This anthology tracks the persistence of magical realism in literatures from around the globe and its implications for twenty-first-century politics, aesthetics, identity, and social/national formations. In convening a diverse group of critics that include scholars from the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Australia, the essays employ multiple theoretical approaches. The essays herein demonstrate that the use of magical realism in literature has transitioned to a global practice, indicating a new stage in the history and development of the genre.1
Specifically, the essays in this anthology argue that magical realism in literature has proliferated globally partly due to continual travel and migrations, with the shrinking of time and space through technology, with the growing encroachment of human life on nature, and the contact between and within cultures, which has exponentially increased, effectively changing how communities and nations imagine themselves. Therefore, global literatures offer the reimagining of spaces and shifting populations within continually reconfigured worlds. The concerns of contemporary magical realist literatures, then, consist in revealing how many worlds and many beings fold into each other as a result of peoples living in close relation. This confluence of bodies and cultures, now part of a variety of social contexts, makes the fantastic claims that the “magical” is woven into the everyday lives of the characters populating global literatures.
In this sense, contemporary magical realism engages, without organizing or annulling, the density of experience where even the most quotidian boundaries of the self are crossed by strange and dynamic encounters. The text is organized, following this interweaving of the magical and real, into six sections representative of the new avenues developed in magical realist scholarship over the last two decades, while also offering fresh readings of the important texts written in the twentieth century. Thus, the anthology begins with a section on the critical turn of magical realism to a global genre to serve as a springboard into the field as a 21st Century literary phenomenon. It is followed, in section two, by the aesthetic dimensions of magical realism and its exploration of the negative as an animating force in contemporary artistic practices. Section three examines the psychic aspects of magic realism from trauma in film to the insurgent features of black magical deontology that privileges the black human and non-human animal, the black living and the black dead in a critique of post-humanist Anthropocene.
Furthermore, the fourth and fifth sections look at the changing contours of race, ethnicity, and migratory displacements precipitated by economic instability and social upheavals in recent decades, which led to innovative approaches in magical realist fiction. The anthology concludes, in section six, with a return to the remaking of storytelling through a magical realist lens that includes satire, fairy tales, and the pedagogical impact of the genre on contemporary students and classrooms.
This anthology calls for a refocusing of the magical in the real for the twenty-first century. The magical, we claim, charges reality with an excess of presence that invites different traditions to enter and coexist in their own expressive modalities. As a narrative surplus, magical realism broadens the view into the future beyond the concrete architecture of postcolonial and post-plantation realities making room for strange emergences, ghostly manifestations, affective overflows, and constitutively different literary models. These bursts of animation display cracks in the hegemonic surfaces of normativity, making known, as Fanon
puts it, the presence of the other
. But the question becomes what function does the magical still hold in a twenty-first-century world where technology has converted the paranormal into a simple amusement? Where colonialism has formed into an omnipresent normativity
and impressed itself on the world through global capital, racial hierarchies, and weak forms of diversity? This phenomenon, the utilizing, sanitizing, and appropriating of the magic of the other, emblematic of colonial practices around the world, serves to extract the vitality of the other’s magic, and its capacity to shock and reconfigure established realities. The impact of magical realism lays precisely in the fact that another power, what Avery Gordon
calls “seething presences,” is hidden in plain sight.2
Literature and the arts, we claim, document these extra-visionary moments to reveal marginalized presences seething within and outside of colonial structures, tearing at the seams of social perception to manifest contestatory and innovative possibilities. Magical realism guarantees that something else exists, a dark matter or source, whose decolonial energies cannot be fully tamed, even by colonialism’s most thorough and violent practices. How can the magical not only manifest presences sitting at the boundaries between life and death, past and present, difference and continuity, but still articulate the realities of these potentialities as subversive markers from which the cues of a more ample future can be experienced and lived? It is the gift of magical realism to extend temporally and spatially into decolonial realms and convert liminal Beings into productive vitalities. Interestingly, magic in 21st Century literature has expanded into a global trope, as if the oppressed everywhere sense, in its irruptive potential, an imaginative practice from which one may break (out of and down and through) the rigid structures of colonial society.
Among the breaks magical realism offers then is (de)ontological, a reorienting of Being. This new stage in the genre, we submit, is characterized by a focus on Being. By Being, we refer to its most rudimentary definitions as a force or energy that signals the existence of a vital presence within a body, place, or thing. However, colonial contexts warp this sense of Being by reducing it to spectral versions of itself through continued social and political dominance. What is colonialism if not the assertion of Being through the concomitant diminution of (other) beings? An ontological assault that denies the power and presence of nature and diverse cultural expressions, the violent coopting of resources, systematic abuse of racial difference, and the circumscription of gender and sexuality within the prohibitive structure of heterosexuality? In this context, magical realism calls for the reimagining of experience beyond categories associated with traditional ideas of Being by calling attention to difference and multiplicity. Thus, the radical gesture of twenty-first-century magical realism consists not in a more traditional act of identifying and narrativizing presence, bound by the hegemonic eye/I of a rational observer, and molding it into a prescriptive identity. Rather, magic offers a multi-dimensional view into the layers of existence compressed within the logic of colonial societies. In this sense, magical realism functions as an assertive social and political feature that calls for the reimagining of Being, in a decidedly decolonial manner of speaking, in the twenty-first century. Indeed, the task of magic in the twenty-first century is no longer to reveal Being, but to revel in it, to re-experience Being in all its openness, multiplicity, and potentiality.
Thus, contemporary magical realism springs from a twentieth-century context where the question of being comes under close analysis from varying disciplines. Ontology comes from the Greek: onto means existence, or being real; logia means science or study. Ontology, in short, is the study of what exists, what is being, what is real, and the relation between these entities. From Parmenides and Plato in ancient Greece, to Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant in Enlightenment Europe, to religious practices in Africa, Australia, and the Americas; ontology has defined this quest to recognize and come to terms with the existence of objects, nature, spiritual realms, and multiple human modes of reality. Yet, magical realism emerges in a twentieth-century philosophical context when intellectual movements start to prioritize embodiment and the senses (Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty), question the meaning of existence (Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir), and openly challenge the authority of presence, knowledge, and identity (Jacque Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze). In addition, Marxism and psychoanalysis investigate states of being—for workers, soldiers, women, and migrants—that figuratively turn people into ghosts of themselves in theories that, on the one hand, elaborate on the exploitative erasure of the laborer (the manipulation of her value that results in a zombie-like alienation) and, on the other hand, capture the violent experience of trauma, the death drive, and the uncanny that can disrupt and stall narrative representation. Moreover, postcolonial movements and theories craft an analysis of colonialism throughout the twentieth century, making arguments for political independence, the reassertion of indigenous traditions, and economic equality. Lastly, race and feminist discourses gave specific detail to the presence and manifestation of difference. The essays collected here focus on many kinds of beings living and flourishing in increasing awareness of one another, having inherited these historical, social, and theoretical contestations and developments.
By using “Being” as our general frame for the book, we address a central concern of magical realist literary practice. Magical realism presents points of contact by engaging forms of otherness that constitute our social world. Our emphasis on Being, therefore, enables the scholars in the anthology to cast a wide theoretical net, making available a range of analytic categories such as nature, history, religion, economics, psychology, and forms of identity (race/gender/sexuality/class). Being, then, creates a hospitable site of analysis for scholars interested in magical realism globally as it proffers diverse scholarly approaches tailored to specific contexts and modes of existence.
Thus, Handbook to Magical Realisms in the Twenty
analyzes different modes of being by questioning the hierarchy between self and other, the human and animal, the human and nature, the living and the dead. While Alejo Carpentier’s “marvelous real” is not meant to be collapsed completely into Angel Flores’s
“magical realism,” nevertheless the two categories share important aspects. In particular, Carpentier’s argument punctuates precisely the quotidian aspect of the marvelous real
“found at every turn.”3
Magical realism in the Americas gives back to the world a syncretic and creolized notion of being. Beings existing in social conditions marked by radically divergent traditions become the ground for new kinds of magically infused stories. This syncretism which initiated magical realism in the Americas becomes a model for writers around the world to explore what we are calling the proliferation of being. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, magical realism grew into a viable genre beyond the Americas becoming a popular form in postcolonial literatures (Salman Rushdie, J. M. Coetzee, Andre Brink); in feminist literatures (Lyn Hejinian, Assia Djebar, Arundhati Roy
, Mahasweta Devi); and for transnational writers (Mohsin Hamid, Julie Otsuka, Rajia Hassib).
As the contemporary moment takes shape, magical realism has become a global boom with writers from every continent participating in the genre. Indeed, the uncanny surprise prevalent in earlier readings of magical realism
has shifted into a full-fledged rebellion against the texture and fabric of the composed world4
—where being human from diverse points of contact was once relegated to the margins of culture. The rebellion the essays compiled here identify reflects Mariano Siskind’s claim that “[g]enres and texts belong to world literature
not because of what they are but rather because of what they do
: because they perform global desires, because they further transcultural goals, and because they resist the immediacy of meaning as a function of the local, whether national or regional…[t]his is why I insist on the notion of world literary interventions, world literary disruptions that alter the epistemic geographies of literary history to produce new, contingent (ephemeral or not) large scale spatial assemblages, redrawing boundaries of the world with each utterance
In addressing the ostensible transparency of realist narratives and “redrawing boundaries of the world with each utterance,” magic introduces ghosts, spirits, animals, and other phenomena that “other” the comforts of realism. In short, magical realism has altered the geography of narratives, reframing how stories are formed, told, and taught. As the contemporary moment takes shape, magical realism has expanded into a global boom with writers from every continent participating in the genre, forcing scholars to rethink magical realism from a global perspective and even extending the application of the genre to authors and literary modes of other time periods. Such are the seeds planted in the last century, which bear literary and artistic fruit in our contemporary moment. These various turns of the marvelous real are repeatedly expressed in social aspects of American rituals like Santeria and the African version of the Corpus festival. Further, Carpentier argues for an “entire mythology,” and an ontology, of lo real maravilloso. If the “entire history of America” is a “chronicle of the marvelous real” and magical realism, we argue that in our contemporary moment, this “chronicle” extends itself globally to literary expressions that challenge traditional notions of Being. Such challenges provide further referential force that disrupt, and disengage from that which these...