Magic Realism: Any artistic or especially literary style in which realistic techniques such as naturalistic detail, narrative, etc., are similarly combined with surreal or dreamlike elements. Originally: A style of painting which depicts fantastic or bizarre images in a precise representationalist manner.
 —Oxford English Dictionary

Magic Realism (or Magical Realism): A worldwide twentieth-century tendency in the graphic and literary arts, especially painting and prose fiction. The frame or surface of the work may be conventionally realistic, but contrasting elements—such as the supernatural, dream, myth, fantasy—invade the realism and change the whole basis of the art.
—Harmon and Holman
Narrators of magic realism play confidence tricks on their readers, disavowing the more straightforward claim of the mimetic naturalist realist that what he or she is narrating actually happened in a heterocosmic world related to the one we know by analogy. Instead the magical realist narrator distorts the very idea of analogy and operates syncretically, asking the reader to believe, for instance, that the natural order of things can be subverted in the world of his or her fiction.



magic realism, a term coined by Franz Roh (Nach expressionismus, magischer Realismus: Probleme der neuesten Europäischer Malerei, 1925) to describe tendencies in the work of certain German artists of the neue Sachlichkeit (new objectivity), characterized by clear, cool, static, thinly-painted, sharp-focus images, frequently portraying the imaginary, the improbable, or the fantastic in a realistic or rational manner. The term was adopted in the United States with the 1943 exhibition (containing work by Charles Sheeler, 1883-1965, and Edward Hopper, 1882-1967) at the New York Museum of Modern Art, entitled 'American Realists and Magic Realists'. The term has subsequently been used to describe the works of such Latin American authors as Borges, García Márquez, and Alejo Carpentier . . . and elements of it have been noted in Grass, Calvino, Fowles, and other European writers.

In the 1970s and 1980s it was adopted in Britain by several of the most original of younger fiction writers, including, notably, Emma Tennant, Angela Carter, and Salman Rushdie. Magic realist novels and stories have, typically, a strong narrative drive, in which the recognizably realistic mingles with the unexpected and the inexplicable, and in which elements of dream, fairy-story, or mythology combine with the everyday, often in a mosaic or kaleidoscopic pattern of refraction and recurrence. English magic realism also has some affinity with the neo-Gothic.


A term introduced by Roberto González Echevarría in 1974 to distinguish a kind of magical realism in which the magical element is derived from aspects of knowledge rather than from cultural belief, e.g. the existence of a computer with a personality such as that in Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome. This form of magical realism does not rely on the existence of a tradition of belief in such a magical element in order for the magical realism to come into play. It is derived from the distinction between the philosophical study of those things pertaining to knowledge (epistemology) and the study of those things pertaining to belief (ontology).

The narrative voice reports extraordinary—magical—events, which would not normally be verifiable by sensory perception, in the same which in which other, ordinary events are recounted. The account often involves concretely detailed descriptions of phenomena that are not articulated in such detail or so completely integrated into everyday reality in other narrative traditions—mythical, religious, folkloric. According to Amaryll Chanady, ‘while the implied author is educated according to our conventional norms of reason and logic, and can therefore recognize the supernatural as contrary to the laws of nature, he tries to accept the world view of a culture in order to describe it. He abolishes the antimony between the natural and supernatural on the level of textual representation, and the reader, who recognizes the two conflicting logical codes on the semantic level, suspends his judgment of what is rational and what is irrational in the fictitious world.’

In short, the magic in these texts refuses to be entirely assimilated into their realism; it does not brutally shock but neither does it melt away, so that it is like a grain of sand in the oyster of that realism. And because it disrupts reading habits, that irreducible grain increases the participation of readers, contributing to the postmodern proliferation of writerly texts, texts co-created by their readers.

A characteristic of magical realism is that its descriptions detail a strong presence in the phenomenal world. This is the realism in magical realism, distinguishing it from much fantasy and allegory. On one hand, this attention to sensory detail continues and renews the realistic tradition. On the other hand, in addition to including magical events . . . or phenomena . . . magical realist fiction includes intriguing magical details.


’So dense a commingling of the improbable and the mundane!’
—Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children (qtd. in Mitra)
If they believe it in the Bible . . . I don’t see why they shouldn’t believe it from me.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

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