Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, ‘Introduction’, in Zamora and Faris (eds.), Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community (Duke University Press, 1995), 1-11.

‘An essential difference … between realism and magical realism involves the intentionality implicit in the conventions of the two modes. Several essays in our collection suggest that realism intends its version of the world as a singular version, as an objective (hence universal) representation of natural and social realities – in short, that realism functions ideologically and hegemonically. Magical realism also functions ideologically but, according to these essays, less hegemonically, for its program is not centralising but eccentric: it creates space for interactions of diversity. In magical realist texts, ontological disruption serves the purpose of political and cultural disruption: magic is often given as a cultural corrective, requiring readers to scrutinize accepted realistic conventions of causality, materiality, motivation’ (3)

‘ … Magical realism is a mode suited to exploring – and transgressing – boundaries, whether the boundaries are ontological, political, geographical, or generic. Magical realism often facilitates the fusion, or coexistence, of possible worlds, spaces, systems that would be irreconcilable in other modes of fiction. The propensity of magical realist texts to admit a plurality of worlds means that they often situate themselves on liminal territory between or among those worlds – in phenomenal and spiritual regions where transformation, metamorphosis, dissolution are common, where magic is a branch of naturalism, or pragmatism. So magical realism may be considered an extension of realism in its concern with the nature of reality and its representation, at the same time that it resists the basic assumptions of post-enlightenment rationalism and literary realism. Mind and body, spirit and matter, life and death, real and imaginary, self and other, male and female: these are boundaries to be erased, transgressed, blurred, brought together, or otherwise fundamentally refashioned in magical realist texts’ (5-6).

Franz Roh, ‘Magic Realism: Post-Expressionism’, in Zamora and Faris (eds.), 15-31.

‘With the word “magic” as opposed to “mystic”, I wish to indicate that the mystery does not descend to the represented world, but rather hides and palpitates behind it’ (16).

’The phases of all art can be distinguished quite simply by means of the particular objects that artists perceive, among all the objects in the world, thanks to an act of selection that is already an act of creation’ (16).

‘We will indicate here, in a cursory way, the point at which the new painting separates itself from Expressionism by means of its objects.  (Whereas) Expressionism shows an exaggerated preference for fantastic, extraterrestrial, remote objects … (in the new painting) it seems to us that this fantastic dreamscape has completely vanished and that our real world re-emerges before our eyes, bathed in the clarity of a new day … The religious and transcendental themes have largely disappeared … In contrast, we are offered a new style that is thoroughly of this world, that celebrates the mundane’ (16-17).

‘In making what was formerly accepted as obvious into a “problem” for the first time, we enter a much deeper realm … This calm admiration of the magic of being, of the discovery that things already have their own faces, means that the ground in which the most diverse ideas in the world can take root has been re-conquered – albeit in new ways’ (20).

Irene Guenther, ‘Magic Realism, New Objectivity, and the Arts during the Weimar Republic’, in Zamora Faris (eds.), 33-73.

‘It is the discovery of a totally new world. One paints pots and rubbish piles, and then suddenly sees these things quite differently, as if one had never before seen a pot. One paints a landscape, trees, houses, vehicles, and one sees the world anew. One discovers like a child an adventure-filled land. One looks at technological objects with different eyes when one paints them or sees them in new paintings’ (Grethe Jürgens, quoted by Guenther, 36). 

‘Artists were reaching for the magic, the mystery behind the real’ (40).

‘It was an art that reflected the turbulent fourteen-year life of the Weimar Republic (1919-33); an art of a demoralised Germany reeling from its devastating loss in World War I, its subsequent revolution, and the worst monetary inflation in history … It was an art of the first years of the struggling Republic (1919-23); an art of controlled bitterness that festered as the hopes and idealism of 1918 were dashed by the early 1920s, and the dreams of a better society gave way to resignation and cynicism … This art also depicted the middle period of superficial calm (1924-29), an era of growing confidence … it portrayed bourgeois smugness, political and economic stabilization, and further industrialisation before the disastrous depression years (1929-33) (43-44).

Alejo Carpentier, ‘On the Marvelous Real in America’, in Zamora and Faris (eds.), 75-88.

Editor’s Note: ‘As opposed to European Surrealism, a movement in which Carpentier had participated in the 1930s in France, Carpentier’s “marvelous American reality” does not imply a conscious assault on conventionally depicted reality but, rather, an amplification of perceived reality required by and inherent in Latin American nature and culture. It was Carpentier’s conviction … that “lo real maravilloso Americano” differed decidedly in spirit and practice from European Surrealism. In Latin America, Carpentier argues, the fantastic is not to be discovered by subverting or transcending reality with abstract forms and manufactured combinations of images. Rather, the fantastic inheres in the natural and human realities of time and place, where improbable juxtapositions and marvelous mixtures exist by virtue of Latin America’s varied history, geography, demography, and politics – not by manifesto’ (75).

‘ … the marvelous begins to be unmistakably marvelous when it arises from an unexpected alteration of reality (the miracle), from a privileged revelation of reality, an unaccustomed insight that is singularly favored by the unexpected richness of reality or an amplification of the scale and categories of reality,  perceived with particular intensity by virtue of an exaltation of the spirit that leads it to a kind of extreme state [estado límite]’ (85-86). 

‘Because of the virginity of the land, our upbringing, our ontology, the Faustian presence of the Indian and the black man, the revelation constituted by its recent discovery, its fecund racial mixing [mestizaje], America is far from using up its wealth of mythologies. After all, what is the entire history of America if not a chronicle of the marvelous real?’ (88).

[From Preface to Carpentier’s novel, El Reino de Este Mundo (The Kingdom of this World, 1949)].

Luis Leal, ‘Magical Realism in Spanish American Literature’, in Zamora and Faris (eds.), 75-88.

’So we see that magical realism cannot be identified either with fantastic literature or with psychological literature, or with the surrealist or hermetic literature that Ortega describes. Unlike superrealism, magical realism does not use dream motifs; neither does it distort reality or create imagined worlds, as writers of fantastic literature or science fiction do; nor does it emphasise psychological analysis of characters, since it doesn’t try to find reasons for their actions or their inability to express themselves’ (121).

‘Magical realism is, more than anything else, an attitude towards reality that can be expressed in popular or cultured forms, in elaborate or rustic styles, in closed or open structures … the magical realist … doesn’t create imaginary worlds in which we can hide from everyday reality. In magical realism the writer confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts’ (121).

‘In magical realism key events have no logical or psychological explanation. The magical realist does not try to copy the surrounding reality (as the realists did) or to wound it (as the Surrealists did) but to seize the mystery that breathes behind things’ (123).

Wendy B. Faris, ‘Scheherazade’s Children: Magical Realism and Postmodern Fiction’, in Zamora and Faris (eds.), 163-190.

‘… It is helpful to list the primary characteristics of magical realist fiction. I suggest five:

(1) The text contains an “irreducible element” of magic, something we cannot explain according to the laws of the universe as we know them. In the terms of the text, magical things “really” do happen … ‘ (167).

(2) ‘Descriptions detail a strong presence of the phenomenal world – this is the realism in magical realism, distinguishing it from much fantasy and allegory … Realistic descriptions create a fictional world that resembles the one we live in, in many instances by extensive use of detail … the material world is present in all its detailed and concrete variety as it is in realism – but with several differences, one of them being that objects may take on lives of their own and become magical in that way’ (169-70).

(3) ‘The reader may hesitate … between two contradictory understandings of events – and hence experiences some unsettling doubts’ (171).

(4) ‘We experience the closeness or near-merging of two realms … The magical realist vision exists at the intersection of two worlds, at an imaginary point inside a double-sided mirror that reflects in both directions’ (172).

(5) ‘These fictions question received ideas about time, space, and identity’ (175).

Stephen Slemon, ‘Magic Realism as Postcolonial Discourse’, in in Zamora and Faris (eds.), 407-426.

‘The term “magic realism” is an oxymoron, one that suggests a binary opposition between the representational code of realism and that, roughly, of fantasy. In the language of narration in a magic realist text, a battle between two oppositional systems takes place, each working toward the creation of a different kind of fictional world from the other. Since the ground rules of these two worlds are incompatible, neither one can fully come into being, and each remains suspended, locked in a continuous dialectic with the “other”, a situation which creates disjunction within each of the separate discursive systems, rending them with gaps, absences, and silences’ (409). 

‘This reading of magic realism’s mode of narration takes issue with those approaches that suggest a seamless interweaving of, or synthesis between, the magic and the real’ (424, fn 11).

Theo L. D’haen, ‘Magical Realism and Postmodernism: Decentering Privileged Centres’, in Zamora and Faris (eds.), 191-208.

‘It would seem, then, as if in international critical parlance a consensus is emerging in which a hierarchical relation is established between postmodernism and magic realism, whereby the latter comes to denote a particular strain of the contemporary movement covered by he former’ (194).

‘Magic realism thus reveals itself as a ruse to invade and take over dominant discourse(s). It is a way of access to the main body of “Western” literature for authors not sharing in, or not writing from the perspective of, the privileged centers of this literature for reasons of language, class, race, or gender … Alternatively, it is a means for writers coming from the privileged centres of literature to dissociate themselves from their own discourses of power, and to speak on behalf of the ex-centric and un-privileged (with the risk of being judged “patronising” by those on whose behalf such writers seek to speak)’ (195)

Lois Parkinson Zamora, ‘Magical Romance/Magical Realism: Ghosts in U.S. and Latin American Fiction’, in Zamora and Faris (eds.), 497-550.

‘Magical Realist texts question the nature of reality and the nature of its representation. In this, then, magical realist texts share (and extend) the tradition of narrative realism: they, too, aim to present a credible version of experienced reality. The crucial difference is that magical realist texts amplify the very conception of “experienced reality” by presenting fictional worlds that are multiple, permeable, transformative, animistic. And (it follows) they create readers whose relations to the fictional world are necessarily ambiguous, unpredictable. Contemporary magical realist narratives remove the ground upon which the reader of conventional novels and short stories expects to stand – the ground of a fictional world that is stable enough to be knowable. In this way, magical realist texts dramatise the process of knowing (and not knowing): the reader is obliged to wonder how we are able to locate the “real” in magical realism’ (500).

‘Magical realist texts, in their most distinct departure from the conventions of literary realism, often seem to pulsate with proliferations and conflations of worlds, with appearances and disappearances and multiplications of selves and societies. These magical instabilities depend upon an array of narrative strategies that multiply/blur/superimpose/unify or otherwise transgress the solidity and singularity of realistic fictional events, characters, settings’ (501).

Brenda Cooper, ‘Does Marxism allow for the magical side of things? Magical realism and a comparison between one hundred years of solitude and the house of the spirits’, (1991) Social Dynamics, 17:2, 126-154.

This paper examines Magical Realism from a few different angles. Does this genre arise out of socio‐economic conditions in the Third World, distinguishing it from the cultural conventions of First World Postmodernism? Can the fiction of Magical Realism capture complex social and historical realities? Put another way, are the conventions of Magical Realism compatible with Marxism? Can a Marxist framework incorporate mystery and magic? I deal with these issues both theoretically and by way of a comparison between two well known Latin American novels ‐ One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. These two novels are shown to be quite dissimilar in their use of Magical Realist techniques.

‘Magical Realism throws out a challenge to the tendency of some Marxists to reject the inscrutable and the mysterious, to reject experimental techniques and to settle, quite narrowly, for conventions of Social Realism. We have only to recall the vehemence with which Lukacs rejected the Modernism of James Joyce as decadent to be aware of the dangers. Magical Realism is, moreover, a first cousin of that European modernism.’ (126)

‘Brecht pointed out, in his famous disagreement with Lukacs, that “every means, old and new, tried and untried”, can and must be used in the theatre in order “to render reality”. He was reacting against the proposition that only the conventions of Realism could do this. He was also reacting against a dictatorial Marxism that prescribed and legitimated a narrow set of forms and techniques. However, Brecht has often been misinterpreted. His call for experimentation with whatever means came to hand carried the proviso that such material should contribute to a better understanding of reality. He defines “realistic” as: ‘ . . . discovering the causal complexes of society/ unmasking the prevailing view of things as the view of those who are in power/ writing from the standpoint of the class which offers the broadest solutions for the pressing difficulties in which human society is caught up ” (Brecht, 1977: 81-2).’ 

‘The question, then, is: can the conventions of Magical Realism capture reality in the Brechtian sense defined above and thereby prove its compatibility with Marxism?’ (126).

‘Jameson characterises Latin American fiction and film as being the product of an earlier stage of capitalism. Reminiscent of an era now past in the First World, Jameson suggests that Latin America is steeped in a far more “impure” moment in which the contradictions and strange, perplexing daily occurrences spinning out of these disjunctural conditions give rise to what can be called magic reality. This is what Jameson means when he suggests that “magic realism depends on a content which betrays the overlap or the coexistence of precapitalist with nascent capitalist or technological features.” (Jameson, 1986: 311). In other words, “the articulated superposition of whole layers of the past within the present . . . is the formal precondition for the emergence of this new narrative style” (Jameson, 1986: 311).’ (127)

‘This impression is reinforced in Jameson’s paper, “Third World Literature in an Era of Multinational Capitalism”. Here Jameson applies to the relations between the First and the Third World Lukacs’s notion of the link between oppressed classes and the potential to understand history accurately. He asserts that “we Americans, we masters of the world” with the “view from the top” have a fragmented and impoverished perception “bereft of any possibility of grasping the social totality.” ‘

This he contrasts, highly questionably, with “third-world culture, which must be situational and materialist despite itself” (Jameson, 1986a: 85). Concretely, what he means by this is that Third World culture is potentially more able to capture social totality because it avoids what Jameson sees as the radical split in Western culture between the poetic and the political, the public and the private. By contrast “all third- world texts” are what he calls “national allegories”. By this he means that the economic and political realities of the Third World ensure that there can be no such split in their writing between the personal and the political: “Third-world texts, even those which are seemingly private and invested with a properly libidinal dynamic – necessarily project a political dimension in the form of national allegory: the story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture and society” (Jameson, 1986a: 69. Original emphasis).’ (128)

‘What seems to be developing is quite a suspect and patronising western Left treatment of Third World writing. In other words, there is a tendency on the part of the western Left to suspend its disbelief in its embrace of a magical framework it would, most likely, have put to severe test in First World writers. We will see, in fact, that there are enormous potential traps attached to Magical Realism and we will be distinguishing and contrasting, in social and political terms, the achievements of two Latin American novels, One Hundred Years of Solitude and The House of the Spirits’. (130)

‘For example, one has to experience some misgivings from a Marxist point of view when we are told that Alejo Carpentier, one of the very well-known Magical Realist writers, “was very clear about one thing” and that was that, in his words, “the experience of the marvellous presupposes faith”. In other words “the marvellous in literature entailed a belief in the supernatural”. In Carpentier’s words, “those who do not believe in saints cannot heal themselves by the miracles of saints” (Williamson, 1987: 84). Again, there are surely problems for Marxist critics when Marquez proudly embraces “a world of omens, premonitions, cures and superstitions that is authentically ours, truly Latin American” (Mendoza,1983: 59).’ (130)

‘The term “Magical Realism” in its most common usage, however, is not linked to a specific ideological or theoretical framework and cannot be assumed to be politically enlightened. I have attempted to narrow down some of its features. Magical Realism is a genre of fiction arising out of a stage of capitalist development in which pre-capitalist modes of production still exert an influence; this influence is often expressed through the presentation of the world through the eyes of characters who are a product of these different modes. This often entails an investigation of the relationship between nature and industrialisation/civilization/science; it is preoccupied with history and also with the relationship between the social and the magical/fantastic. It may be written in the style of the baroque and incorporates thereby a subversive resistance to cultural imperialism.’ (149)

Ben Holgate, Climate and Crises: Magical Realism as Environmental Discourse (Routledge 2019) https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315148625

(This book) makes a dual intervention in both world literature and ecocriticism by examining magical realism as an international style of writing that has long-standing links with environmental literature. The book argues that, in the era of climate change when humans are facing the prospect of species extinction, new ideas and new forms of expression are required to address what the novelist Amitav Gosh calls a “crisis of imagination.” Magical realism enables writers to portray alternative intellectual paradigms, ontologies and epistemologies that typically contest the scientific rationalism derived from the European Enlightenment, and the exploitation of natural resources associated with both capitalism and imperialism. Climate and Crises explores the overlaps between magical realism and environmental literature, including their respective transgressive natures that dismantle binaries (such as human and non-human), a shared biocentric perspective that focuses on the inter-connectedness of all things in the universe, and, frequently, a critique of postcolonial legacies in formerly colonised territories. The book also challenges conventional conceptions of magical realism, arguing they are often influenced by a geographic bias in the construction of the orthodox global canon, and instead examines contemporary fiction from Asia (including China) and Australasia, two regions that have been largely neglected by scholarship of the narrative mode. As a result, the monograph modifies and expands our ideas of what magical realist fiction is.

Eugene Arva, The Traumatic Imagination: Histories of Violence in Magical Realist Fiction (New York, Cambria Press, 2011). http://www.cambriapress.com/cambriapress.cfm?template=4&bid=475

Magical realist writing is not an escape from horrific historical “facts” or … a distortion meant to make them more palatable cognitively or emotionally, but rather … one of the most effective means of recreating, transmitting, and ultimately coping with painful traumatic memories. An author’s traumatic imagination transforms individual and collective traumatic memories into narrative memories and integrates them into an artistic chronotope. This work examines novels from Caribbean, North American, and European literatures of the second half of the twentieth century, both Anglophone and in translation, with focus on the chronotopes of slavery, colonialism, the Holocaust, and war. Historical traumata have found their reconstruction in literary works written by either traumatized or vicariously traumatized authors, such as Jean Rhys, Alejo Carpentier, Maryse Condé, Salman Rushdie, Gabriel García Márquez, Bernard Malamud, Joseph Skibell, Günter Grass, and Tim O’Brien. The traumatic imagination accounts for the relative prevalence of magical realist writing in postmodernist fiction. As a singular phenomenon of postmodern aporia, magical realist texts write the silence imposed by trauma, and convert it into history.

Eugene Arva and Hubert Roland, ‘Writing Trauma: Magical Realism and the Traumatic Imagination’, Interférences littéraires/Literaire interferenties, October 2014, 14, 7-14. 

‘Magical realist writing foregrounds and at the same time transgresses the traditional borders between reality and imagination by rearranging apparently antithetical ontological levels within the literary text: the logical and perceptually verifiable everyday reality, on the one hand, and the sensorially ungraspable and unexplainable phenomena of the supernatural, on the other. Considering these premises, we foreground the psychological and socio-political relevance of magical realism, and proffer the general thesis that magical realist writing has become one of the most effective, albeit controversial, artistic media to represent extreme events. The writing mode has indeed demonstrated its potential to adapt and to affect literary productions belonging to various cultural spaces and representing histories of violence, such as slavery, colonialism, wars, the Holocaust, genocide, and dictatorships.’ (9) 

‘Trauma does not always result from sudden, violent events; it may be also often caused by an extended period of exposure to tense, stressful, or even life-threatening circumstances, such as living in an oppressive police-state or a dictatorship, being the victim of domestic abuse, etc. ’ (13)

‘As a narrative strategy that has proved to be a viable medium for representing historical traumata, magical realism remains a fixture in contemporary writing not only because of an ongoing sociopolitical climate of violence (war, terrorism, police brutality, etc.), but also because of its compelling aesthetic qualities. By juxtaposing or even merging apparently antithetical realities and by exacerbating the crisis of representation, this controversial poetics has developed a highly subversive potential. Magical realism undermines the ontological integrity of a realist text by including irrational elements, breaks the logic of subordination, and ultimately creates a new reality framework, which seems to favor fresh critical approaches to historical and contemporary events by relying primarily on the creative and healing power of imagination.’ (14) 

Kenneth Reeds, ‘Magical Realism: A Problem of Definition’ (2006) Neophilologus Vol. 90, No. 2, 175–196. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11061-005-4228-z

‘Roh described the realist component of magical realism in contrast to Expressionism’s way of seeing the world. Expressionism was a departure from the artistic tradition of realism presenting what Roh called a ‘‘fantastic dreamscape’’ … For Roh, magical realism reacted to Expressionism by producing a space where ‘‘our real world re-emerges before our eyes’’. Germany’s reality in 1925 was not necessarily a beautiful one and magical realism depicted this by often showing ‘‘the inextinguishable horrors of our own time’’ (Roh 1995, p. 17). Roh celebrated magical realism’s return to reality after Expressionism’s exaggeration and distortion of realism.’ (177)

‘Magical realism’s second component, the magic, identified it as more complicated than traditional realism … The art Roh described does not ‘‘reproduce’’ like a photo, but ‘‘recreates’’ through a reconstruction of ‘‘spiritual phenomena’’ (Guenther 1995, p. 35). This ‘‘spiritual reconstruction’’ was the product of what Roh saw as mankind’s constant pendulum swing between ‘‘devotion to the world of dreams and adherence to the world of reality.’’ He saw Expressionism as a sort of existential flight which sought to delve into our world from an almost mystical perspective, while magical realism was a return to the real world, producing once again ‘‘a profound calm and thoughtfulness’’ (Roh 1995, pp. 17–18) … Thus magical realism was a return to reality, but not simply going back to the realism which existed before Expressionism – a homecoming which carried with it the baggage from the trip through Expressionism’s existential voyage, a mix of wild flights and anchored reality.’ (178)

‘Franz Roh could not have foreseen the debate his text would provoke. After all, he was writing about a specific art which had nothing to do with Latin America, and must have seemed a great distance from the study of literature. However, the act of translation brought the term to the Americas at a moment when the continent’s waxing narrative needed a name. Other designations were suggested, but magical realism withstood the test of time and critical disagreement. The enthusiasm of the fifties, sixties, and seventies has calmed and a more sober analysis of the term’s history has helped develop a clearer profile. However, just as this is happening in Latin America magical realism has again traversed borders and can now be found in Canada, Africa, India, and other parts of the world. While un- likely to disappear, it is important to maintain as a constant the term’s history or else risk, once again, entering a dialogue of the deaf.’ (192)

Seymour Menton, ‘Jorge Luis Borges, Magic Realist’ (1982) Hispanic Review, Vol. 50, No. 4, 411–426. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/472332

‘Whereas “lo fantastico” is a genre, a type of literature that may be found in any chronological period, Magic Realism is an artistic movement or tendency that began in 1918 as a direct reflection of a series of historical and artistic factors and continued in varying degrees of intensity until approximately 1970. According to the Magic Realism Weltanschauung, the world and reality have a dream-like quality about them which is captured by the presentation of improbable juxtapositions in a style that is highly objective, precise, and deceptively simple. The Magic Realist painting or short story or novel is predominantly realistic and deals with the objects of our daily life, but contains an un-expected or improbable element that creates a strange effect leaving the viewer or reader somewhat bewildered or amazed. By contrast, the literature of the fantastic seems to conform rather well to the dictionary definitions of fantasy: “an imaginative or fanciful work, especially one dealing with supernatural or unnatural events or characters” or “fantasy fiction: imaginative fiction dependent for effect on strangeness of setting (as other worlds or times) and of characters (as supernatural or un- natural beings).” Magic Realism, involved as it is with the improbable rather than the impossible, never deals with the supernatural …’ (411-412).

‘ … some of the dictionary definitions of “fantastic” not only sharpen the contrast between the fantastic and Magic Realism but also associate the former with Expressionism, the artistic and literary movement against which Magic Realism rebelled; and Surrealism, which upstaged Magic Realism in the late 1920’s and 1930’s: “conceived or appearing as if conceived by an unrestrained imagination; grotesque; eccentric; odd … imaginary or groundless; not real or based on reality . . . extravagantly fanciful; irrational’ (412).

‘Whether Borges consciously identified with the magic realist tendency in painting or not, some of his better stories share the same stylistic traits indicated by Franz Roh and may therefore be better appreciated in this context’ (426).

Liam Connell, ‘Discarding Magic Realism: Modernism, Anthropology, and Critical Practice’ (1998) ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature, Vol. 29 (2), 95-109.

Originally given under the title “Modernism as Magic Realism” at the conference on Magic Realism, University of Kent at Canterbury, 28 October 1995. 

‘The formal characteristics of a literature described as Magic Realist are hard to distinguish from the formal characteristics of early-twentieth-century Modernism; to that end, attempts to keep these movements distinct through the categorization of one sort of literature as modern and another as magical, as well the various attempts to define the genre through a series of extra-literary criteria, merely serve to codify a set of prejudices about Western European and non-Western societies and their respective modes of thinking.  That is to say that non-Western societies are persistently characterized through a series of indicators which are categorized as primitive—one of which is a residual belief in myth, magic, and the use of ritual. Western nations by contrast are characterized as progressive, developing, modern. They then are allowed literary forms called Modernism, whereas their non-Western counterparts can only write Magic Realism’ (95).

‘The fact that this article was originally given as a paper at a conference devoted entirely to “Magic Realism” is one indication of the term’s proliferation within the academy; if not of a consensus over its meaning. It is therefore worth making clear who it is that uses the term before looking more clearly at attempts to define its scope. At the University of Kent conference, three presentations were given by writers who, in other contexts, might be described as Magic Realists: Gaele Mgowe, Githa Hariharan,and Nuruddin Farah. Not one of these writers applied the term to their own work; Hariharan expressed a preference for the phrase, “the secret undercurrent to everyday life”, and Farah voiced an open hostility towards the designation’ (95).

‘In suggesting a possible basis for distinguishing the writing of Magic Realism from that of European Modernism, I am not saying that this contrast resides in an epistemic difference born out of a fundamental opposition between Western and non-Western modes of thought. Definitions of Magic Realism that suggest this seriously mistake Western modernity for a rationalist epistemology that is radically different from modes of thinking which retain a belief in magic, and in so doing conflate the non-Western with the premodern’ (107).

‘What I am suggesting, as a response to Jameson’s proposition that “magic realism depends on a content which betrays the overlap or the coexistence of precapitalist with nascent capitalist or technological features,” is that we are dealing, in both cases, with attempts to negotiate rapid modernization. It is paradoxically in this similarity that I would seek to locate the difference. While both sets of writing are responding to the same occurrence—a rapid technological modernization — the material and historical conditions, and the relationship of power to that modernization, are irreconcilably different … What I am arguing for, then, is a rejection of essentialist or organicist notions of culture in favour of a vision of cultural production which seeks its explanations in the material conditions of its production’ (108).

Lois Parkinson Zamora, ‘The Visualizing Capacity of Magical Realism: Objects and Expression in the Work of Jorge Luis Borges’.

‘I propose this generalization at the outset: magical realism is characterized by its visualizing capacity, that is, by its capacity to create (magical) meaning by seeing ordinary things in extraordinary ways … Critical attention to the visualizing capacity of magical realism will, I think, generate interesting questions: how do magical realist authors describe their fictional worlds, and how differently from realistic writers? How do they use “figurative” language to structure their displacements of conventional realism? How do they negotiate the potential risk of showing too much? In what sense can magical realism be said to compare/compete with painting and poetry? How do magical realist texts translate into the visual medium of film?’ (22-23).

‘In printed texts, all “seeing” is symbolic, and requires mental operations that literary critics take for granted when we speak about verbal “images” … We must acknowledge the physical and cultural operations by which the apprehension of material objects (what the eye sees) become literary “images” (what the “mind’s eye” sees)’ (23). 

Lois Parkinson Zamora, ‘Swords and Silver Rings: Magical Objects in the Work of Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez’,  in A Companion to Magic Realism (Woodbridge: Tamesis, 2005), edited by Stephen M. Hart and Wen-Chin Ouyang, 28-45. ISBN : 1846153883;ISBN : 9781846153884

‘Franz Roh’s 1958 shrug of dismissal’ (regarding his earlier use of the term magical realism) ‘has been accepted by literary critics, who have largely preferred to ignore the origins of magical realism in the visual arts. Timing has something to do with it, of course, for just as Roh was performing the last rites, literary critics were beginning to resuscitate the term for use in Latin America. And from the very outset, literary critics chose to reverse Roh’s emphasis, focusing on the magic rather than the real of the texts in question.  This transatlantic appropriation of magical realism took three decades to occur, and we would do well, five decades later still, to reconsider its historical relation to the visual arts. I say this because texts accurately referred to as ‘magical-realist’ do indeed raise questions about the visualizing capacity of language in ways that realistic texts do not. While all works of fiction require that we visualize objects, realism requires of objects that they represent only themselves. They may, of course, have symbolic or psychological or metaphysical content, but their signifying function is nonetheless different from the objects in magical realist texts, which must represent not only themselves but also the potential for some kind of alternative reality, some kind of ‘magic’ (29).

‘Borges and García Márquez are … equally concerned with the relations of the visible world to invisible meanings, but García Márquez gives priority to the former, from which he infers the latter, whereas Borges proceeds in the opposite direction, starting with the invisible, from which he infers the world. For Borges, ideas precede objects and generate them, whereas for García Márquez, the object is the idea. García Márquez’s Baroque aesthetics coincide with Franz Roh’s avant-garde aesthetics in their shared insistence on the invisible meaning inherent in visible artifacts, whereas Borges’ idealizing strategies subvert the magic of the material world in favor of the magic of ‘secondary’ objects, which liber- ate him from the constraints of the real. And yet, despite their differences in style and substance, more unites Borges and García Márquez (and Carpentier) than separates them, for what they share, as I asserted at the outset, is their investment in contradictory forms of reality and their narrative modes. Each of these writers engages defamiliarizing strategies in order to renew his readers’ appreciation of realism, and the real. How the many, sometimes-magical dimensions of the world can be visualized on the printed page is as urgent a question for Borges as it is for García Márquez’ (44).

‘Despite the emphasis of recent literary criticism – my own included – on the magical aspects of the mode, magical realism has, in fact, reinvigorated realistic modes of narration. In the past half century, magical realism has revitalized the novel itself, and we can expect that it will continue to enrich our experience of literary realism, and reality, for some time to come’ (45).

William Spindler, ‘Magic Realism: A Typology’ (1993) Forum for Modern Language Studies, Vol. XXIX, Issue 1, 75–85. https://doi.org/10.1093/fmls/XXIX.1.75

‘ … It can be argued … that Magic Realism, properly defined, is a term that describes works of art and fiction sharing certain identifiable thematic, formal and structural characteristics, and that these characteristics justify it being considered an aesthetic and literary category in its own right, independent of others such as the Fantastic and Surrealism, with which it is often confused. This article attempts to put forward a framework that will incorporate the different manifestations of Magic Realism into one single model, and in this way, help to clarify the present confusion by distinguishing between different types of Magic Realism, while maintaining the links and points of contact between them’ (75).

‘ … It will have become apparent that the debate between critics has been provoked, to a large extent, by the existence of two different, and even apparently contradictory, understandings of the term: (i) the original one, which refers to a type of literary or artistic work which presents reality from an unusual perspective without transcending the limits of the natural, but which induces in the reader or viewer a sense of unreality; and (ii) the current usage, which describes texts where two contrasting views of the world (one “rational” and one “magical”) are presented as if they were not contradictory, by resorting to the myths and beliefs of ethnocultural groups for whom this contradiction does not arise.

Usage (i) comprises the definitions proposed by Roh, Leal, Anderson, Imbert, and the United States critic Seymour Menton, presents the natural and the ordinary as supernatural, while structurally excluding the supernatural as a valid interpretation. Usage (ii), which is the one most commonly employed by critics of Latin American fiction and has now largely replaced the previous one, is based, to a considerable extent, on “lo real maravilloso”. 

Usage (ii) refers, stylistically, to texts where the supernatural is presented as normal and ordinary, in a matter-of-fact way. Structurally, it considers the presence of the supernatural in the text as essential for the existence of Magic Realism. A. B. Chanady, for example, proposes three criteria to determine whether a text belongs to Magic Realism or not: firstly, the presence in the text of two conflicting views of reality, representing the natural and the supernatural, the rational and the irrational, or the “enlightened” and the “primitive”. Secondly, the resolution of this antinomy through the narrator accepting both views as equally valid. Thirdly, authorial reticence in the absence of obvious judgements on the veracity or authenticity of supernatural events (A.B.Chanady, Magical Realism and the Fantastic: Resolved versus Unresolved Antinomy, pp. 21-30) (78).’ 

Liam Devlin, ‘Myth, Montage and Magic Realism: Rethinking the Photograph as a Discursive Document’ (2019) Photographies, Vol. 12, No. 1, 3–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/17540763.2018.1512518

Abstract: Foregrounding the photograph’s ontological ambiguity, this article examines a possible social agency for the photograph within an art discourse, which seeks to create space for political mobilization. Using Jacques Rancière’s theoretical development of an a priori logic of an equality of intelligence, it examines how an assumed equality, applied across various forms of photography, can provide a more productive framework to consider how images are used and reused. This paper argues that by assuming this a priori logic, we can move the debate beyond questions that are concerned with the originality of an image or its status as document and allows for a reconsideration of its use as a catalyst for debate.

Wendy Farris, ‘The Question of the Other: Cultural Critiques of Magical Realism’ http://janushead.org/5-2/faris.pdf

‘The status of magical realism, its widespread popularity, and the critical use of the term are the subject of debate because at the same time that it is acknowledged by some as a significant decolonizing style, permitting new voices and traditions to be heard within the mainstream, it is denigrated by others as a commodifying kind of primitivism that, like the Orientalism analyzed by Edward Said and his successors, relegates colonies and their traditions to the role of cute, exotic psychological fantasies—visions of the colonizer’s ever more distant, desirable, and/or despised self projected onto colonized others.’

Anne Hegerfeldt, ‘Contentious Contributions: Magic Realism goes British’ http://www.janushead.org/5-2/hegerfeldt.pdf

‘ … Magic realism employs a wide variety of strategies which can each be seen to contribute a central project, namely to ask about the possibilities of, as well as the limitations to, the human endeavor to know the world. Paradoxically, the mode reaches the same conclusion on both counts – its answer is: fiction. Magic realism clearly shows fictions to be capable of providing knowledge about the world, potentially allowing insights which other, rational-scientific paradigms cannot offer. At the same time, it emphasizes that all knowledge is constructed and provisional, which means that in the end, human insight remains limited to fiction’ (78).

Jennifer Laws, ‘Magic at the Margins: Towards a Magical Realist Human Geography’, (2016) Cultural Geographies, Vol. 24(1), 3-19

The purpose of this article is to put forward the case for a magically realist human geography, drawing on geographical research into the lives and lifeworlds of people with long-term and disabling mental health difficulties. In the article, I move between extracts from my own ethnographic research with mental health service users and survivors and the equally unusual stories of the literary genre, magical realism, in which I find a framework for addressing what I understand as a narrative paucity in much of mainstream research writing about mental distress. The article reflects upon the strange and sometimes magical qualities of illness and recovery in the context of individuals living with severe and enduring mental health problems and how traditional constructions of ‘evidence’ variously exclude or overlook such experiences. The contributions of the article are both to explore how ‘magic’ might encapsulate certain aspects of living with mental distress and – developing ongoing discussions in the sub-discipline around geographies of enchantment, magic and spirituality – to consider how a magical realist framework for geographical research might do justice to the rich, marvellous and irreducible experiences of everyday life, which are often excluded from conventional evidence bases.

Anne C. Hegerfeldt, Lies that Tell the Truth: Magic Realism Seen through Contemporary Fiction from Britain, Rodopi, Amsterdam-New York (2005)

‘Magic realism has long been treated as a phenomenon restricted to postcolonial literature. Drawing on works from Britain, Lies that Tell the Truth compellingly shows how magic realist fiction can be produced also at what is usually considered to be the cultural centre without forfeiting the mode’s postcolonial attitude and aims. A close analysis of works by Angela Carter, Salman Rushdie, Jeanette Winterson, Robert Nye and others reveals how the techniques of magic realism generate a complex critique of the West’s rational-empirical worldview from within a Western context itself. Understanding magic realism as a fictional analogue of anthropology and sociology, Lies that Tell the Truth reads the mode as a frequently humorous but at the same time critical investigation into people’s attempts to make sense of their world. By laying bare the manifold strategies employed to make meaning, magic realist fiction indicates that knowledge and reality cannot be reduced to hard facts, but that people’s dreams and fears, ideas, stories and beliefs must equally be taken into account.’

David Danow, The Spirit of Carnival: Magical Realism and the Grotesque, (1995) University Press of Kentucky

‘The world of literature responds to the “spirit of carnival” in ways that are both social and cultural, mythological and archetypal. Literature provides a mirror in which carnival is reflected and refracted through the multifarious perspectives of verbal art. In his original, wide-ranging book, David K. Danow catches the various reflections in that mirror, from the bright, life-affirming magical side of carnival, as revealed in the literature of Latin American writers, to its dark, grotesque, death-embracing aspect as illustrated in numerous novels depicting the dire experience of the Second World War. The remarkable meshing of these two diametrically opposed yet inextricably intertwined facets of literature (and of life) makes for an intriguing sphere of investigation, for the carnival spirit is animated by a human need to dissolve borders and eliminate boundaries — including, symbolically, those between life and death — in an ongoing effort to merge opposing forces into new configurations of truth and meaning. Expanding upon the seminal ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin, carnival, argues Danow, is designed to allow one extreme to flow into another, to provide for one polarity (official culture) to confront its opposite (unofficial culture), much as individuals engage in dialogue. In this case the result is “dialogized carnival” or “carnivalized dialogue.” In their artmaking, Danow claims, human beings are animated by a periodic predisposition toward the bright side of carnival, matched by an equally strong, far darker predilection. Carnival forms of thinking are firmly embedded within the human psyche as archetypal patterns. In this engaging exploratory book, we are shown the distinctive imprint of these primordial structures within a multitude of seemingly disparate literary works.’

Eugene L. Arva, ‘Writing the Vanishing Real: Hyperreality and Magical Realism’ (2008) Journal of Narrative Theory, vol. 38 no. 1, 60-85. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jnt.0.0002

‘Magical realism constitutes an attitude toward and a way of approaching reality—a reality that is rarely what it seems and is seldom perceived in the same way by subjects in different places or in different times’ (68)

‘The deceptive simplicity of magical realist images, their coherence, vividness, and emotional charge, enables readers to see and to feel—without necessarily understanding—the indescribable horrors of the past’ (75)

‘Any attempt to understand the modus operandi of the traumatic imagination in magical realist writing needs to start with an analytical survey of the neighboring literary genres—fantasy, the fantastic, the marvelous, and the uncanny, all of which inform the most essential traits of magical realism and of the postmodern context in which magical realism first appeared and has developed since the mid-1930s. The thematic core of the magical realist writing mode at any of its stages concerns representation: the writing of the real. Magical realist authors turn to illusion and magic as a matter of survival in a civilization priding itself on scientific accomplishments, positivist thinking, and the metaphysical banishment of death. Yet it is curious that fantastic re-presentation (imaginative reconstitution) works where realistic representation (descriptive mimesis) has apparently failed. What does postmodernist fiction in general, and magical realist writing in particular, re-present: reality, its non-referential substitutes, or mere simulacra? By virtue of its subversive character, magical realism foregrounds, somewhat paradoxically, the falsehood of its fantastic imagery exactly in order to expose the falsehood—and the traumatic absence—of the reality that it endeavors to re-present’ (61).

Christopher Warnes, ‘The Hermeneutics of Vagueness’, (2005) Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 41:1, 1-13, DOI: 10.1080/17449850500062733

‘In May 2002 a banner headline in Newsweek International offered the world the question “Is Magical Realism Dead?” Based on the opinions of a group of young writers from Latin America and on the evidence of a spate of “savvy, street‐smart, sometimes wiseass and un‐ashamedly over the top” publications, Newsweek was quick to answer its question in the affirmative. The story was taken up in Britain less than a week later by Robert McCrum in The Observer under the headline “Has Magic Realism Run Its Course?” The repudiation of magical realism by the young Latin Americans was, McCrum noted wryly, “the oldest story in the book, the new generation challenging its elders” (1).

‘Is magical realism simply a mode of narration that may be engaged sporadically by an author? Is it a literary movement with a specific agenda and defined geographical and cultural boundaries? Or is it a genre of fiction that can be compared across continents and languages? Before these questions can be addressed, we must acknowledge that magical realism’s problems are rooted yet more deeply in the fact that both “magic” and “realism” are polysemic terms fraught with a history of contradictory usage. And, of course, central to critical discourse’s problems with magical realism is that the term is an oxymoron: magic is thought of as that which lies outside of the realm of the real; realism usually excludes the magical. Magical realism, in its very name, flouts philosophical conventions of non‐contradiction. How should one begin to pick a path through such cluttered terrain?’ (3).

‘… we can thus define magical realism as a mode of narrative that naturalizes the supernatural, presenting real and fantastic coherently and in a state of equivalence with one another’ (6).

Bruce Holland Rogers, ‘What Is Magical Realism, Really(2002) Critiqueville https://www.writing-world.com/sf/realism.shtml

(Magical Realism) ‘is, first of all, a branch of serious fiction, which is to say, it is not escapist. Let me be clear: I like escapist fiction, and some of what I write is escapism. I’m with C.S. Lewis when he observes that the only person who opposes escape is, by definition, a jailer. Entertainment, release, fun…these are all good reasons to read and to write. But serious fiction’s task is not escape, but engagement. Serious fiction helps us to name our world and see our place in it. It conveys or explores truth.

Any genre of fiction can get at truths, of course. Some science fiction and fantasy do so, and are serious fiction. Some SF and fantasy are escapist. But magical realism is always serious, never escapist, because it is trying to convey the reality of one or several worldviews that actually exist, or have existed. Magical realism is a kind of realism, but one different from the realism that most of our culture now experiences.

Science fiction and fantasy are always speculative. They are always positing that some aspect of objective reality were different. What if vampires were real? What if we could travel faster than light? Magical realism is not speculative and does not conduct thought experiments. Instead, it tells its stories from the perspective of people who live in our world and experience a different reality from the one we call objective. If there is a ghost in a story of magical realism, the ghost is not a fantasy element but a manifestation of the reality of people who believe in and have “real” experiences of ghosts. Magical realist fiction depicts the real world of people whose reality is different from ours. It’s not a thought experiment. It’s not speculation. Magical realism endeavors to show us the world through other eyes. When it works, as I think it does very well in, say, Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony, some readers will inhabit this other reality so thoroughly that the “unreal” elements of the story, such as witches, will seem frighteningly real long after the book is finished. A fantasy about southwestern Indian witches allows you to put down the book with perhaps a little shiver but reassurance that what you just read is made up. Magical realism leaves you with the understanding that this world of witches is one that people really live in and the feeling that maybe this view is correct.

It’s possible to read magical realism as fantasy, just as it’s possible to dismiss people who believe in witches as primitives or fools. But the literature at its best invites the reader to compassionately experience the world as many of our fellow human beings see it.’

Marisa Bortolussi, ‘Introduction: Why We Need Another Study of Magic Realism’ (2003) Vol. 30 (2), Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, 279-293. pdf

‘When one observes and analyzes the enormous variety of works that are collected in anthologies of magic realism, or promoted and accepted as magic realist by book publishers and critics, works that easily fit under other generic rubrics, the source of the problem becomes very clear. Simply stated, fascination has not only preceded, but has too often precluded informed methodological investigation. Intuitively, spontaneously, and indiscriminately, the term continues to be applied as an umbrella rubric that covers a curious range of disparate fictional modes that in some way combine “magic” and “realism.”’(280)

Peter Dixon, ‘Normal Magic, Normalcy, and Explanation in Popular Fantasy and Magical Realism’ (2003) Vol. 30 (2), Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, 334-348.

‘A normal story world is one in which the setting and circumstances of the story world are recognizable and can be identified in the real world at least in kind. These circumstances and setting allow the reader to recognize the world as his or her own. In Chanady’s (1985) terms, when fantasy elements are presented as occurring in the normal real world, an “antinomy” is created between two autonomous codes: the normal, realistic code (that does not permit magic to occur) and a fantastic code (that does support magical events). According to Chanady, that antinomy is “resolved” in magical realism because the narrator and character accept the fantasy elements as natural and uneventful.’ (335)

‘In this article, I have discussed normalcy and explanation as they apply to popular fantasy. I have argued that in fantasy, magic and other fantasy elements are commonly accepted as a normal part of the story world by the characters and the narrator. Although fantasy often takes place in a fantasy world that is distinct from our own world, it is relatively easy to find examples that take place either in the here-and-now of our world or in an identifiable historical context. When the story world is linked to our world, different kinds of explanations of the discrepancy might be offered by the narrative: The fantasy elements might only be a semblance, the reality of the story world might only be a semblance, or some form of pseudo-explanation might be offered. However, it is quite possible to find stories with no explanation of the discrepancy at all. Thus, I argue that the existence of normal magic and the particular type of explanation offered for the discrepancy between the story world and reality do not clearly distinguish popular fantasy from magical realism. Instead, the coherence of the fantasy elements seems much more salient. In popular fantasy, there are virtually always clear indications of the limits and nature of the fantasy elements and often a great deal of mechanistic description concerning the role of magic in the causal structure of the story world. Such indications may be largely missing from instances of magical realism.’ (347-8)

Marisa Bortolussi, ‘Implausible Worlds, Ingenuous Narrators, Ironic Authors: Towards a Revised Theory of Magic Realism’ (2003) Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, Vol. 30 (2), 349-370

‘Magic realism is that literary form that manifests the following properties and features: a) disconnected, incongruous magical events lacking a common source and unifying coherence recur throughout the work at the level of plot; b) these events are presented at face value by an ingenuous narrator; c) the authority of this narrator is undermined by the very incongruity of the events, and the implausibility of the fictional world by the narrative style based on excesses and exaggerations; d) all of which point to the ironic, distancing intention of an implied author who flaunts his/her distance not only with respect to the fictional world and its denizens, including the narrator, but also the realist conventions of mimesis and representation.’ (365-366)

Amaryll Chanady, ‘Magic Realism Revisited: The Deconstruction of Antinomies’ (2003) Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, Vol. 30 (2), 428-444.

‘In my thesis on Magical Realism and the Fantastic: Resolved versus Unresolved Antinomy, I attempted, somewhat optimistically, to clear up some of the confusion surrounding literary criticism on the fantastic as well as magic realism. I thus distinguished between the two literary modes on the basis of the narrative representation of what most Western readers would consider as antinomious — the natural and the supernatural. Whereas the fantastic (in a very restricted sense based on the work of numerous French theoreticians such as Tzvetan Todorov and Irene Bessiere) reaffirmed hegemonic Western rational paradigms by portraying the supernatural in a contradictory manner as both terrifying and logically impossible, magic realist fiction presented radically different world views (rational and magical) as well as natural and supernatural events, without explicitly problematizing them as in the fantastic. Since magic realist authors such as Kafka and even Garcia Marquez, as well as their readers, hardly believed in the actual possibility of transformation of men into insects or puddles of pitch, their fiction demanded a strong suspension of disbelief and enjoyment of fictionality not restricted by realist prescriptions. Hesitation and disbelief had no place in the reaction of a reader who was very much aware of the imaginary nature of the fictitious events and played the magic realist “game” of fiction’ (429-430).

‘My study thus established a distinction between magic realism and the fantastic (in a very restricted sense), and not fantasy, which I considered as belonging to the marvelous. I distinguished between the marvelous (including fantasy), in which the supernatural is accepted, the uncanny, in which it is actually absent, and the fantastic, in which the natural and natural are seen as antinomious (Chanady 1985, 2-3) (430). 

‘In the fantastic texts I studied, ghosts, vampires and malevolent statues all belong to a world of superstition and are seen as a problem to sanity, safety and reason by a hyper-rational narrator, while in magic realism, this is not the case, although the new and unconventional may initially be seen as amazing, but are eventually accepted … What is important is that in the fantastic the presence of the supernatural is unexplainable and unacceptable by definition in a world ruled by reason …’ (431).

‘In ghost stories and many examples of the uncanny and horror fiction, the supernatural or improbable is considered not only as a threat, but also as an intrusion from another world — the world of the dead, of the spirits, of the unknown, the invisible, even the extra-terrestrial. All these fictions can thus be contrasted with fairy tales, in which the supernatural and the natural coexist in a seamless world, or the intrusion of the supernatural is not dwelled upon with fear, trepidation and horror. The formulaic narration of the fairy tale bears little resemblance to the particular rhetorical strategies of horror fiction, ghost stories or the fantastic in the restricted sense. A more useful distinction could thus have been made between all modes and genres in which the emphasis is on sustained fear, trepidation and bewilderment in the face of the unknown and the transgression of “normal” reality, especially by the supernatural (and of which the fantastic is but one manifestation, in which the supernatural is rejected but still feared), and modes such as popular fantasy and magic realism that celebrate the exuberance of the imagination by creating impossible worlds or subverting initially realistic ones. Both establish a pact with the reader, but this differs according to the diverse rhetorical strategies employed. While the suspension of disbelief is required in both cases (few readers would seriously reflect on the possible existence of flying carpets, or, for that matter, Maupassant’s murderous severed hand), ghost stories and the fantastic in the restricted sense refer to beliefs that have not quite disappeared, and may in fact be widespread in some societies, including our own’ (433).

Jennifer Andrews, ‘Rethinking the Relevance of Magic Realism for English-Canadian Literature’ (1999) Studies in Canadian Literature / Études En littérature Canadienne Vol. 24 (1). https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/scl/article/view/12849/13883

‘In a Latin American context, magic realism demonstrates that the strange is, in fact, commonplace and that the unreal constitutes a significant part of reality. Instead of creating imagined worlds or distorting reality, as writers of fantastic literature and science fiction often do, these texts attempt to articulate the mystery behind reality and to prevent myths, folklore, and alternative versions of history from being relegated to the supernatural realm or ignored altogether.’

‘Magic realist writers typically presume that readers have faith and believe in the existence of some kind of spiritual plane. Superstition is treated as part of daily life, and brings another dimension to the narratives being relayed. At the same time, a special value is placed on the retention of oral traditions within these texts. Contradictory versions of the same event are made available and written records are revised to include folk wisdom, prayers, and the firsthand experiences of those who have been oppressed or silenced. Thus, magic realists contest the notion of history as a linear and logical phenomenon from a wide variety of perspectives by including superstition, folklore, and the voices of otherwise neglected members of the population. These authors also play with the concept of time in their narratives in order to convey the unpredictability of life, whether at the level of individuals, whole communities, or even nations.’

‘Magic realism pays particular attention to places and communities that have been marginalized. Magic, in this context, becomes a tool for challenging power structures and may facilitate the metamorphoses of characters and communities. For instance, the breaking of sexual taboos is a part of many magic-realist texts. Such acts of deviance can represent a rebellious attack on authority and challenge dominant paradigms of what is “appropriate” behaviour by inverting established rules. However, psychological explanations and justifications for characters’ actions and choices are usually peripheral or non-existent in these works.’

Hannah R Widdifield, ‘Magical Realism v. Surrealism’, extract from “Myth y la Magia: Magical Realism and the Modernism of Latin America. ” Master’s Thesis, University of Tennessee, 2015. https://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_gradthes/3421

… When magical realism initially broke into the global literary scene, it was typically compared to surrealism … Surrealism arose in France as both a development of and a push back against modernism. Among its primary goals was the perversion of the reality that we perceive with our senses in an attempt to create dreamlike spaces and experiences. For the surrealists, these bizarre creations held some sort of essence or truth that rational reality failed to fully express or appreciate. Thus, reality needed distortion if anyone were to successfully represent it. This in and of itself is remarkable enough, but beyond the application of these ideologies to art and literature, the historical event of Surrealism foregoes any notion of aesthetic in an attempt to force political and social action. In fact, if it has any aesthetic at all, it may be that of shock. In Surrealism and the Art of Crime, Jonathan Eburne outlines the shift from post-Dada (for our purposes, shortly after the decline of New Objectivity) to proto-surrealism. According to Eburne, surrealism has roots in violence, where disagreeing members of the school physically brawl and injure one another in the struggle to either reconcile Dadaism and surrealism or move beyond Dadaism altogether (61). The creation of the movement was itself a violent, often physical performance, as opposed to a mediated development that took place over time, from circulated text to circulated text. 

Surrealism as a social and political entity functioned as a space that members were either allowed to occupy or forced to evacuate. As such, it was a self-conscious movement that facilitated the environment that necessitated its development. In 1924, André Breton penned the First Surrealist Manifesto … In an aggressive movement away from the empiricism of the Enlightenment of the previous century, Surrealism, as defined by Breton, doesn’t merely disregard reason, but actively tries to extinguish it in an effort to locate something more instinctive and pure. This instinct to locate something essential, something primitive, once again links surrealism and magical realism. But perhaps the most startling comparison between the two genres takes place earlier in his text when Breton argues that “[i]n the guise of civilization, under the pretext of progress, we have succeeded in dismissing from our minds anything that, rightly or wrongly, could be regarded as superstition or myth; and we have proscribed every way of seeking the truth that does not conform to convention [emphasis added]” (365). Though not a direct call for a return to myth, Breton laments, at the very least, its absence in modern thinking. But Breton then shifts his focus and the catalyst for surrealism is cemented as the dream; “I believe in the future resolution of these two states—outwardly so contradictory—which are dream and reality, into a sort 28of absolute reality, a surreality, so to speak” (368). 

Here, we see the first seeds of what will eventually be a defining difference between surrealism and magical realism—while the former wants to reach some sort of truth by consciously altering and perverting reality, the latter is more interested in recovering the lost bits of human experience that have been disguised by empiricism and logic. To elaborate further, intrinsic to surrealism is a kind of projection. Dreamlike, irrational, sometimes supernatural elements are projected upon reality in order to distort it. Magical realism, however, seeks to uncover the supernatural and inexplicable components that already exist within everyday reality that we have relegated to the past as part of some irrational, illogical superstition. 

The ultimate goal of both genres is quite similar—make art that presents the audience with an experience that cuts through the logical, purely sensory, empirical reality and arrives at a long lost truth. But the genres differ in the methods they use to achieve this goal. For instance, sometimes surrealism relies on irrational compositions (emphasis on the connotation of “composite”) to represent unreality. The juxtaposition of logically unrelated items—like Salvador Dali’s “Aphrodisiac Telephone,” which consists of a plaster lobster on top of a rotary phone—often results in something playful and provocative, if only the viewer could suspend rationality for a moment. But the meaning, if there is any, rests in its nonsense—it only means something once the viewer projects a meaning upon it. Perhaps as a remnant of the modernism that preceded it, magical realism imbues objects, images, characters, and events with meaning by way of symbolism. 

In this regard, surrealism sees experience and perception as operating on a spectrum, with reality on one end and unreality on the other end. We are sometimes granted access to unreality, but typically only by way of dreams and in excessively intoxicated states. Magical realism, however, sees reality and unreality as being two sides of one coin. In essence, one cannot physically exist without the other; they exist simultaneously and occupy the same space, indeed the same matter.Though perhaps only a subtle difference in some conversations, here it seems important to really flesh out the nuances between surrealism and magical realism. Obviously, magical realism does not participate in “pure psychic automatism,” nor does it relinquish all ties to an aesthetic or moral preoccupation; it is quite preoccupied, on the contrary, with what Carpentier believes is distinctly American (Latin American, that is) aesthetic. 

It becomes almost difficult to believe that early scholars of the genre would mislabel it as a division of surrealism when, in fact, their motivations could hardly be more disparate. All that is left to confuse, then, are some of the formal characteristics, like the use of supernatural or irrational imagery and narratives. This is fine and well, but the impetus behind magical realism’s use of odd and disconcerting, amalgamated images is not to shock the audience into another plane of reality; rather, it aims to pull them into a reality that already exists as a composite of the mythical, mystical, superstitious realities that layer on top of one another, buried and compressed with each new belief, until the only recourse is to dig back down to them.

Manuela Romano, ‘Are Similes and Metaphors Interchangeable? A Case Study in Opinion Discourse’, (2017) Review of Cognitive Linguistics, Vol. 15 (1), 1-33.

‘The relationship between simile and metaphor has interested linguists, philosophers, psycholinguists and rhetoricians since Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Two main approaches to the topic have existed and exist today. On the one hand, the equivalence view, also called classical or comparative approach, by which metaphor is considered a simile with an elliptic ‘like’ that makes claims about a category. On the other hand, the non-equivalence or categorization approach, by which a metaphor is a categorization assertion, whereas a simile is an assertion of similitude, among other cognitive and discursive differences.’ (p1)

‘By analysing natural occurring examples of the construction A is like B in English opinion discourse, the present work gives evidence for the second view, namely that metaphors and similes do not only show structural differences, but also reflect different cognitive processes as well as different discursive functions.’ (p2)

‘For many years, scholars followed Aristotle adopting the equivalence view, an approach which, as already mentioned, regards these figures of speech as variants of a unique (or very similar) conceptual process of analogy. This is also true of Lakoff and Johnson’s 1980 Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT). For CMT, metaphor is not a linguistic phenomenon but rather a conceptual phenomenon consisting of a mapping process between two domains —the base or source and the target, which differ only in the surface presence or absence of the word like. Within this conceptual view, both figures are treated the same with regard to comprehension, interpretation, and usage (Aisenman, 1999)’.

‘The equivalence approach has been challenged by different psycholinguistic, cognitive and discourse studies. For these scholars, metaphors and similes are understood in their own right, showing different cognitive, communicative and discursive functions.’

‘According to Cuenca (2015:144), a simile can be described as a double movement of conceptualization since similes assert a similarity, but, at the same time, they presuppose dissimilarity: the two entities are dissimilar in most respects but similar at least in one, and this is why, an elaboration is generally needed or expected.’ (p4)

‘The differences between metaphors and similes have also been studied experimentally by psychologists. Aisenman (1999) measures response time to metaphor and simile, and concludes that metaphors are much more rapidly understood than similes, a conclusion also reached by Johnson (1996) and Glucksberg (2001). According to Aisenman, simile would be cognitively marked, as opposed to metaphor that would be primary, universal and general, both in thinking and in language. Aisenman’s results, nevertheless, must be taken with caution, since they are based on a short list of artificial source and target mappings included in Gentner (1983).’

‘In their study “On simile”, Israel, Riddle and Tobin … point out formal, conceptual and rhetorical differences between both figures. 

(i) One of the most striking differences between these figures is ‘explicitness’. While metaphors need not be overtly marked, similes, by their very nature, must be. Simile is fundamentally a figure of speech requiring overt reference to source and target entities, and an explicit construction connecting them, whereas metaphor is ultimately a figure of thought (2004:129). 

(ii) Related to explicitness, similes usually appear with an explanation or elaboration. This formal difference makes similes capable of featuring very imaginative and unexpected juxtapositions, which might not work in a simple metaphor (2004:130).12 This is related to the fact that, while a single conceptual metaphor may feature numerous cross-domain correspondences, similes tend to highlight a single salient property in two domains (2004:133). 

(iii) Since similes require an explicit comparison construction of some kind, they can serve only the rhetorical and discourse functions which those constructions perform. Unlike similes, metaphorical expressions can appear as a subject noun phrase or a main verb, among other grammatical functions. This allows them to introduce new referents or depict events as they unfold in discourse, while similes necessarily elaborate a previously mentioned referent or relation (2004:133). (p13)

(iv) Similes (unlike metaphors, which give form to a target domain by projecting structure from a source) match structures construed as simultaneously present in both domains. Similes do not add structure to a target, but highlight what is already there. While metaphors may actually structure a domain, similes are essentially a mode of description; similes may not always map attributes, but they do tend to function attributively (2004:132). As a form of comparison, similes typically serve a descriptive function; that is, they elaborate properties of a primary figure, the target, by matching them with corresponding properties in a secondary figure, the source (2004:133). Metaphorical expressions can be used descriptively as well, but metaphors are not limited to such a function for the simple reason that metaphors are not limited to any particular grammatical form (2004:129).’ 

‘In short, even though Israel et al. (2004) concentrate on single sentence examples, and so ignore many basic uses of simile in real discourse, they do highlight some of their main rhetorical functions, namely that similes may be used to highlight themes in a narrative, to add ironic shading, to inject humour, or to heighten the dramatic tension of a climactic scene (2004:133).’ (p14)

‘Bernárdez (2009) is one of the first scholars to explicitly state that the difference between metaphor and simile cannot yield significant and useful results if it is carried out in the absence of context, i.e., without due consideration of the conditions of use of individual metaphors and similes.

Other differences between both analogical figures identified by Bernárdez in his literary analysis are: 

(i) In the same lines as Israel et al.’s (2004) findings, he considers similes are used to create comparisons that are much more daring, and less conventional than those achieved through metaphor. A simile can therefore be, and usually is, formally and conceptually much more complex than a metaphor. This difference would also explain why in similes only a very specific part or property of the source domain is mapped onto an equally specific part of the target domain. 

(ii) Similes are an integral part of the narrative or discourse; they not only play a function as part of the conceptual component of the text, but are also part of the text itself. Bernárdez concludes that, whereas metaphor’s main function is conceptual, and only secondarily linguistic, simile is as much linguistic-narrative as it is conceptual, since similes, like metaphors, bring forth associations and contrasts through the comparison of two (usually divergent) domains, but at the same time play specific communicative roles.’ (p16)

Stephen M. Hart, “Magical Realism in the Americas: Politicised Ghosts in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, ‘The House of the Sprits’, and ‘Beloved” (2003) Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies, Vol. 9 (2) 115-123, DOI: 10.1080/1470184032000171759

There is an enormous bibliography on the subject of magical realism and, rather than review even part of it, I shall propose a working definition (the secret of magical realism lies in its ability to depict reality objectively but with a magical dimension) and test the following hypothesis: the phantom in magical realist fiction is the projection within an ideologically riven nation of a subaltern forced to “disappear” as a result of lying (in both senses of the term) on the wrong side of the political, gender, or race line (115)

A leitmotif of the novel (One Hundred Years) is the sense in which occurrences seen as supernatural in the First World (such as ghostly apparitions, human beings with the ability to fly, levitate, disappear or increase their weight at will) are presented as natural from a Third World perspective, while occurrences seen as normal in the First World (magnets, science, ice, railway trains, the movies, phonographs) are presented as supernatural from the point of view of an inhabitant of the Caribbean (116) 

Whereas the standard definition of a ghost is a “soul or spectre of a dead person usually believed to inhabit the netherworld and to be capable of returning in some form to the world of the living” (EB 1995: 242), ghosts often operate in magic-realist fiction as disem- bodied memorialisations of a trauma experienced by the subaltern, normally in the past. Given that the non-subaltern, or controlling, agencies of society are actively involved in suppressing knowledge of trauma of this kind, it is not surprising that, from an empiricist-official point of view, ghosts do not exist. Ghosts, thus, rupture the socio-spatio-temporal membrane of society and, in magic-realist fiction, operate as traces of subaltern trauma. This is why I believe that we can talk in magic realist fiction about politicised ghosts (118)

Michael Israel et. al., ‘On Simile’, in Language, Culture, and Mind, eds. Michel Achard and Suzanne Kemmer (2004, CSLI Publications), 123-135. http://terpconnect.umd.edu/~israel/Israel%26al-Simile.pdf

‘ … Metaphors selectively project conceptual structure directly from one domain onto another. Metaphors, in other words, create similarities rather than reflecting them. Similes, on the other hand, really are a kind of comparison. Unlike metaphors, they require individuation of both source and target concepts, and an evaluation of what they have in common, but unlike literal comparisons, they are figurative—comparing things normally felt to be incomparable, typically using vivid or startling images to suggest unexpected connections between source and target’ (124)

‘One of the most striking differences between these figures is explicitness: while metaphors need not be overtly marked, similes, by their very nature, must be. Simile is fundamentally a figure of speech requiring overt reference to source and target entities, and an explicit construction connect- ing them. Metaphor, on the other hand, is ultimately a figure of thought. Many conceptual domains are essentially metaphorically structured, and this structuring is often evident not just in metaphorical uses of language, but also in social practices and conventions, in gesture, and in reasoning processes in general (Lakoff 1993, Gibbs 1994). Because metaphor is fundamentally a cognitive rather than a linguistic phenomenon metaphorical expressions need not be overtly signalled in any way: given the appropriate mappings, one can use source domain language metaphorically without even mentioning the target domain to which they apply’ (129).

‘We suggest that the difference between metaphor and simile may have less to do with the kinds of properties they map than with the mapping process itself. Conceptual metaphors give form to a target domain by projecting structure from a source: in fact, some very abstract targets, like time and causation, may be structured almost entirely metaphorically (Lakoff 1993). Similes, on the other hand, match structures construed as simultaneously present in both domains: similes do not add structure to a target, but highlight what’s already there. In short, while metaphor may actually structure a domain, simile is essentially a mode of description: similes may not always map attributes, but they do tend to function attributively’ (132) 

‘Unlike metaphor, simile is essentially … an explicit form of comparison; but unlike literal comparison, simile is essentially figurative, making unexpected connections between literally unlike concepts’ (134).