The History and Theory of Magical Realism
Fantasy, Magical, Supernatural, Sublime, and Realism are all several genres of literature that may be familiar to many people. However, there may be one that is not as well-known as these: Magical Realism. Although Magical Realism is mostly common in the Latin American countries, one may wonder where and how Magical Realism got its start. On the other hand, one may simply wonder what some of the characteristics of Magical Realism are. By looking at the history and theory of Magical Realism as well as some of its characteristics and influences, these questions will be answered.
Interestingly, the term "Magical Realism" was first used in 1925 by a German art critic, Franz Roh. In his essay, "Magic Realism: Post-Expressionism," Roh used the term "Magical Realism" to actually characterize a style of painting instead of a style of literature (15). However, there are still at least two different viewpoints as to where and when Magical Realism truly had its start. In Angel Flores' essay, "Magical Realism in Spanish America," he claims that Magical Realism had its basis in the works of Franz Kafka. Furthermore, Flores thinks that the year 1935 was the year that Magical Realism had its beginning in Latin America because this was the year that Jorge Luis Borges' work, A Universal History of Infamy, appeared in Buenos Aires. After the appearance of Borges' works, several other writers began to follow his style, giving Magical Realism its rise in popularity in the years of 1940 to 1950 (Flores 113).
In his essay "Magical Realism in Spanish American Literature" Luis Leal disagrees with Flores' viewpoint. Leal does not think that Magical Realism had its growth during the 1940 to 1950 period or that Magical Realism reemerged in Latin America with the work of Borges in 1935. Since Leal does not view Borges as the one who started this phase, then he does not view Kafka as the basis for Magical Realism, either. Instead, Leal asserts that Arturo Uslar Pietri was the writer who promoted Magical Realism when he used Roh's phrase in describing literature (Leal 120-121). One source even says that it was not until the 1960's that "Magical Realism" had become a term used by both readers and writers ("Magic Realism").
In addition to the disputes about the history of Magical Realism, there is also some dispute as to an exact definition of what Magical Realism is. In reference to art, Roh used the term to describe Post-Expressionistic works that made something ordinary appear to be something extraordinary. Also in reference to art, Angel Flores stated that Magical Realists transform "the common and the everyday into the awesome and the unreal." Therefore, according to Flores, one definition of Magical Realism may be that it is something that crosses between reality and fantasy. Furthermore, in Magical Realism the characters in the story as well as the reader must accept the unreal as being normal (Flores...