1. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is Magical Realism a genre?

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by Hubardo, Apr 9, 2015.

    I've become fond of Murakami in recent years. I think his work is considered general fiction / literature, but it is always in the form of magical realism. Is that a genre? If not what is it?
     
  2. A Fellow Stalker
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    It'd be low fantasy.
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It's fantasy for those who are too pretentious to acknowledge that it is fantasy.
     
  4. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmm.

    I don't think of Murakami as fantasy. I think of fantasy as white people in ancient Europe fighting over things with magic (with variations since Tolkien was like a century ago now). Not sure who developed the low/high hierarchy. I feel that as a reader I've "evolved" out of "high" into "low" fantasy then, which is odd. Maybe I've become stupider, or more pretentious, or something. :D
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    There are cultural factors to consider. In cultures that do not (traditionally) embrace Fantasy of the LotR or Harry Potter variety, Magic Realism fills the same slot. Mass export of mass media has homogenized a good bit of the idea of cultures that do and don't embrace these things, but from a historic literary standpoint...

    Just like Science Fiction is everywhere these days, but... its birth is with those cultures that participated in the Industrial Revolution.
     
  6. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ooh, nice quote here:

    "Magical realist writers write the ordinary as miraculous and the miraculous as ordinary"

    That's what I like about magical realism. Fantasy doesn't do this for me.
     
  7. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd love to read more elaboration of what you're saying, sounds interesting.
     
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    That's not even nearly representative of the genre these days.
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    To use my own culture as example: Spanish culture has only recently taken a shine to dragons and wizards. Traditionally, we thought of this as an anglo thing. Our literature, though, is rife with Magic Realism. Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. It's often even thought of as "Spanish Fantasy", though there are, without a doubt, fantastic writers of Magic Realism from Asia, Germany, etc.
     
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  10. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wikipedia page on Low Fantasy doesn't mention Magical Realism. A strong opinion of yours but debatable?

    This article argues that Magical Realism is "a distinctive form of fiction that aims to produce the experience of a non-objective world view. Its techniques are particular to that world view, and while they may at first look something like the techniques of sophisticated fantasy, magical realism is trying to do more than play with reality's rules. It is conveying realities that other people really do experience, or once experienced."
     
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  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    There is some truth in this. Magic Realism often serves to express an enculturated concept in a sympathetic light. There is a drive to express that the emotive investment in the (paradigm) has reason and reality to those investing in it. It's like me trying to explain the "ay bendito" of Puerto Rico. Those words mean a host of things in my culture that are intrinsic to my culture, that are difficult to explain to someone not from my culture, and for which words in English fall short and feel... unsympathetic.
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Magic Realism does those things, but it's still fantasy. A subgenre if you like. Any definition that encompasses everything shelved in mainstream fantasy is going to cover magic realism as well.
     
  13. Commandante Lemming
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    I think the term "magical realism" is losing it's meaning as a definable entity - which means that it's being applied to both literary and genre-fantasy works.

    I think the roots of magical realism as I learned about it lie deeply within the non-genre literary end of things - it came out of Latin America as a response to a lot of the violence that came out of the 1970s with Isabel Allende being a big figure and real-world sociopolitcal commentary being the main thrust. The mythic stuff tends to function in the background and have DEEP connection to the underlying culture upon which it is commenting. "Pan's Labyrinth" is cited often as a classical case of Magical Realism (haven't seen it - need to - but it's against the backdrop of Franco and the Spanish Civil War). One really good example I know in film is the late 1980s film "The Milagro Beanfield War" which was about a farming dispute in New Mexico where a farmer flouted a government decision to limit his water usage rights.

    We actually have a guy in my writing group who keeps resisting the label for his own stuff, and we've had a numerous debates about the nature of the term - and I keep telling the dude he needs to embrace it because it fits perfectly within the CLASSICAL definition of the term (He's writing about a World War II Japanese-American internment camp, with the Japanese Tanuki myths as the magical background...amazing stuff)

    I think too many people are applying this term to stuff that HAS magic and IS realistic - but a lot of that stuff doesn't fall under the classical Latin American Magical Realist tradition.
     
  14. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Agreed. Not all Science Fiction is Space Opera, but all Space Opera is Science Fiction.
     
  15. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just like Lil' Wayne isn't representative of the genre of rap, but people who don't pay attention to the dozen subgenres of rap think he is. Because white people killing dragons with Final Fantasy summons has dominated fantasy in my own reading experience (and probably has for most readers/watchers), I think my perspective and bias here is understandable. I fly by the fantasy section at the bookstore, rolling my eyes at the cover art. It hasn't changed since I was a teen, and that was 10-15 years ago.
     
  16. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's cool. I didn't realize how important culture was to this genre, or tradition, whatever we'll call it. Need to dig deeper into this stuff. Murakami is my only MR lover.
     
  17. Hubardo
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    To be a little personal about this, I think I've been drawn to Magical Realism because of the mental illness that runs in my family. Growing up where the lines of reality are blurred, I find fiction that blurs those lines to be, ironically, a more accurate representation of how reality was experienced in my family of origin (and therefore, you could say, my culture, kind of). I see fantasy, as a genre, as a form of escapism. Magical realism is this beautiful way of distorting reality in the way we distort our own reality in our actual experience, and therefore confronts the logical flaws and contradictions we're presented with in every day life. That has become really beautiful to me. It is distinct. I don't care if there is a proper genre assignment then, I guess. It's just a nice way to tell stories, especially for some of us who have felt we've lived in both rational and irrational worlds simultaneously.
     
  18. Wreybies
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    Well, remember, just as you quoted, traditional Magic Realism is very much trying to say something, usually cultural. In this day when literature seems to fall into either the meaningless entertainment or sledgehammer polemic piles, it can be a hard line to walk.
     
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  19. Commandante Lemming
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    I honestly haven't read either much magical realism or Murakami (my creative writing is mostly near-future sci-fi) - which means my intro to the idea of magical realism came from my college classes in Latin American Politics where Isabel Allende cam up a LOT. The other HUGE name is Gabriel Garcia Marquez who won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

    http://www.sfreporter.com/santafe/blog-5170-lee-on-literature-elements-of-gabriel-garcia-marquezs-magic.html

    It's far from an exclusively Latin American movement but the Latin Americans have a real talent for questioning their own origins in the interplay between the Conquistadores and the Native Americans, and a talent for weaving in myth, superstition, legend, and tradition into this tapestry trying to explain how they are what they are. There are a lot of questions of fate, whether they are cursed as a society, etc. REALLY interesting when you get into the idea of self-perception, because the history and culture of that region is went in a lot of directions that yield interesting answers to the question of "Who Are We".

    I went looking on a lark and there's some interesting stuff in the tradition - for instance, Garcia Marquez's "Love in the Time of Cholera" is within the magical realist tradition broadly - but there's more fate and symbolism than raw magic. Love shown as pseudo-magical force of fate which shapes that around it in not-always-rational ways. (His earlier stuff had more mysticism from what I gather)


    Milagro Beanfield War gets a little more magical but it's firmly in the background with repeated appearances by the 'Coyote Angel'



    Also randomly found a fun quote from Garcia Marquez about magical realism as opposed to fantasy (not genre-fantasy but the idea of the fantastical in general) (GM is Marquez - PM is the interviewer)

    This excerpt is from The Fragrance of Guava by Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, published by Verso in London in 1983.

    GM: All of a sudden I understood how many other possibilities existed in literature outside the extremely academic examples I'd come across in secondary school text books. It was like tearing off a chastity belt. Over the years, however, I discovered that you can't imagine just whatever you fancy because then you risk not telling the truth and lies are more serious in literature than in real life. Even the most seemingly arbitrary creation has its rules. You can throw away the fig leaf of rationalism only if you don't then descend into total chaos and irrationality.

    PM: Into fantasy?

    GM: Yes, into fantasy.

    PM: You loathe fantasy. Why?

    GM: Because I believe the imagination is just an instrument for producing reality and that the source of creation is always, in the last instance, reality. Fantasy, in the sense of pure and simple Walt Disney-style invention without any basis in reality is the most loathsome thing of all. I remember once when I was interested in writing a book of children's stories, 'The Sea of Lost Time'. With your usual frankness you said you didn't like it. You thought the problem lay in your not being keen on fantasy and the argument devastated me because children don't like fantasy either. What they like is imagination. The difference between the one and the other is the same as the difference between a human being and a ventriloquist's dummy.

    PM: What happens when the book you're writing is almost finished?

    GM: I lose interest in it for ever. As Hemingway used to say, it's like a dead lion.

    PM: You've said that every good novel is a poetic transposition of reality. Can you explain this concept?

    GM: Yes, I think a novel is reality represented through a secret code, a kind of conundrum about the world. The reality you are dealing with in a novel is different from real life, although it is rooted in it. The same thing is true of dreams.

    PM: The way you treat reality in your books, especially in One Hundred Years of Solitude and in The Autumn of the Patriarch, has been called 'magical realism'. I have the feeling your European readers are usually aware of the magic in your stories but fail to see the reality behind it...

    GM: This is surely because their rationalism prevents them seeing that reality isn't limited to the price of tomatoes and eggs. Everyday life in Latin America proves that reality is full of the most extraordinary things... There's not a single line in my novels which is not based on reality.
     
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  20. Commandante Lemming
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    WOW - so you pretty much parroted Gabriel Garcia Marquez before I posted him. I think you have a strong basis for attraction to the idea. Have you considered writing stuff in this vein?
     
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  21. GuardianWynn
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    Okay I might sound like an idiot but what is magic realism?

    I mean by sound it seems like people explaining in more detail how magic works in the context of the universe.

    If this is right, then isn't that what we are supposed to do? Isn't "Magic" as an explanation just lazy?

    Like in my universe. I claim magic is a sea of energy that coats the entire universe. That strong creatures gain a soul by having a higher than normal concentration of this energy. When peoples soul becomes strong enough they can bring this energy out on purpose to cast effects. Something like a fireball is basic and explained by changing the soul energy into heat energy.
     
  22. Wreybies
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    The term itself refers (arguably) to the fact that these stories take place in "real world" venues (think urban fantasy as an approximate, but not really good parallel) and to the fact that the story is using fantastical elements to speak about very real experiences on a personal and, more often, cultural level. It has nothing to do with explaining or grounding a magic system. Often in MR stories, the fantastical element (it's usually just a single thing or a single phenomenon) is utterly inexplicable and the writer makes no attempt to explain it because its inexplicability is part and parcel with its purpose in the story.
     
  23. GuardianWynn
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    So I was stupid. lol.
    So since Lord of the Rings is set in middle earth. Normal fantasy.

    Since spider man is set in new york. Magical realism?
     
  24. Commandante Lemming
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    Spider Man is just a fantastical premise with a "real world" modern setting. Magical realism tends to be dark, concerned with social and political history, historical in it's material, using myth and legend to occasionally intrude into and explain the darkness of and irrationality of reality.

    I looked up Magical Realism on wikipedia and probably the best known film on the list of films in that tradition is "The Green Mile"
     
  25. Wreybies
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    Nope. Not Magic Realism. Spiderman isn't saying anything deeper than "Wee! I wanna' be a spider! Woo hoo! I am flying!" :)

    Think Field of Dreams. Total, 100% Magic Realism. ;)
     

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