the fine arts, see Guenther in Magical Realism, pp. 33-73.

(24) Scott does make use of supernatural gothic elements in his historical romance of 1820, The Monastery.

(25) Walter Scott, Ivanhoe (Oxford, 1996), p. 397.

(26) Ibid., p. 411. Later in the novel, Scott is equally careful to explain the seemingly miraculous resurrection of Athelstane, apparently killed in battle, in purely natural and realistic terms; he was knocked unconscious and merely taken for dead. Scott acknowledged that this proved "too violent a breach of plausibility" for many of the reviewers of his novel, and felt that "the resurrection of Athelstane was a botch." See Scott's notes to Ivanhoe, p. 524.

(27) Walter Scott, Waverley (Oxford, 1986), p. 340.

(28) Ibid., p. 214, emphasis mine.

(29) Walter Scott, Ivanhoe, p. 14, emphasis mine.

(30) Ian Duncan, Modern Romance and Transformations of the Novel: The Gothic, Scott, Dickens (Cambridge, England, 1992), pp. 4, 14.

(31) Ibid., p. 7.

(32) Ibid., p. 75.

(33) Ibid., p. 89.

(34) Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, p. 355.

(35) For Jameson's discussion of "sedimentation," see his Political Unconscious, p. 148, in conjunction with his "Magic Realism in Film," pp. 303-11. Needless to say, I don't accept Jameson's sharp distinction between the "nostalgia film" and "magic realist film." For Moretti's discussion of "non-contemporaneity" with respect to One Hundred Years of Solitude, see his Modern Epic, pp. 239-245; for his application of the term to the historical novel, see his Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900 (London, 1998), pp. 38-40.

(36) See Duncan, Modern Romance and Transformations of the Novel, p. 58. Rural folk culture is obviously a much more important source for Scott's Scottish romances, whereas his English, continental, and oriental romances depend more heavily on antique courtly literature. Nonetheless, even Waverley depends upon the courtly literary tradition in its portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and Ivanhoe looks to popular folk ballads for the portrayal of Robin Hood and Friar Tuck.

(37) For Scott's indebtedness to MacPherson, see his "Dedicatory Epistle," in Ivanhoe, p. 14. As numerous critics have argued, Scott's "invention" of the regional historical romance was anticipated by the Irish novelists, Maria Edgeworth and Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan).

(38) Scott discusses his intimate, if second-hand, acquaintance with the customs of the Highlands in his postscript to Waverley, p. 340; Chanady notes the irony of Asturias' first introduction to "the indigenous legends of his own country" while in Paris, in her "The Territorialization of the Imaginary in Latin America," in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, p. 140.

(39) Scott, Ivanhoe, p. 15.

(40) Ibid., p. 14.

(41) Ibid., p. 16.

(42) See Scott's introduction to The Monastery (New York, 1902), p. 12: "There was, therefore, no great violence in supposing such a being [the White Lady of Avenel] as this to have existed, while the elementary spirits were believed in." See also Scott's Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (New York, 1970), pp. 11-78. For an analysis of Scott's defense of his method, see Ian Duncan, Modern Romance and Transformations of the Novel, pp. 135-36. Scott's justification of his use of supernatural elements in his fiction is echoed in Carpentier's insistence that "the phenomenon of the marvelous presupposes faith;" see "On the Marvelous Real in America," in Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, p. 86.

(43) On the racial and cultural hybridity of Scott's England, see Ian Duncan's "Introduction" to Ivanhoe, pp. xii-xiii.

(44) For an account of the international success of Waverley, see Claire Lamont, "Note on the Text," Waverley, pp. xxi-xxiv. For a geographic account of the appeal of Scott's historical romance, see Franco Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900, pp. 33-47 and 182.

(45) For García Márquez's claim, see Parkinson Zamora and Faris, Magical Realism, p. 4.

(46) For the argument that the historical romance invariably concerns the assimilation of smaller political and geographic subunits into the body of the nation-state, see Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900, p. 40. On the relation of magical realism to the "world-system" see Moretti, Modern Epic; "One Hundred Years of Solitude . . . tells the story of an 'incorporation': of an isolated community that is caught up in the modern world-system, which subjects it to an unexpected, extremely violent acceleration. It is the novel of uneven and combined development" (243).

(47) García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, p. 381.

(48) Ibid., p. 383.

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