The artwork here in this post is from the likes of George Tooker, Andrew Wyeth and Alex Colville. Their work has been described as being a part of a movement called Magic Realism (MR). Other Magical Realist’s are Jared French, Paul Cadmus, Frida Kahlo, Edward Hopper, etc.
Thats the artistic side of things. Magical Realism also comes in the form of a Literary movement and that is what I want to comment on here.
Magical Realism ala Literature apparently has to do with treating/perceiving what is magical as though is were everyday ordinary and everyday real. Something magical is either (a) treated or (b) perceived as just one more happening among many other happenings. Some example of Magical Realists writers are Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borges, etc.
So for example, the Gabriel García Márquez story, A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings is about – wiki excerpt –> “… a very old man with enormous wings who appears in a families’ backyard on a stormy night. What follows are the reactions of the family, a town, and outside visitors.”
So an angel is treated as just another person – not as someone to be marvelled at or responded to with awe and wonder. The title of the story says it all – A Very Old Man…
Or more humorously – going back a few thousand years even, there is the story of the Exodus in the Bible, where the Israelites have left a harsh Egypt and en route have seen some pretty remarkable things like the Red Sea parting, bitter water turning sweet or living under a Pillar of Fire by night and a Pillar of Cloud by day and yet they …
“… and again the Israelites wept and said, ‘Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish we ate freely in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now our appetite is gone; there is nothing to see but this manna!'” ~ Numbers 11
IF the following approximates what MR is – or at least captures one major idea embedded in it:
Magical Realism: treating that which is extraordinary and say supra-real as though it were just plain ordinary or everyday real.
THEN I want to make a claim, that all people have within them a Magical Realist impulse to some degree. ALL. And I think I see this impulse everywhere.
(1) Daily Life:
So for example, there are atheists who will say that they do not believe that God exists. Yet when a difficult situation in life takes place, they will get angry and reply with a “How can God …?” ~ This has been documented in Psych journals.
Then there are those folks who say that they believe that God exists, yet live like there is no God. Functional Atheism?
Then there are people like me who believe that God exists and who believes that he has seen some things go down in life that are inexplicable apart from God, and yet balk when a situation demands and exercise of faith.
(2) Daily Life – In the Books – Literary Devices
Writers develop their stories via various literary devices such as foreshadowing, symbolism, synecdoche, metaphor, etc.
So when I read the Great Gatsby, its a very normal part of my reading and processing to construe the green light as something symbolic of Gatsby’s hopes, dreams and even a longing for a special someone, viz. Daisy.
Why is this normal? Why do we accept the use of literary devices so matter-of-factly when in print? What I mean is this – when I look out the window, and if it is cloudy and raining, I do not interpret this as meaning, that 10, 15 years from now my life will be dismal. No? If that were so then that would be miraculous indeed.
If symbolism does not exist in daily life then how did it creep into our literature?
Morever how are we to understand it when authors like Carl Sagan or Jean Paul Sarte use it literary capacity to make a point such as God not existing and this life, from rocks to big rocks and from atoms to molecules, i.e. little rocks, is all that there is?
Ans. Magical Realism – We have within ourselves a Magic Realist impulse.
Literary devices are mini miracles. To treat them as staid and to employ them against a cause that demands their very existence is odd.
(3) The Paradox of Fiction
– describes what happens when we treat or react to something that is not real, (e.g. fiction) as though it were real.
So the question here is – Why do I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and weep even though I know that none of this really happened? Its not real.
If I tell you that Joe died and Joe is standing next to you, you will not weep. Why? Because you know it never really happened. Its not real.
So why do we react to something as though it were real, when it is in fact not real?
I want to answer once again – Magic Realism – however as I keep thinking I suspect that the dot doesn’t quite connect. Hmmm… No maybe it does connect.
Authors like Albert Camus either perceive symbols as quite ordinary (the bread in The Stranger) or deliberately treat symbols as ordinary in order to argue for a world that is quite drab and really worse than ordinary.
This is Magical Realism. At the very least it belies an impulse that drives it.
Ok. I’ll end here.
All that said and aside – a disclaimer… scratchwork, patchwork, these are just loose and wandering back-of-the-mind thoughts that I am trying to stitch together. Its still rough.