- Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community
A rather accurate though perhaps short-sighted view of magical realism sees it being born as a publishing event with Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (1967), achieving formulaic success in the ersatz storytellingness of Isabel Allende’s La casa de los espíritus (1982), and becoming the distinctive Latin American or Latino style of exportable sentimentality and sexy feminism in novels like Laura Esquivel’s Como agua para chocolate (1989) and Oscar Hijuelos’s The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien (1993). Another far more encompassing perspective regards magical realism as an international mode of representation in which social realities are punctured, their routines altered, and their terrors and cruelties exposed in a spirit of excess that seems driven by the same dark energies of domination it wants destroyed. According to this wider and obviously more interesting view, the style operates in resistance to forms of rationality and domination linked to the disenchantment of the world, in Max Weber’s influential label. Thus, from Pynchon’s Vineland to Rushdie’s Shame, and, with English as direct or translated lingua franca, from Suskind to Kundera to Fuentes to Graham Swift and many others, late-modern magicians of the real may seem homelessly at home almost everywhere fiction might still be read for serious kicks.
In adhering in their own random and imaginative ways to the second or global view of magical realism, the editors have organized their wide-ranging materials (consisting of 23 articles and essays) into four categories: “Foundations,” “Theory,” “History,” and “Community.” Under “Foundations” they include Franz Roh’s 1925 essay where the term was first used to [End Page 999] designate a turn to realism in painting in the wake of German Expressionism, and also an essay by Irene Guenther on art during the Weimar Republic and the aesthetics of “New Objectivity.” The German section is followed by a Latin American sequence of sorts, beginning with two of Alejo Carpentier’s key 1940s and 1960s novomundista essays, on the “Marvelous Real” and “Baroque” styles in the New World, and Angel Flores’s (1955) and Luis Leal’s (1967) academic pieces in which the attempt was made to situate and define “realismo mágico” as the predominant break-through fictional mode to come out of Latin America. The section ends with substantial essays by Amaryll Chanady and Scott Simpkins marked by theoretical and critical concerns attuned to current interests in postcolonial and postmodern polemics.
In the next sections under “Theory” and “History” one finds little of either that is truly useful, but a great deal to agree and disagree with concerning readings of individual novels and poems by Günter Grass, Toni Morrison, J.M. Coetzee, Derek Walcott and other elite international and U.S. writers. Here the anthology resembles Noah’s flood rather than his Ark, a messy quality that may disturb and frustrate disciplinary expectations of neatness and closure. Scheherazade becomes (in Wendy Faris’s breezy programmatic essay) a bit like the Muse of Comparative Literature, less a talking princess on death call than a mountain deity with a brood of prematurely postmodern children all capable of winning the Nobel Prize.
The final section under “Community” seeks to establish a distinctive national, if not regional, climate for magical realism in the likes of William Kennedy, John Cheever, William Goyen, Kenzaburo Oe, Abe Kobo, and the Maghrebians Tahar Ben Jelloun and Abdelkebir Khatibi. Any of the articles in this section might have been found under “History” or even “Theory,” as the boundaries separating each section remain porous and seem made to be breached. For just as Borges located a library in Babel, by the casual rules of this anthology, he might as well have opened a bookstore. Page-turning globe-trotters, arm-chair intertextualists, aging post-Gutenberg punksters, survivalists, as Borges himself was, in the art of reading rather than the craft of Literature, the authors gathered here matter far less than the writers they have domesticated and trained in their...