What is Magical Realism? An Explanation of a Literary Style by Kenneth Reeds
To provoke, rhetoric needs to surprise. Like a firework, it calls attention and in the settling dust reflection occurs. Popularity can be the antithesis to this process because it distorts. As additional audiences are engrossed with an idea, each connects with it individually. This stretches the form as personal experience and baggage weigh severely, drawing and manhandling until ambiguity overwhelms meaning. Conversations around such subjects can become dialogs of the deaf with all the participants certain the others understand what he or she means, but the reality is a conversation that does not penetrate and instead passes by.
As a rhetorical device, magical realism has realized this cycle. Unimportant to whether you feel it began in German inter-war painting or mid-century Latin American writing, it was first capable of provocation. It refreshed and occupied a significant place in the internationalization of Latin American literature. With the latter came the popularity and fame made it formulaic. The editors of McOndotell the tale of short stories rejected because in lacking magical realism, the texts were not Latin American enough. Such expectation implied the possibility for bestsellers and many authors took this course to celebrity and prosperity. Within the cacophony, the provocation was lost. Surprise was replaced by formula. Avant-gardebecame bestseller.
While magical realism stirred other points on the postcolonial map, the provocateurs’ pendulum in Latin America swung back to rhetoric that shunned the supernatural and embraced visceral realism. One only needs to point to Roberto Bolaño’s 2666to illustrate the distance between the next generation’s provocation and what surprised several decades ago.
Temporal distance provides broader perspective. It is by looking back over the shoulder of magical realism’s hangover that scholarship can take a valuable survey of what transpired. The book What is Magical Realism? participates in exactly this discussion and I am proud to announce its publication.