This article explores a phenomenon of low-level magical realism we call infrastructural-innovation realism. Reversing the formulation identified by Sean McCann and Michael Szalay in their 2005 essay "Do You Believe in Magic? Literary Thinking After the New Left," in which an earlier generation of left-leaning American writers eschewed engagement with the state in favor of imagining utopian magical communities, these novels rewrite historical events, often catastrophic and violent ones, with the addition of one piece of working magical infrastructure. Here we explore the effects of these magical technological additions in three novels: Colson Whitehead's Underground Railroad (2016); Mohsin Hamid's Exit West (2017); and briefly, César Aira's Shantytown (2000). Although these effects vary, in these novels, history continues on as violently as ever: together they betray the difficulty in late neoliberalism of even imagining that states will provide working infrastructure, particularly for oppressed and displaced people. At the same time, these novels challenge the idea that imagining utopian communities beyond the state's orbit constitutes a retreat from politics. Rather, they showcase the difficult, painstaking work of building alternative community in the wake of the state's many failures and imply the continued necessity of confronting and reimagining the violent state rather than appealing to it.


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pp. 103-132
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