Thursday, April 5, 2012

Do you think Magical Realism comes from Latin America?

Think again, friends. Dr. Malva Filer, a professor of and expert on Spanish American studies, delivered a one hour lecture disputing this topic. The title of the talk was 'Beyond Magical Realism in Spanish American Literature' and even this she took issue with: for a literature to be beyond magical realism means that the literature was originally centered in magical realism, and this is just not the case.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude is a misnomer of South American literature, an accident of the publishing industry. It did well and sold well around the continent and throughout the world, and being a globally translated book placed it on a global map of literature, and denoted it an ambassador from South America. In fact, he wrote several books before and after 100 Years that are entirely non-magical and are grounded in very real tumultuous events. And in 100 Years, Marquez combines civil war with fantasy to show how effectively they can mix.  "Don't forget; at the center of this [book] is a tragedy," Dr. Filer remarks.

Why tragedy? South America suffered every shade of political uprising in the 70s and 80s and the oppressive regimes across the continent generated writing searching for a more peaceful past. The 80s even saw an emergence of a feminist movement, with female protagonists and narrators from history.

Dr. Filer listed a series of writers from across the continent, the names rolling off her tongue like musical notes. She identifies 5 authors from 5 countries to delve into, emphasizing in each case the grounded and reactive narratives in their novels.

1. Ricardo Piglia from Argentina, combines history and fiction and uses an essayistic style in his most famous work, Respiracion artificial. Another novel is a detective story where, at the end, the crime is not solved and justice is not served. It's a haunting affirmation that society does not -- or cannot -- reaffirm its values.

2. Sergio Ramirez, a former politician in Nicaragua, mixes literature with his keen sense of civic responsibility. Dr. Filer looks up from her notes: "it was great that he abandoned politics" because it allowed him to become a successful writer.

3. Laura Restrepo from Colombia was a journalist whose investigative style comes through her writing.  Dr. Filer describes one of her books, Delirium about a dog food salesman whose wife disappears and then goes insane. Someone in the audience pipes up, "these are scary stories!" and Dr. Filer nods -- we have forgotten the fantastical whimsy of magical realism.

4. Carlos Franz was born in Switzerland, lived in Spain and moved back to Chile as an adult. He interprets the Chile "he carries within himself" and in his haunting novel El Desierto, explores the emotional anguish of a mother complicit in the Pinochet regime's crimes and her daughter's confusion about her mother's silence.

5. Jorge Volpi from Mexico helped found the "Crack Movement" of writers who rejected neo- and magical realism and rooted their writing in mystery, history, science and political narrative. He has a "parodic and carnivalistic style," according to Dr. Filer.

South American literature seeks to rewrite history via fiction, to address social and cultural change before and after revolution, to explore the cultural effects of globalization, to hold onto the past and to mix different types of narrative. Sophistication and complexity inform contemporary Latin American work. Nowhere, she concludes, do we see the "innocence of Macondo" (the fictional town in Marquez' 100 Years.

1 comment:

  1. I am so confused, I thought it was obvious that most of Garcia Marquez's work was based on a hard reality - but there are chunks of 100 Years that are entirely the stuff of fairytale (yes, Remedios the Beauty was based on a real person, no she probably didn't rise into the air one day never to be seen again) But just because there is a stark reality in the work of all these authors (the horror of the dictatorship in Allende's House of Spirits, for example) does that exclude them from being works of magical realism too? I wasn't aware of that, I thought the two could run hand in hand. I would have enjoyed this lecture, but as for not seeing the 'innocence of Macondo' in other works, I don't think that's true (shedloads in Vargas Llosa, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter for e.g.) in fact, I think generally that's the beauty of Latin America, here there has been so much horror, yet somehow the culture retains an innocence...