Review of Alice Ash, Paradise Block (Serpent’s Tail, 2021)

Magical Realism in Paradise Block 

Paradise Block has been variously described as surreal, strange, weird, unsettling, raw, bizarre, disturbing, uncanny, uneasy, and topsy-turvy; also as ‘intimate and gorgeously grotesque’, ‘getting right at the rot underneath the polish of things,’ and ‘deliciously wrong, reflecting a reality that warps and flickers.’ Virtually all reviews have remarked on the surreal quality of the collection. For one commentator, the power of the writing lies in the ‘innovative fusion’ of ‘dirty realism’ with ‘darkly Gothic surrealism.’1 Against this common reading, I want to suggest that the combination of the normal with the deeply strange in Paradise Block is more indicative of magical realism than surrealism. 

Magical Realism (MR) and surrealism differ in certain key respects. Surrealism is cerebral and psychological, deliberately distorting and perverting reality with dream-like projections. In MR, by contrast, the artist/writer ‘confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts.’2 Surrealism seeks to escape the real world; MR to engage with it. A further difference is that whereas surrealism envisions a singular irrational realm, MR presupposes twin realms. The potency of MR lies in its capacity to explore the antagonistic relationship between the real/rational (what is knowable, predictable, and controllable) and the magic/irrational (what is beyond our complete understanding and control). In this conception, MR maintains a balance between competing elements. So in literary terms, extra-ordinary events and occurrences in the author’s fictional world can never be presented only as such: were the magical to dominate the real in this way, the result would be supernatural or fantastical. Conversely, the mundane and routine can never be just that: the real cannot obscure or obliterate the magical (MR is not to be confused with ‘dirty realism’ or ‘kitchen sink’ realism).3

I also want to suggest that Paradise Block may be considered MR in the original, artistic sense of the term, associated with Franz Roh’s observation of a distinctive trend in European painting in the 1920s, which he named ‘Magic Realism.’ Roh famously explained his use of the word ‘magic’ (rather than ‘mystic’) ‘to indicate that the mystery does not descend to the represented world, but rather hides and palpitates behind it.’4 Gustav Hartlaub labelled the same trend ‘New Objectivity’ (NO), placing greater emphasis on the object-like nature of material reality he saw depicted in the new painting. The terms (MR and NO) were both used to describe a certain artistic perception of the world, coupled with a style of representation, that appeared to provide a deeper insight into contemporary reality than could be achieved through conventional realism. This way of perceiving and representing the real may be related to Victor Shklovsky’s notion of ‘defamiliarization’ (or ‘making strange’) – the artistic technique of presenting the mundane in an unfamiliar light so that audiences could see the world differently and from a fresh perspective.5 A modern definition of artistic MR/NO in this vein refers to:

a type of realism using contemporary subjects, often in cool detachment and sometimes injecting an eerie atmosphere … (in which) juxtapositions of sharply rendered and detailed elements, both in the foreground and background, are used to develop an air of mystery or ambiguity. Although the paintings may incorporate everyday objects … they attempt to show us the everyday world in new and unfamiliar ways. They remind us that there are still many mysteries in life.’6

We might call this the ‘New Objectivity/mystery behind the real’ definition, in order to distinguish it from the ‘twin realms’ criterion. This way of thinking about MR in the domain of art may, I suggest, also be applied in the context of fiction.  

A final point in support of my central argument here is that whereas surrealism implies ‘a conscious assault on conventionally depicted reality’, MR may be said to involve an ‘amplification’ of perceived reality.7 While this term was originally used in the context of the Hispanic literary tradition of ‘lo real maravilloso americano’, it may be considered a feature of magical realist writing more generally.8

Twin realms: MR occurrences in PB

Applying the ‘twin realms’ test, Paradise Block might be viewed as a work of MR, or at least as incorporating elements of MR. The book contains several instances of rationally ‘impossible’ occurrences woven into the fabric of otherwise realistic storytelling in such a way that they appear ordinary and unremarkable. So (in ‘Eggs’) we are presented with a startling double metamorphosis, in which the daughter and mother exchange not only roles but also age and physical characteristics. The protagonists and other characters in the story end up accepting, if not necessarily liking, the reversal of identities. Again in this story, the daughter suffers a sudden and rapid affliction of varicose veins, ‘a cluster of lines behind my knee’. After a few days, ‘I realise that this is something coming from inside, something coming to the surface. I tell the lines to go away, go back inside, but soon they get darker, and then they come undone; they begin to spool around to the front of my calf. Now the threads appear like a ball of wool, a huge cloud underneath my knee. The cloud is a dark purple scribble with floating green threads, swirling up and into my thigh’ (6). In hospital a doctor proclaims the condition ‘unusual in one so young’, seeing nothing remarkable in the daughter’s magical transformation into an older person – her mother. In ‘John’s Bride’, the weight of a human body in its death-throes on the floor of one of the flats is thrashing so violently that it makes cracks appear on the walls and all over the ceiling (‘the flat looked as though it would burst open and fall into dust around me’, 224). There is nothing in either narrative to suggest that the occurrences are imaginary or delusional.

Other events in the book also satisfy the ‘twin realms’ criterion, despite being rationally ‘improbable’ (even though possible). So (in ‘The Flea Trap’) a couple casually accept as normal the abduction of their baby by her child minder, without thinking of raising the alarm or calling the police (‘Now we have nothing … no white kittens, no baby’). In both cases what appears magical or irrational is at the same time real, the two realms maintained in a kind of equilibrium. To the extent that such events are part of the narrators’ reality and not simply dreams or hallucinations (and there is nothing to suggest they are), the writing may be regarded as MR.

These instances may be distinguished from other subjectively ‘magical’ occurrences that are likely to be attributable to the characters’ imagination or self-delusion. So Rose (in ‘Doctor Sharpe’) visits the doctor on several occasions complaining of marks on her thigh ‘like faint welts.’ She believes the doctor is in love with her, and is desperate for his attention, so presents herself for examination in his surgery despite lack of evidence of physical illness: ‘Sometimes they disappear though … sometimes they are here and at other times, they are not … Why don’t we wait a little bit longer, Doctor … they tend to come back every five to ten minutes’ (140-141). It is clear that Rose is suffering from a form of mental illness and that her obsession with the doctor is not reciprocated, so we treat this part of her narrative as unreliable and therefore unbelievable. Similarly in ‘Ball’, as John is clambering down the staircase of Paradise Block to go to The Brass Cross pub, he is convinced that he has passed the same floor several times and that he can hear footsteps right behind him, which stop when he turns round. The magical dimension is lacking in this instance because we know that John has a problem with alcohol, and has spent the morning drinking whisky. This accounts for both his strange experience on the staircase, and his vision of a balloon floating over the pub and the town centre (’It must’ve been a funeral balloon, or something, because it was dark, not brightly coloured the way balloons usually are’, 100). These occurrences fail the ‘twin realms’ test because they are simply part of the subjects’ dysfunctional reality. However, as will be seen, the stories here might still incorporate elements of MR in another sense, drawing on Roh and Hartlaub’s notions of Magic Realism and New Objectivity.  

The one story in the collection that stands out as more obviously surreal than MR in its projection of a singular irrational realm is ‘Black, Dark Hill.’ The story is told from the viewpoint of ‘our girl’ reflecting on her relationship with ‘her boy’, on their first holiday together taking a boat trip on the Lilybank River. The protagonist is presented as a fractured personality, split between her ‘real self’ up in the boat, and her shadow beneath. The narrative unfolds like a dream or a nightmare in which the shadow self takes revenge on her selfish boyfriend, who has been treating her with contempt, eaten all their food, and is probably responsible for her eating disorder (‘Our girl’s shadow has a plan’, 159). The story does not end well for the boyfriend: ‘Our girl’s shadow works faster, pulling and pulling, until the boat collapses underneath their feet … The other shadows watch silently; their eyes are dull and cloudy and very still in the water’ (161). In this story there is only one world or realm, rather than twin realms in equilibrium. The magical/irrational appears to dominate the real/rational: shadows do not have the power to control events, except in fantasy, and we do not find the narrator’s account credible in the way that we ‘believe’ the reversal of roles and the eruption of varicose veins in ‘Eggs’. Again though, the overwhelmingly surreal and fantastical nature of the narrative does not imply that the story might not incorporate elements of MR in other respects.  

Mystery palpitating behind the real

A distinctive feature of Paradise Block is the way in which the stories are voiced through the personalities and perspectives of the narrators. Figurative language is skilfully deployed throughout the book as a way of enabling the reader to share the protagonists’ idiosyncratic vision, and of ‘amplifying’ their perceived reality. The use of similes and metaphors is particularly effective in this respect, forcing the reader to see objects and relationships in the everyday world in a new and unfamiliar light (consistent with New Objectivity, but also with Shklovsky’s notion of ‘defamiliarization’). Some of the similes are brilliant and evocative in a quite conventional sense. White kittens tumble through an upper window (in ‘The Flea Trap’), ‘dropping through space like little furry asteroids’ (42). Benny (in ‘Planes’) accidentally drops one of his models into his mother’s laundry, imagining the passengers screaming as the plane dissolves into a pile of plum-coloured knickers, blouses and jumpers ‘that look like a volcanic landscape’ (19); at the end of this story Benny is given a baby kitten for Christmas, ‘pale pink beans in the bottom of her paws’ (37). Min Dimorier in ‘Sea God’ observes her broken washing machine, ‘silent and moping, with its big black eye leaking a rusting tear’ (170); dropping biscuit crumbs on a fellow passenger on the bus, ‘the shortbread squares are covered in very fine sugar and a snow falls on the woman’s pleated skirt’ (175).

Other similes are fundamentally incongruous and do not make sense in strict terms, but we accept them as expressions of the characters’ distorted world view. Here figurative language serves an MR purpose in highlighting the mystery behind ‘their’ reality. In these instances (even where the story might not otherwise be considered MR) a duality emerges in the comparison (via the simile) of what is prosaic and real on the one hand, with something magical and irrational on the other hand. So (again in ‘The Flea Trap’) the couple’s bedroom in the basement of Paradise Block is in an underground corridor where no other people live, ‘only machines that chug and groan, like monsters or strange friends.’ (41) [The noise of machinery cannot logically be likened to the sound made by monsters or friends however strange]. Rose (in ‘Doctor Sharpe’), who is surreptitiously viewing pornographic images on the doctor’s computer while he is out of the room, is taken by surprise by his sudden return: ‘I leapt backwards and the chair skittered across the floor like an octopus’ (142). [An office chair – even one with eight legs – barely resembles an octopus, and neither ‘skitter’ when moving]. In ‘Eggs’, pans on the hob ‘are chattering and bouncing as they boil over and spill their contents … I hear the pans banging, like intruders running up and down the stairs’ (11). [Boiling pans in the real world are unlikely to sound like people – let alone ‘intruders’ – running up and down the stairs]. In ‘John’s Bride’, Annie’s account of her relationship with John begins: ‘We were married on a Tuesday, when John was in full health and the sky was murky, white and pink, like the soft belly of a speckled rodent.’ (203) [Sky of whatever colour or composition is not really like the bellies of rodents, which are neither ‘speckled’ nor ‘murky, white and pink.’] Annie describes Paradise Block as ‘built very cheaply, with windows that will fall out, and damp and mould as thick as fur, a cat ghost creature that would slink into each and every flat’ (204). [Mould cannot really be likened to a cat, or a ghost, or a creature]. And in ‘Complaint’, the exploited shop worker imagines the department store in Plum Regis as ‘a vast white whale-fish with silvery window scales’ (110). [Buildings in the real world are not much like whales, which are not fish, and do not have silvery scales]. 

In each case, the similes convey the magical and mysterious nature of seemingly ordinary reality. The figurative language succeeds because we accept the description as part of the characters’ perception of the mystery in their world: the dysfunctional couple in ‘The Flea Trap’ are themselves delinquent and ‘monstrous’; the protagonist in ‘Eggs’ is undergoing bodily transformation; Annie in ‘John’s Bride’ is struggling to deal with her husband’s controlling behaviour, and attempting to express her feelings in an alien language and in an unfamiliar culture; the shop worker in ‘Complaint’ is having to endure persistent sexual harassment from managers in the department store where she works; and Rose in ‘Doctor Sharpe’ is suffering from a debilitating delusion connected with a severe form of mental illness (‘My body is inconvenient because I have stripy scars and a few large blemishes: some moles that have faces inside them, and hairs that twist away from my skin and stand there, bristling chattily,’ 141). 

There are numerous other examples of such similes and (occasionally) metaphors. So in ‘Eggs’, writing is ‘like flowers or small animals’; an apron is a ‘shining pink pig’. In ‘Timespeak’, the only remaining local shop in Clutter is being ‘eaten’ and ultimately ‘consumed’ by boarding: ‘The shop was completely boarded up, eaten alive’ (73) (it has been forced to close due to competition from the department store). In ‘Hungry’, a strange girl in the food court of the department store eats from a glove ‘like a cow or a pig’, her ‘breasts squashed down like flattened meats’ (she has been devouring a burger). In ‘Ball’, eyes of black mould on the window eat glistening raindrops. In ‘Complaint’, old women are begging outside the department store, sitting in cardboard boxes ‘like boats floating aside the mighty ship of the store’. In ‘Doctor Sharpe’, Rose looks at photos of girls writhing as though shedding their skins like sexy snakes; she sees a sausage of blood pudding speckled like a cut thigh, wounds stretched open like little laughing mouths, and icing on a cake cracking like an old foot. In ’Sea God’, Min Dimorier probes for items ‘in the inside pocket of her brain’. In ‘Bad Elastic’, the gloved hands of ‘staffers’ in the department store ‘fly around like fat birds’. And in ‘John’s Bride’, Annie sees John reclining in his chair like a toad, before flipping over on to his back on the floor, ‘like a big fish, caught in the black wave.’ These are just examples, the point here being that this type of figurative language plays a major role in establishing the sense of MR in the portrayal of the characters’ experience of their reality. 

The sense of mystery is further enhanced by the use of imagery and symbolism. The colours pink (dresses, laundry, an apron, chewing gum) and white (white kittens, White Fingers biscuits) recur throughout the book. Annie’s ‘broken heart’ (in ‘John’s Bride’) is compared to John’s diseased heart, which is itself related to the remains of the exotic meat and squid dish which Annie has cooked specially for him, but had to throw in the bin because he came home drunk and had already eaten (‘I slammed the red mixture, and the little white bodies all together and into a ball, the legs spurting out at some strange angles, red still inside. I looked at this shape, red and white, fatty and like it would be living, surrounded by old rubbish in the pedal bin, and I realised … this mess looks so very much alike to my John’s human heart’, 218). Mystery surrounds the ‘dark fox’ (in ‘The Flea Trap’), which could be a figment of the couple’s collective imagination, or a reflection of one of them in the mirror: ‘You look very dark and handsome, standing in the shadow of the curtain … I see your eyes and teeth sparkling, my dark fox’) (51). (Only at the end of the book long after they have moved out are the ex-tenants referred to as ‘the Fox couple’). 

Humour is not often mentioned as a feature of MR, but it serves here both to lighten the otherwise rather claustrophobic atmosphere and to emphasise the bizarre nature of the characters’ lives and their environment. There are numerous funny scenes, for example (in ‘The Flea-Trap’) involving the archaic faux-aristocratic mannerisms of the couple in their ‘folie-a-deux’ (‘The baby shall take his tea at four-o-clock’). Presented with the choice between attending their howling baby and playing with the kittens who have come in through the window, they opt for the latter (‘We have to pick the kittens; we just have to’). Their irresponsibility is comically portrayed (‘We are not children’), as is their refusal to take life seriously (‘We just can’t be solemn for long!’, 45). Mr Cornflower (in ‘Timespeak’) flicks through a brochure from the funeral/insurance company (‘The brochure was coloured brightly, with young women on each page standing next to the coffins, sitting on the lids or balanced on the edges … one woman was even inside a coffin’, 66). And Annie (in ‘John’s Bride’) tries hard to give John (‘my sweet babylove’) the benefit of the doubt, magnanimously excusing his cruelty towards her (their life together might have been so much better ‘if he had not had to go to The Brass Cross every day’, 225), while having bought all the things (White Fingers biscuits, a sack of doughnuts, tubes of blood pudding, and tins of super-strength lager) she thought might kill him.  

The narrative maintains a constant distance between what we recognise as normality and its magical undercurrents in other ways. The spare and sparse writing style leaves much to the reader’s imagination, contributing to the air of mystery. There is little direct description of the department stores in Clutter and Plum Regis, yet their enormous size and importance as the monopoly retailers and employers in the region is gradually established as a sinister and looming presence. The very existence of these stores is at odds with the poverty and misery of the area’s inhabitants, who might be expected to shop locally but are unable to do so due to the apparent lack of corner shops or newsagents. The range of departments is bizarre: Glassware; Foot Odour; Builders’ Cement; Bookmarks; Leather Chairs; Stockings; Scarves; Room Odours; Biscuits; Toothpaste; Oven Supplies; Parasols; Coffins; Gym Shoes; Body Lotion; Sunscreen; Skin Conditions; Paper Cups; Pests; Work Shoes; Rubber Gloves, Meat, Biscuits. The salespeople are ‘staffers’ ‘jumping out of departments to greet shoppers on walkways’ (187). The description of the exploited employee’s long journey through the store to see a manager on the top floor in ‘Complaints’ is both funny and Kafkaesque: ‘Five departments have passed before the girl sees any sign of life, and then it is just the flick of an apron tie as a staffer disappears behind a display of White Fingers on Biscuits’. (126) ‘A man is holding up a giant box of ant powder in Pests’ (134).

Conclusion

Paradise Block bears few of the hallmarks of literary ‘magical realism’ in the Hispanic tradition of Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, or Gabriel García Márquez. The impoverished urban culture of Clutter and Plum Regis is hardly marvellous, the locations far from exotic. There is no grand historical staging, or complex genealogy. The text is not peppered with impossible or obviously ‘magical’ occurrences (human levitation, flying carpets, pans boiling and moving of their own accord, or flowers falling from the sky). Ancient mythology, folklore and symbols are absent. Nor is it comparable to the international trend of fiction widely regarded as MR (Kate Atkinson, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, and countless other authors around the world). While there is acute scrutiny of a range of economic and social problems, and of the dysfunctional relationships associated with poverty, inequality, unemployment, dilapidated housing, and physical and mental ill-health, the stories do not explore overt political or macro-societal themes.

Nevertheless, I have suggested that the book is better regarded as a work of MR than surrealism, or at least as incorporating elements of MR/NO. The stories include several genuinely impossible occurrences and many other unlikely incidents that are treated, from the protagonists’ perspective, as normal and unremarkable – so satisfying even the most stringent ‘two realms’ test of MR. The argument is reinforced by considering the writing in terms of Roh’s definition of Magic Realism as exposing the mystery ‘hiding and palpitating behind the represented world’, and of Hartlaub’s notion of seeing the world anew in New Objectivity. The narrative maintains throughout a distance between mundane reality and its magical undercurrents. The distinctive and frequent use of incongruous similes and other figurative language plays a central role in amplifying the irrational and bizarre nature of the characters’ perceived reality, in stark contrast to their otherwise mundane existence. The narrative does not seek to distort the real world, or present it as surreal or dream-like. Rather the author ‘confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts.’2

Of course, this exercise in distinguishing MR from surrealism in the context of Paradise Block might be regarded as ultimately rather pointless. What is important is the quality of the writing, not the label that is applied to it. In this regard, Ash’s writing succeeds magnificently in depicting the seedier side of contemporary urban living with insight and compassion. For this reader, however, the book serves also as a case study in thinking about different conceptualisations of MR in art and literature.

Peter Vincent-Jones founded the Facebook Magical Realism Group in March 2020. The group provides a platform for discussion and debate on all aspects of magic(al) realism (literary and artistic), focusing on the intersection of art, film and fiction.  https://www.facebook.com/groups/3581466868593309/


Rodanthi Tzanelli, Magical Realist Sociologies of Belonging and Becoming (The Explorer)

ISBN 9780367432393

Published March 6, 2020 by Routledge

248 Pages – 12 B/W Illustrations

Island of Amorgos – location of installation of the Underwater Gallery

This imaginative work of cultural sociology is so vast in scope and ambition that it is practically impossible to summarise. I will not attempt to do so, focusing instead on the author’s interpretation of magical realism, and on the book’s main themes. My review is from the perspective of an academic interested in all aspects of Magical Realism (MR, capitalised to indicate the conventional usage in art history and literary criticism) and a reasonable knowledge of current debates in Sociology, rather than a specialist in tourism/mobility theory or the fields of cultural, postcolonial and de-colonial studies which are the book’s main target audience. Despite the many recognisable signposts (such as references to key figures such as Franz Roh, Gustav Hartlaub, and Alejo Carpentier, and to established sources including Maggie Bowers’ Magic(al) Realism and Zamora and Faris’s landmark edited collection Magical Realism:Theory, History, Community), the book breaks entirely new ground in its unique sociological approach. Indeed, the immediate reaction of readers with an understanding of MR rooted in conventional disciplines is likely to be one of bewilderment. Whether the book should be judged in terms of its accessibility within such disciplines, and how successful it is in this regard, are questions to which we shall return.

In Tzanelli’s cultural sociological account, magical realism cannot be reduced to a ‘mode’ of painting or fiction with defined characteristics – the standard method used by art historians and literary critics in differentiating types or genres. Nor does its essence lie in an ‘attitude to reality’ that may be inferred on the part of artists and writers, or in a particular style of re-presentation involving ‘amplification’ or exaggeration. Nor again can it be understood as a critical tool or ‘lens’ through which reality may be better understood (i.e. a means of ‘revealing’ or ‘unmasking’ the truth). Rather, magical realism implies a particular conception of being in and learning about the world, captured in the philosophical notion of epistemontology. In this perspective – informed by Goodman’s Irrealism and constructivist conception of worldmaking – mental and cognitive states evolve both individually and collectively through encounters with other individuals/groups having similar or alternative values and worldviews. The essentially human processes of learning, sharing, belonging and becoming are frictional and dialogical, contributing to the building of identities and subjectivities which are enduring and have resilience and relative fixity though time, yet are malleable and capable of further evolution. Worldmaking is inherent in all social practices, from the simplest to the most complex. For the academic investigator as a worldmaking ‘explorer’, magical realism serves as a ‘social-scientific methodological fusion’ (xii) used to help develop our understanding of different forms of creative and labouring activity. 

1   Artistic worldmaking

The book opens with the description of an artistic exhibition (the Underwater Gallery) staged in 2018 in a sea cave off Amorgos, the easternmost of the Greek Cyclades islands. The installation included photographs of sea creatures and objects, featuring a submerged shipwreck, a medusa, a starfish and a giant rusting cannonball. The photographs (printed on aluminium and specially illuminated) were taken by free-diver Stefanos Kontos at various locations in the Aegean sea ‘on a single breath’ (i.e.  without the use of oxygen masks to aid breathing underwater), a technique also used by the team of divers who installed the exhibition at depths up to 35 metres. At this time Stefanos was a leading figure in a freediving community of self-designated artists engaged in a kind of worldmaking described as ‘craftsmomentum,’ referring to the ‘blend of aesthetic skill with physical force that freediving photography requires’ (p42). After completion of the installation, visitors could dive to see the exhibits with support from the team, or following attendance on courses at the local scuba-diving centre on Amorgos. The ‘authenticity’ claimed for the exhibition lay in its mode of creation (‘on a single breath’); the situation of photographs of objects and sea life in an underwater location; the Greek character of the presentation; and the experience of visitors in this unique environment. 

From the beginning of Tzanelli’s analysis, the ‘magical’ is equated with the mysterious – with whatever provokes wonderment and cannot be fully understood in any given cultural, spatial and temporal context. The multi-dimensional nature of the artistic work in the Underwater Gallery and its unusual staging emphasise the mystery in taken-for-granted features of the world (the sea, objects and creatures). The resulting re-orientation of senses and feelings ‘lends visitors a pair of new eyes to see and feel with their bodies what has always been there’ (p20). While the Underwater Gallery provides an arresting example, ‘magic’ here refers to an atmospheric quality that is inherent in all things at all times, in all places, and in all societies. In this conception, the only difference between Western Modernity and societies based on Eastern Cosmology or on explicit magical systems (such as the Persian Magus), concerns the claims to rational knowledge made within scientific discourse. Even Modernist Western science has to accept that knowledge is incomplete and approximate: there is much still to learn and much that remains ‘mysterious’, even if the realm of the ‘unexplainable’ is not seen as ‘magical’. So, while the term ‘Magic Realism’ may have been coined by art historian Franz Roh in 1925 in the context of trends he and other contemporary critics observed in post-Expressionist art, its components (mystery or magic embodied within or behind the real) are, in my interpretation of Tzanelli’s argument, an enduring feature of human experience. 

As well as broadening the scope of the study of magical realism in this way, the book’s other main achievement lies in the conception of artwork as activity and process, displacing the focus on the artefact or ‘end-product’ which is usually taken as the point of departure in standard art and literary criticism. The subject-matter in this sociological account is not the photographs or objects in isolation, but the entire process of making a ‘world’ – the Underwater Gallery – which includes these artefacts. This entails radical rejection of the idea that artworks are valuable only in their final stage (for example as framed paintings hanging on a wall). Nor does this example of worldmaking ‘end’ with the staging of the exhibition, or even with the experiences of visitors, or the exhibition’s critical acclaim. Through four ‘Readings’ (rather than chapters) the book shows how Stefanos’s original vision is transformed and reframed by the agency of local, regional, national and transnational actors through technologies of mobility including digital media and the internet. ‘Magic’ continues to inform the numerous ways in which the subject-matter of the exhibition is re-represented through space and time in different world-versions. While all cultural history involves the re-imagining and re-interpretation of ‘original’ events, what has changed in the late modern period is the availability of new technologies that make text, ideas and images instantly accessible to many millions of people simultaneously on a global scale. 

The book’s argument proceeds on the basis of a fundamental distinction between two ‘layers’ of reality, entailing different world versions of human being and belonging: the so-called ‘phenomenal’ realm in which values of community, artistic expression and affiliation are bounded by magical realist activity; and the ‘material’ realm of artefacts, objects and physical infrastructure. The material or phenomenal ‘orientations’ of actors inform their action – their ways of acting upon the world being productive of further versions of magical reality (xv). The point that the ‘magical real’ is a product of action reinforces the claim that it cannot be reduced to a style of art, or a collection of artefacts in the form of specific works of art and literature. Actions upon the world are implicated in mobilities and the formation of individual and collective identities and associated senses of belonging and becoming.

2    Magical Realism and magical realism

Tzanelli follows recent scholarship in tracing the history of MR from its origins in European art in the 1920s (in Roh’s Magic Realism and Hartlaub’s New Objectivity, regarded as ‘two distinctive takes on reality and objectivity’) to its transatlantic migration to Central and Latin America from the 1930s, and subsequent development in postcolonial literature in Argentina, Chile and Mexico. Much is made of Hartlaub’s distinction between the Neo-classical conservative and left-wing Verist branches of New Objectivity, the latter including artists such as Dix and Grosz who were politically active and advocated social change or revolution. Following William Spindler, three main forms of MR are distinguished: first, the Metaphysical (European) version derived from Roh, characterised by unsettling perspectives, unusual angles, and toy-like depictions, and emphasising a sense of estrangement; second, the Anthropological form associated with Carpentier’s ‘Lo Real Maravilloso’ and Latin American fiction, in which the narrator alternates between ‘real’ and ‘magical’ voices (‘native cosmologies and Western rational worldviews being suspended in different compartments’); and finally, the Ontological (individualistic) type in which the supernatural is presented in a matter of fact way as if it did not contradict reason, with no distinction between the real and the magical, and no explanation of ‘unreal’ events in the text (the reader being invited to accept the ontological reality of the event). Tzanelli’s adaptation of this typology differs subtly from Spindler’s original version in ways that are not entirely clear (for example, the association of Borgesian fiction with Ontological MR rather than the Anthropological variant as discussed by Spindler; and the redrawing of Spindler’s distinction between the magical and real ‘voices’ in Anthropological MR in terms of ‘native cosmologies’ and ‘Western rational worldviews’). While the fleeting reference to sources with little or no explanation is a feature of the book (the massive Bibliography runs to forty-three pages), in this instance it is arguably of little consequence, since the adapted typology plays no explicit role in the subsequent analysis. 

What is important here, however, is the distinction between Magical Realism as a mode or movement in art history and literary criticism, and Tzanelli’s use of ‘magical’ realism to describe a broader and more fundamental cultural force in play at all historical times and stages of economic and social development. The extent to which this duality (the coexistence of the magical and the real) is explicitly acknowledged within particular societies depends on national and global conditions of time and place: ‘I therefore see in magical realism as a cultural force a global mutation that comes to life in contexts of socio-political crisis’ (xxiii). In a further conceptual innovation, the term ‘realist magics’ is used to refer to the agential powers of individuals, groups, and national and transnational actors to ‘transform’ reality in the process of worldmaking, potentially with both positive and negative consequences (the process is neutral in that the outcome is not pre-determined). The relatively recent history of political and economic turbulence in Greece is just one example, in this instance marked by the contradictory combination, or collision, of Modern and Ancient culture with distinctive magical elements – its ‘folk-face’ including divinatory practices associated with fortune telling and witchcraft, and with ‘apotropaic’ magic and the use of talismans and amulets to ward off danger or facilitate positive outcomes. 

3    Methodology and methodological devices

In one sense Tzanelli’s method is straightforward. The study is based on three types of data derived from listening and observation: ethnographic (interview); textual (exhibition brochures, digital texts and newspaper articles); and audio-visual (vimeos and YouTube videos). This qualitative combination is claimed to facilitate ‘a multimodal form of reading, but one that transcends traditional ethnomethodological or psychological readings’ (p17). The book’s methodological originality and ingenuity lies in the proposition of a so-called ‘chiastic thesis’ as a means of framing the analysis, together with the use of fictional and real historical characters to illustrate the combination of elements of mystery/magic with rationality/realism in both European and non-western cultures. In this complex methodological conceit, two ‘magical human actors’ (fictional detective Harry Bosch and real ‘magical realist’ Mexican artist Frida Kahlo) – selected as representatives of Western and non-European culture – are used to ‘inspect’ the assumptions underpinning conventional sociological analyses of one-anothers’ societies. Hence Euro-Western social and cultural theory is associated with Bosch as a ‘magical worldmaking human actor 1’, while Post-colonial and decolonial theory is associated with Frida Kahlo as ‘magical worldmaking human actor 2.’ These different worlds, and the actors representing these worlds, are ‘answerable to’ one-another; while the actors and ‘opposing’ theories are also mutually-answerable (i.e. Kahlo and Western theory, and Bosch and post-colonial theory). 

In a further and more complex elaboration of this chiastic schema: (1) Euro-Western social and cultural theory (embodying ideas of risk and manufactured uncertainty), associated with Modern Western worldmaking and with Bosch’s ‘detective exploratory stylistics’, is expressed in the modernist activity of freediving. (2) Post-colonial and decolonial theory (focusing on interpersonal danger and creative magic), associated with worldmaking according to Eastern Cosmology and with Kahlo’s ‘divinatory exploratory stylistics’, is expressed in the activity of Khamsa reading (an ancient form of fortune-telling). These contrasting worlds, and the activities representing these worlds (freediving and Khamsa reading) are ‘answerable to’ one-another as before; while on this occasion the activities and ‘opposing’ theories are also mutually-answerable (i.e. freediving and post-colonial theory, Khamsa reading and Western theory). ‘My methodological matching of a TV/literary figure with a real artist of folk forms helps me to move across and between different local and global sites and practices of embodiment, affect and digital and cinematic technologies’ (p4).

The ’staged’ imaginary encounter between fictional or real characters associated with the history of MR (artists, literary critics and art commentators) is a device that is used throughout the book. In one such encounter, the reader is invited to imagine Franz Roh listening carefully to Stefanos’s presentation of his own work, and responding with the famous assertion that his purpose in using the term ‘magic’ rather than ‘mystic’ in his concept of MR was to indicate that ‘mystery does not descend to the represented world, but rather hides and palpitates behind it.’4 This reinforces the point (see ‘the magical real’ above) about the pervasive presence of mystery within the real, regardless of how much we think we ‘know’ about the world and of the level of rational scientific development in any given culture: ‘The embeddedness of mystery in the natural world cautions us that we should not think about perception as something that exhausts reality, but as a subset of it, in Bhaskar’s tradition of transcendental realism …. a meta-critical approach to natural science focusing not on the limitations of scientific perception, but the paucity of analytical tools at our disposal so that we acknowledge and deal with such limitations’ (p37). Roh is invoked at various points throughout the text to illuminate Tzanelli’s sociological interpretation of magical realism. Stefanos’s awareness of how in the Underwater Gallery ‘the amalgam of colours, textures and spatial forms of the marine deep reappear to visitors with an ignited passion for both tactile feeling and spirituality’ echoes Roh’s allusion to the ‘elemental happiness of seeing again’ and of recognizing things anew. In another bold and imaginative example of this device, Frida Kahlo is called upon to illustrate the essence of freediving as a ‘playful’ pursuit combining risk and danger, on the boundaries between pleasure and pain: ‘It is as if we hear (her) in these revelations, talking about the ways pain, play and pleasure are intertwined in one’s production of humanity’ (p34).

As already suggested, Sociology may itself be considered a form of worldmaking, whose critical methodology and claims to knowledge must be regarded with circumspection. Entwined with Modernity, this discipline fails to address non-western or alternative gendered and sexual ways of being outside its institutional descriptions (xxi). One purpose of the turn to magical realism is to reconsider (and challenge) sociological perspectives on action, hence the methodological centrality of the process of ‘exploring’ (‘Explorer’ being the sub-title to the book): ‘Proffering ‘exploration’ as a keyword, instead of the conventional ‘critique’ or ‘criticism’, is constitutive of my conviction that no entity, actant or agent in the discursive field we study knows who they are, what they want to be or what they become a priori, before their becoming (which is also processual)’ (p20).

4   The Underwater Gallery: from dream to disillusion?

The book is split into four ‘Readings’ rather than chapters, ‘paying homage to the practical magical acts of fortune-tellers, who turn interpretivism into a personal craft’ (xvii). As well as emphasising the necessarily magical elements in any account of ‘the real’, this form of organisation discourages us from seeing the book’s subject-matter in terms of a progressive sequence of events, with a clear beginning and end. Rather, each ‘reading’ presents a different version of the same reality (‘The Underwater Gallery’), none  being more objective or correct than the other. Nevertheless, were one to attempt to understand the book in this way, the narrative might appear as a journey from idealist dream at the beginning to distortion and disillusionment at the end. Bearing in mind the warning that this is not how the book is intended to be read, a summary in this form might be as follows: The story begins with Stefanos and his fellow freedivers conceiving a new way of making art and of worldmaking (‘on a single breath’), which is consistent with their progressive liberal values and respect for Greek culture and the environment, and yet enables their human self-realization through a form of ‘edgework’. The purity of this utopian conception is diluted and undermined by the practicalities (sponsorship, permissions, planning, financing) involved in realising the dream. Even the noble ideal of democratising the project by a policy of free admissions, and supporting visits of school children and older citizens without diving experience who would otherwise have been excluded, involves compromises. The media who interview Stefanos present a world version of the project very different from that of its creators. International and organisational centres (both national and transnational) produce other world-mappings with different and unforeseen consequences (p17). Commercial interests that may be at odds with the values and ethos of the original venture include tourism and the travel industry. Other powerful interests with their own agendas include governments and state institutions. Given current communications technology and the plethora of social media platforms, digital images and content are immediately available all over the world. With international recognition comes questions about the value and the integrity of the project. In sum (according to this narrative) the original project with its emancipatory ideals is at constant risk of failure. Stefanos and his team are caught in the fundamental contradiction between their artistic vision and the need to be supported and recognised by established centres of commercial and cultural power. However, as the displacement of chapters by ‘readings’ is intended to signify, the story is never finished (an account written in 2021 would inevitably be different to the one published in 2020). Furthermore the story might be ‘told’ in different ways, with a different emphasis on key features. The remainder of this review contains my interpretation of the four readings. 

Reading 1 (‘Environmental and Artistic Firstness’) focuses on Stefanos’s original artistic vision, and on his attempt both to re-establish a (lost) relationship between art, nature and everyday life, and to democratise the Greek deep by making the installation available as a free public exhibition. Here a direct comparison is drawn between some atmospheric characteristics of MR and Stefanos’s magical-realist artwork. His magical-realist philosophy ‘treats the images he creates not like blocks of scenery, flattened out in a static two-dimensional pictorial stage … but extensions of the living entities they depict underwater in their natural environment. This means that he sees the deep as an interlocutor that ‘converses’ with its guests – something corroborating his admission that the exhibited images were not planned, so they carry within them the rarity of a moment the normal eye cannot arrest’ (p44). The images in this underwater environment have the post-expressionist quality (described by Roh in his comparison of MR with Impressionism) of ‘deepening, hollowing out, and filling the canvas with depressions and elevations.’9 This first reading ends by  questioning the extent to which the community’s lifestyle choices and behaviours have escaped the aesthetic traces of the Greek culture in which Stefanos was born and grew up, and have succeeded in creating a new identity and belonging. 

Reading 2 (‘Thanatourism and Community-Making’) examines how the individual experience of artmaking is shared within the creative community of freedivers, and then with wider audiences. Freedivers working together develop a particularly strong sense of community and belonging, through bonds of trust and ‘conviviality’ and the need for unique systems of communication involving signs and bodily movement. The team includes members from all over the world. In Stefanos’s words: ‘There are people from every race, every religion, every gender – everybody is connected in this team. What brings us together is the love for the sea, and our way of expressing this love’. This magical experience can only be imperfectly captured and filtered through digital technologies (such as You-Tube videos and vimeos). The audience’s perception and mode of engagement becomes dependent upon the new technologies of filmmaking and the internet to reinstitute the freediving community on the virtual plane – a kind of ‘digital travel’. The process of engagement via such technology and associated websites ‘becomes an “act of citizenship”, a practical manifestation of belonging’ (p86). In these vimeos of the Gallery’s staging in 2018 and other explorations in Greece, spectators (including the global freediving community) are offered glimpses through recordings of life close to death. Part of the attraction appears to be that ‘viewers enjoy the safety of being alive while looking at an event that stresses human finitude’ (p74). In a summary accompanying one vimeo post, Stefanos explains ‘the ‘magical moment … a point in freediving that you “cross-over”, you connect with the deep and the inhabitants of the underwater kingdom’. Breathless, the divers lose sense of time and depart on ‘an epic journey into the blue and into [themselves].’ The source of vicarious pleasure (‘thanatourism’) and part of the magic here lies in the fact that while risk can be assessed and managed, it can never totally eliminated. It is a short step from this form of ‘digital travel’ to the presentation of the freedivers’ experience in the realm of commercial tourism, and to its representation for specific purposes of the Greek state: ‘Stefanos’ role begins to transform into something that he perhaps never intended to bring to life. Together with his image, we watch Amorgos’ and Greece’s polyphonic culture and experience of modernities shrink into a more monologic tourist present. This globally now widespread monologue is supposed to help post-troika Greece to secure an Edenic future in Europe’s privatopias’ (p87).

Reading 3 (‘International Aesthetics – Cinematic Thirdness’) charts a further shift away from the freedivers’ original vision of a gallery of underwater treasures, reflecting the increasing influence of sponsors and multi-national businesses, and entanglement in the grander projects of nationalism and capitalism: ‘the freediving community’s vision is sidelined, and their work assumes the status of an “objective picture” on behalf of the nation’ (p90). Confronted with the task of navigating between Western and non-Western pathways, the Greek state assumes the role of worldmaking author, undecided as to how to script the Underwater Gallery in its efforts to ‘lift the Greek nation-to-be our of its subordinate condition in the Ottoman Empire.’ This reading shows how ‘tourist places’ have become ‘hybrid assemblages’ combining physical and virtual environments. Digital technology plays a key role in enabling new forms of cinematic tourism, which are ‘blended’ with more traditional forms based on physical mobility such as ecotourism to promote the image of respect for the planet and restoration of ecosystemic balance threatened by human excess and climate change. Such developments highlight tensions and discontinuities in the representation of alternative versions of Stefanos: purposive and progressive on the one hand, reactionary and regressive on the other hand. While his work continues to be informed by a deviant and transgressive spirit, it remains in a sense complicit with the emergence and consolidation of authoritarian and totalitarian politics, as he becomes increasingly integrated into the establishment. These dimensions appear to be in constant tension, neither completely dominating the other, as media representations are countered by his actions and reactions.

Reading 4 (‘International Indexing’) investigates the staging of representations of Greek indigeneity for global audiences in museums and other cultural repositories. Native modes of being and action are transformed and subdued through museological practices which ‘displace magical potentialities in favour of communicative efficiency and global connectivity’ (p141): ‘The Underwater Gallery is just one of the many examples of regionally bound ‘experiments’, which, thanks to digital communications, can circulate across networks’ (p150). At this point Harry Bosch and Frida Kahlo are called upon as ‘magical heroes’ (in the imaginary form of a romantic encounter) to illustrate the tensions between scientific rationalism and rational planning on the one hand, and artistic/design idealism and the belief in sympathetic magic on the other hand. One ‘miserable ending’ to the affair reconciles the tension by having Kahlo submit to Bosch, resulting in mundane policy making. Another such ending involves an unsatisfactory kind of union, in which the couple prioritise their interests ‘against other human bonds’, leading to conservative communitarianism. A further possibility sees the magical realist characters ‘losing their magic’ to address collective national interests (the ‘Habermasian’ plot option). The final possibility entails scrapping all these plots and ‘starting again on a posthuman basis’. The reading concludes by exploring the ‘gleam of hope’ offered by this last option for an ethical form of ‘ecological art’ in partnership with ‘topographically rooted bureaucratic machines such as those of urban and rural planning and tourism’ (p152). 

A first example of such art is the exhibition featuring Stefanos’s photographs at the Eugenides Foundation–Athens Planetarium in 2015. Attracting 30,000 visitors, the exhibition was described as one of the most successful in the history of the institution, inspiring the staging design for the Underwater Gallery in 2018. Here we see Stefanos as ‘paradigmatic magician’ venturing further into the world of the moving image, through a film featuring the photographs screened at the Adventure Film Festival (AFF). While warning of the dangers in such arrangements (the privileged backgrounds and professional specialisms of the key players, the reliance on corporate business and trade services, and the tolerated blend of national and foreign artistic and scientific elites) the account ends on an note of optimism:

We have almost run a full circle back to reading one’s craftsmomentum: in these organised spheres of work-play, the subjective formation of values also shapes reality. Professionals such as Stefanos and the AFF leaders may be part of a more privileged creative class, but they still stand by virtue of their Greekness between concept and experience … : their hallucinatory projects are parabolic, in that they struggle with the old Cartesian conundrum of subjective incoherence inflicted on humans and communities in late capitalism. Their audio-visual and embodied projects attempt a tertiary revision of reality, which is firmly embedded in a cosmopolitanised network of relations … so as to produce a new cartography of things and subjectivities … This alternative magical-realist re-territorialisation of subjectivity in the world rather than the nation … does not operate completely outside social differentiation but rejects the split between consciousness and unconsciousness, the real and the surreal (p164).

A second example10 is the Museum of Tomorrow (Museu do Amanhã), a joint public–private partnership with a narrative theme featuring climate change and the future of humanity. Designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to house artefactual and audio-visual displays from around the world, the Museum served both as a touristic landmark in Rio for Brazil’s 2016 Olympic Games, and an example of ‘narrativised innovation on cosmopolitan scientific practice’. At an ideational level in this example, magical realist characters of modernity (Bosch, Kahlo, Stefanos, and the Borgesian Averroës) join forces in advocating ‘slowness’ in post-human imaginaries of a transspecies future, and ultimately in celebrating the meta-narrative of becoming, regrowth and flourishing which is evident in the design of the Museum itself (p178).

The book concludes by suggesting a dissonance in the four readings between the ‘critical-realist surface’ and ‘magical realist core’, which equates to the separation between the image that people project in public and the ‘chaotic environment of the inner self’. ‘Magical-realist belonging is nothing like critical-realist evaluations of the creativity of action’ (p189). Connected with this tension is the progressive masculinisation of artwork and nationalist discourse, in which ‘the male voice dominates ‘woman-speak’ and men dominate the public sphere’.  Hence the danger, expressly acknowledged in the fourth reading, of the trend towards ‘global morphogenetic processes in which the artists’ and designers’ original vision and desires (their ‘parler femme’ aspects of creativity) are mobilised only for profit-making, regional and international institutional networking and even ethno-national valorisation’ (p184). Artists such as Stefanos are constantly having to negotiate incompatible worldviews resulting from the tension between their socialisation into dominant western culture, and their native environment and practical experiences of life. What began with pressures exerted by institutions surrounding the Underwater Gallery to ‘spectacularise’ the feminine aspects of Greek identity (requiring that Stefanos align himself with Western practices of development) ends with cultural adjustments having to be made in response to Western and European demands for civility in ways that are stylistically both gendered and racialised (p186-7). The book concludes with a reminder of the dilemma confronting contemporary artists such as Stefanos. The straightforward choice is between continuing to explore the ‘phenomenal’ by orienting practice to magical realist activity; or becoming institutionalised through collaboration with established authority while keeping ‘anarchist endeavours’ in a separate field of action or suppressing them altogether. The only other option is to denounce this material world, and move to the phenomenal field implying continuation of magical realist activity, ‘if the circumstances allow it’ (p188). 

Conclusion

The enthusiastic endorsements accompanying the publication of Magical Realist Sociologies of Belonging and Becoming, from world-leading experts in fields of Sociology, Sociocultural Anthropology, Urban Theory, and Tourism Studies, will make this review redundant for readers familiar with the specialist literature. There can be no question of the originality of Tzanelli’s insights on the condition of contemporary Greece as an example of post-colonialisation and neo-liberalisation which is of relevance to other societies, and on the limits of Western rationalism and modernity in addressing so many contemporary global divisions and problems. The focus on magical realism brings something entirely new to established notions of worldmaking, while countering Western-dominated conceptions of the nature and boundaries of the discipline of Sociology. The book is highly original also in its sociological take on MR, adding a fresh dimension to conventional accounts of this artistic and literary mode, and to existing debates on its meaning and implications. 

The caveat to this positive assessment must be that the core ideas on the relationship between Magical Realism and magical realism are unlikely to be understood by academics without a deep knowledge of social sciences (and of particular forms of cultural sociology of which this book is an example).11 A very different kind of treatment would be required for the book’s many insights on MR to be made accessible to readers versed in the disciplines of art history and literary criticism. Indeed, a feature of the book and of its presentational style is its apparent indifference to the needs of this audience. This is somewhat ironic given the commitment to multi-discipliniarity in other respects. As suggested at the beginning of this review, there are numerous references to protagonists in the history of MR, and to well-known passages of writing in established sources, that are tantalisingly lacking in development or explanation. In some cases where the author’s idiosyncratic interpretation begs further justification, the reader is left to join up the dots. Other frustrations for those unfamiliar with the existing canon of literature in cultural sociology include having to come to terms with titles and sub-titles that are not of great help in navigating the structure of the book, and the multiplicity of neologisms – many of which are the author’s creation and so genuinely new.

However, the book’s major achievement and significance for the understanding of MR lies in having opened up a space for dialogue between the Arts and Social Science disciplines. There is considerable potential here – drawing on magical realist insights on worldmaking and artmaking, and focusing on the ‘creative process’ – for a closer integration of sociological and mainstream perspectives, and for fresh light to be cast on existing debates (what is MR; how can it be distinguished from related modes; is there a unity between its literary and artistic variants; what is its contemporary significance?).12 Authors make their art and fiction against the backdrop of multiple influences (geography, climate, nationality, history, politics, physical environment) and power relations based on class, ethnicity and gender. In order to understand MR, we need to consider how specific artists and writers (and the genres which they express) differ in terms of the worlds (or versions of worlds) they create, in the context of the material conditions of time and place in which they live. In this perspective, artworks may be considered products of artists’ experiential engagement with the world or some version of the world. If all artworks may be seen as the ‘after-effect’, or ‘after-image’ of reality produced by artistic worldmaking, the key question remains whether there is anything distinctive about MR in such terms, and if so how this special quality might be analysed and understood.

In sum, this book is to be applauded for its originality, ambition, and encyclopaedic scholarship. In the words of one academic endorsement, ‘(the fact) that this thought-provoking text is hard to summarize or categorize is perhaps all the more reason to read it.’13

Peter Vincent-Jones, 26 June 2020.


Notes

  1. Paul Spalding-Mulcock, ‘Really Real Poor People, Surviving Alone Together’, Yorkshire Times, 10th February 2021 []
  2. Luis Leal, ‘Magical Realism in Spanish American Literature’, in Zamora and Faris (eds.), 119-124, p 121. [] []
  3. “Dirty realism is a term coined by Bill Buford of Granta magazine to define a North American Literary Movement. Writers in this sub-category of realism are said to depict the seamier or more mundane aspects of ordinary life in spare, unadorned language. The term formed the title of the Summer 1983 edition of Granta, for which Buford wrote an explanatory introduction: ‘Dirty Realism is the fiction of a new generation of American authors. They write about the belly-side of contemporary life – a deserted husband, an unwed mother, a car thief, a pickpocket, a drug addict – but they write about it with a disturbing detachment, at times verging on comedy. Understated, ironic, sometimes savage, but insistently compassionate, these stories constitute a new voice in fiction.’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_realism []
  4. Franz Roh, ‘Magical Realism: Post-Expressionism’, in Zamora and Faris (eds.), 15-31, p 16. [] []
  5. This notion has also been associated in theatre with the Brechtian ‘estrangement effect’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defamiliarization  []
  6. http://www.tendreams.org/magic-art.htm  []
  7. Zamora and Faris, Editor’s note on Alejo Carpentier, ‘On the Marvelous Real in America’, in Zamora and Faris (eds.), 75-88, p 75. []
  8. This transformational quality further distinguishes MR from surrealism. Here it may be noted that Carpentier was seeking to differentiate the marvellous real from surrealism – with which he had been associated while living in Paris – rather than from Roh’s magic realism. []
  9. Franz Roh, op.cit., 26. []
  10. This part of the book considers several others. []
  11. The book draws on themes developed by the author in previous work over more than a decade (thirteen references to which are included in the Bibliography). Familiarity with this oeuvre is likely to be a of considerable advantage in appreciating the present work. []
  12. A start has been made exploring such potential on the Facebook platform through discussions between members of the Magical Realism Group, including Rodanthi Tzanelli and Peter Vincent-Jones. https://www.facebook.com/groups/3581466868593309/ []
  13. Noel B. Salazar, Sociocultural Anthropologist, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. []