What is realism?


Magic realism. This definition, certainly already encountered by lovers of Spanish-American culture, was forged by the German critic Franz Roh, a photographer and art lover in the 1920s. The artist used it to refer to the atypical and curious version of post-expressionist pictorial realism, developed in post-war Germany in urban centers such as Munich and Karlsrhue at the hands of such figures as Georg Schrimpf or Alexander Kanoldt. Over the years, however, the “Magischer Realismus” advanced as a fire, breaking away from the artistic movement and almost completely engulfing the branch of Spanish-speaking American literature.

What is magical realism

It can therefore be said that Magic Realism unfolded profiling two different phases: in fact, as has already been mentioned, in the early 1920s the expression was used to refer to European painting. The international conflict, with the violence and tragedies that it carried with it, had changed the mentality of the people who, traumatized, had vented their need for escape, disseminating the everyday of magical and enchanting characters. Later on, precisely around the 1960s and mainly in Latin America, the distinctive features of the post-expressionist current permeated the narrative context, being adopted by multiple authors who wanted to write a book pervaded by an enchanted atmosphere. Undoubtedly the two phenomena mentioned above have a common root but, although the definition is used to indicate both, the fact that they concern different areas in a diachronic, geographical and in general generic sense is perceptible.

The “Magic Realism”, as can be understood by analyzing the meaning of the terms that make up the lexeme, is a poetic that unites magic subjects, surrealist elements and an accurate realist representation of the world around us. The fundamental objective of this artistic-literary vein is indeed to illustrate reality carefully and accurately, bringing to the fore even the seemingly irrelevant details, to then generate an “alienation” effect in the reader through the display of magical elements told with as much detail in a realistic way, just as they were perfectly normal to find in the existing. By experimenting with these dynamics, even unconsciously, while reading a text that can be framed in this current, one remains fascinated and somewhat surprised. This is because the supernatural and absurd essays are exposed with innocent sincerity, as if the events were easily classifiable in the norm. Once you enter the narrative structure, you get used to these unusual and slowly phenomena, thanks to the growing realistic and accurate details scattered by the author between the pages. The impossible becomes real, and the anomalies presented take on a new light, charging themselves with magical and barely palpable energy that captures the reader with his spell.

The development of magical realism

Magic Realism develops mainly during the Second World War, aided by the climate of distrust and distress felt towards the present, marred by the violence of the international conflict. Once the war was over, the wounds inflicted on the body and mind of the people resulted in deep traumas. Given the appalling situation in which humanity was involved, it began to lose credibility in the course of events; everyday life is retold, with the attempt to give it renewed confidence. The authors considered “post-colonial” use this technique to treat historical events with the eyes of colonized peoples, reversing the habit of assuming the colonizers’ point of view.

What literary criticism thinks

In the world of criticism there are personalities who have not included Magic Realism in real literary currents, framing this desk style in the broad context of Postmodernism; others still consider it as an “extension” of the surrealist movement, but there are also those who link it to the fantasy genre.

Compared to the surrealists, the exponents of Magic Realism do not attempt to explain what goes beyond normal or bypasses the limits of understandability. In fact they speak of a concrete and real world, which however consists of wonderful and fantasy-filled elements. These aspects, which clash nicely with the everyday life we all know, are numerous within the novels that we could fully include in magical realism.

Elements of magical realism

Magical realism is usually characterized by the presence of magical and supernatural elements that touch the paranormal. These essays are not always described and fully explained, and everything remains wrapped in a veil of mystery.

We can summarize the elements of magical realism in:

The characters accept supernatural phenomena as “normal”, the protagonists do not question the logic of magical elements.

Rich use of sensory details.

There are temporal distortions, which upset the narrative line through inversions and cyclical manifestations.

One can encounter the complete absence of temporality in the events (it involves a narration that floats suspended in an “other” dimension).

Use of the narrative technique of temporal collapse (the present repeats itself or echoes a past that is not completely buried).

Reversal in the cause-effect chain

The characters subjected to this phenomenon perceive suffering or pain before a disaster strikes them.

Presence of spiritual connotations.

Novels of magical realism

The following eight novels are part of the literary current of magical realism, sharing some of the aspects listed above:

This is the touching story of an elderly white settler and his past adventures, told wisely and a bit of magic. The protagonist, Antonio, lived for a long period of his life alongside the Indios Shuar, an Amazon tribe that taught him to interact intimately with the forest and start it in their fascinating culture.