Magical realism is more a literary mode than a distinguishable genre and it aims to seize the paradox of the union of opposites such as time and timelessness, life and death, dream and reality and the pre-colonial past and the post-industrial present. It is characterized by two conflicting perspectives. While accepting the rational view of reality, it also considers the supernatural as a part of reality. The setting in a magical realist text is a normal world with authentic human characters. It is not at all fantastic or unreal; it is a mode of narration that discovers the natural in the supernatural and supernatural in the natural. It is a mode in which the real and the fantastic and the natural and the supernatural are more or less equivalently and coherently represented.
The term “magical realism” was first used by Novalis, the German poet and philosopher in 1798 to refer to a “true prophet” or an “isolated being” who cannot be bound by ordinary human limitations. According to Novalis, this prophet should be referred to as a “magical idealist” or a ‘magical realist”.1 He talks about the miraculous truth that is the quintessence of contemporary magical realism.
Novalis’ concept of “magical realism” could not be developed further. However, in 1925 the term was again used by Franz Roh, another German and an art critic, to refer to paintings that demonstrate an altered reality. With reference to magical realism he writes:
We recognize this world, although now - not only because we have emerged from a dream - we look on it with new eyes . . . In contrast, we are offered a new style that is thoroughly of this world, that celebrates the mundane. . . But considered carefully, this new world of objects is still alien to the current idea of Realism. . . it employs various techniques inherited from the previous period, techniques that endow all things with a deeper meaning and reveal mysteries that always threaten the secure tranquillity of simple and ingenuous things. (Zamora and Faris 17-18)
Roh continues, “This calm admiration of the magic of being, of the discovery that things already have their own faces, means that the ground in which the most diverse ideas in the world can take root has been reconquered - albeit in new ways” (20). During the 1940s and the 1950s, the term “magical realism” was used to describe the unusual realism by American painters such as Ivan Albright, Paul Cadmus, George Tooker and some other artists.
The major figure in the conceptual genealogy of magical realism in the context of literature is Massimo Bontempelli, the Italian writer and critic. In 1926, he specifically names that art as “magical realism” which proposes to find miracles in the midst of ordinary day to day life. Some works by Kafka, Junger and Musil are later named as magical realist texts, though they were not appreciated as such at the time of their first publication. Bontempelli exerts an influence over both Alejo Carpentier and...