- Ordinary Enchantments: Magical Realism and the Remystification of Narrative
As Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, the editors of Magical Realism: History, Theory, Continuity (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1995) explain, the term magic realism [magischer Realismus] was used by German art critic Franz Roh in the preface to his 1925 essay, "Magic Realism: Post-Expressionism," to describe a new tendency in the art of his time, in which mystery "hides and palpitates" behind represented objects (16). After the essay was translated into Spanish, the term was taken up from the 1940s by South American writers and critics and, shortly thereafter, by North American scholars of contemporary Latin American literature, to characterize and validate a genuinely Latin American literature. Since the late 1980s, magical realism has spread to areas outside of the Western world, with Indian and African writers, among others, writing in this mode. Critics in both the Americas and Europe now view the term "magical realism" as possessing international significance as a critical term, and magical realist fiction as constituting an important strain of contemporary world fiction, while exploring its relations with broader trends such as modernism, postmodernism, and postcolonialism. Indeed, the present writer's co-edited book, Magical Realism, referred to above, was one of the major contributors to this movement to historicize, theorize, and internationalize the concept of magical realism. [End Page 510]
In the present work, Wendy B. Faris returns to the subject of magic realism, this time with the aim of delineating the parameters of the cultural work that magic realism as a literary genre has performed since the 1950s and continues to perform: what she refers to as the remystification of narrative. Faris recognizes the seminal cultural work of Latin American magical realism, devoting some of her most moving analyses to works from that part of the globe. Yet she shifts the focus of magical realism away from its original terrain of Latin American literature (she only uses five Latin American works here) and broadens it to include a number of contemporary global literatures. She analyzes sixteen novels written from 1955 to 1996 from Europe, the United States, and Latin America, as well as one Indian novel, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, and one African novel, Ben Okri's The Famished Road, according to five characteristics of her definition of magical realism: its location between modernism and postmodernism; its defocalized narrative situation; its textual poetics; its interrogation of a postcolonial dynamics of alterity; and its feminine element.
Faris begins by defining magical realism and situating it geographically. She posits magical realism as a modern and contemporary global narrative genre that, through its introduction into the narrative world of an "'irreducible element' of magic" (7), "radically modifies and replenishes the dominant mode of realism in the West" (40). She also situates magical realism at the intersection of modernism and postmodernism, in that it carries further the modernist project of destabilizing and eroding realism's governing concepts of "time, space, and identity" (23). But she does not associate magical realism only with the metropolitan center, the West; geographically, she locates magical realism both in the metropolitan "first" world and the postcolonial "third" world, viewing magical realism as a genre that enables both the replenishing of the center's depleted narrative traditions and the definition of the periphery's narrative traditions against those of the center.
Numerous studies of magical realism theorize it as a narrative technique or narrative mode, while neglecting the social, political, and ideological contexts in which it occurs in fictional works. Even the recent stimulating study, Réalisme magique et réalisme merveilleux (L'Harmattan, 2005) by Charles W. Scheel, while groundbreaking in its weighing of all previous definitions of the term and in its establishing of significant distinctions between magical realism and mysterious realism as narrative modes, does not find it necessary to attempt to mine the connections that narrative technique might have to culture or politics. Faris's most original contribution to the study of magical realism...