Magical Realism

Magical realism is a muddled and seemingly contradictory style of art and literature. Even for those acquainted with magical realism, it is hard to distinguish it from similar genres like realism, surrealism, fantasy, and science fiction. Magical realism is characterized by an acceptance of the unreal as a natural part of reality, thus creating imaginative and sometimes disturbing worlds. Although magical realist works often overlap with surrealism, critics make the distinction that while surrealism is Freudian and cerebral, magical realism is always concerned with external subjects.

Magical Realism in Visual Art

The term “magical realism” was coined in 1925 by German art historian Franz Roh to describe the burgeoning art movement known as Neue Sachlichkeit (“New Objectivity”). This art depicted ordinary subjects with a mysterious and detached manner. The subjects painted by these magical realists were ordinary, but presented in a way that was far from boring. Although this movement died out in Germany, American artists like Paul Cadmus and George Tooker painted works of art that closely matched the aesthetics of Roh’s magical realism. Like its German predecessors, these paintings depicted everyday objects with such rich detail that they had a magical quality.

Magical Realism in Literature

Literary magical realism refers to a genre of literature that depicts fantastical, supernatural, magical elements as ordinary. Likewise, the ordinary is often described as spectacular. Similar genres like science fiction and fantasy create speculative worlds in order accommodate the unreal; however, magical realist works use the real world as the setting and any unreal elements of the story exist naturally as if they have always been part of the world.

Magical realist works warp the fluidity of time; favoring a circular pattern of time instead of linear. Even while events proceed through a story, there is always the sense that what is happening will happen again or has already happened. There are also times when characters seem to experience different timelines simultaneously.

Magical realism is commonly associated with Latin American Boom of the 1960s and 1970s. Authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Columbia, Julio Cortazar of Argentina, Carlos Fuentes of Mexico, and Alejo Carpentier of Cuba used magical realist techniques to propelled Latin American literature to the front stage of world literature. Contemporary Japanese literature is also known for its use of magical realism. Famed Japanese authors such as Kobo Abe, Haruki Murakami, Yasunari Kawabata, and Kenzaburo Oe have experimented with magical realist techniques.

The genre of magical realism is adventurous and exciting. The artwork is rich with detail and surprisingly mysterious. The literature is often surreal and unconventional. While the literary movement petered out, the genre of magical realism contains some of the most accomplished authors and some of the most acclaimed books.