From Latina/o Culture to Global Genre: Magical Realism
[crosslisted w/ ENGL 362 A]
From Latina/o Culture to Global Genre: Magical Realism (Course Title)
When old gods appear in fiction about the modern world, such as when supernatural presences like the ghost of La Llorona haunt the city, you are reading a work belonging to a genre known as magical realism. In his 1972 novel Bless Me, Ultima, for example, Mexican American writer Rudolfo Anaya describes how the boy Antonio’s maturation in post-World War II New Mexico involves a spiritual pilgrimage that plunges Antonio into the conflict between the Hispanic and Amerindian parts of his Latino heritage. Supernatural and fantastic events are as real as the ordinary reality of Antonio’s family life and school experiences.
Magical realism was invented by Latin American and Latino writers to describe the culture clash resulting from modernization and the encounter between non-Western oral traditions and non-modern beliefs and Western modernity. A hybrid genre, it is defined by the co-existence of two mutually incompatible outlooks, the rational-scientific view of Western modernity and the supernatural and magical view pertaining to non-modern cultures. It treats popular beliefs and mythology transmitted by oral traditions as valid knowledge—hence the terms “magical realism,” or “the marvelous real” (Alejo Carpentier). Magical realism is one of the major literary expressions of postcolonial thought that asserts the authority of native, non-Western and non-modern outlooks in a Western form, the novel. It originated as a response to the question: What is the most accurate way of telling the unique history of Latin America? More generally, magical realism is also an example of cultural recycling that evinces the possibility of saying something new by re-making the old.
What’s remarkable about magical realism is that it is a global genre that originated in the Global South rather than in Europe. We will read representative magical realist fiction from its birth in mid-20th-century Latin American and U.S. Latino culture and after its expansion to a global scale since the 1980s.
We will ask questions such as: What are the literary strategies and narrative techniques used to naturalize the supernatural? Why has magical realism had such popular appeal on a global scale? Has magical realism changed in moving from Latina/o and Latin American settings to other cultures around the world? What are the oral traditions, popular beliefs, and sacred texts that magical realism draws on? How are they transformed when transposed into modern fiction?
Alejo Carpentier, The Kingdom of This World, trans. Harriet de Onís (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) ISBN 0-374-52197-2
Juan Rulfo, Pedro Paramo, trans. Margaret Sayers Peden (Grove) ISBN 0-8021-3390-8
Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima (Warner Books) ISBN 0-446-60025-3
Cristina García, Dreaming in Cuban (Ballantine) ISBN 0-345-38143-2
Elias Khoury, The Journey of Little Gandhi, trans. Paula Haydar (Picador) ISBN 978-0-312-42717-7
A reader with required secondary and primary readings, including short stories by Gabriel García-Marquez, Ben Okri, and others.
NOTE: I encourage you to buy the editions I’ve ordered because it will make exam preparations easier for you since we will be referring to these editions in class. For translated texts, please be sure to purchase the translation listed above.