Realism over Magical Realism

My experience with Magical Realism has not been extensive.  I have read Song of Solomon and watched Birdman.  This is probably the most material I have been exposed to that relates to the genre.  However, I want to understand the definition of it.  I will not quote a source, because I do not want someone’s idea spoon fed to me.  It makes me feel like I would be hindering scholarly growth.  Therefore, I find Magic Realism to be a branch of Realism but with a small inclusion of fantasy.  The few elements of fantasy also need to be presented as realistic, and not overly unbelievable.  When both Milkman (Song) and Riggan (Birdman) grow wings and fly, not only do the characters respond with a lack of bewilderment but both incidents occur very close to the ending.  Until then the stories stuck with Realism but after the reader/audience has invested a great deal of time learning about these people and settings, the realistic is suspended.  An act which is incredibly unrealistic happens from no where, just at random.  Yet by this point, the spectator does not question it.

I have difficulty getting behind this idea, because for years I have subscribed to Realism and sometimes Naturalism.  The film maker Robert Altman comes to mind.  He is known for cinematography which is meant to be less than perfect, characters are sometimes out of frame and the camera drifts off away from the action of story.  Dialogue is sometimes overlapped making it difficult to understand who and what the audience to supposed to be paying attention to.

    (Unfortunately, I was unable to find more clips supporting my argument.)  It is not just the narrative presentation to impresses my, but the execution in bringing the audience into the world of the story.  Subsequently, the world of the story comes from the world we inhabit.  With examples such as less than perfect camera angles and overlapping dialogue, the viewer is put into the story, a sort of silent observer.  In life our vision and auditory stimuli do not perceive the same way a perfectly shot film perceives.  Our own frames of vision do not use lighting equipment, high resolution lenses, or complicated cranes.  What we hear in our day to day lives is jumbled, at least in a situation such as a party, bar, or even walking down the street.  Realism imitates these perceptions and remains constant throughout.  It just comes off as more suitable to me, where Magical violates the real.  If Realism tries to express itself as “life and art go hand and hand, and they are found everywhere.”  Magical tries to slightly change it, suggesting that Realism needs an improvement.

2 Responses to Realism over Magical Realism

  1. Nora February 15, 2016 at 11:46 am #

    I don’t think that magical realism seeks to improve upon realism itself. As you have noted there are very striking works (in this case of film) that come to mind under both genres. I see magical realism rather as a kind of surrealism rooted in realist intentions. For example in Birdman, as you mentioned, the use of the magical moments such as the flying does not really improve upon Riggan’s reality. It rather offers an escape for what we know to be a very bleak and shallow world that he lives in as shown by the strictly realist tendencies of the narrative. Though I like that you have opted to seek your own understanding of Magical realism. It has forced me to delve in to a deeper understanding of its purpose.

  2. Prof VZ March 13, 2016 at 10:16 am #

    This is a really interesting conversation, especially when we note the degree to which magical elements are often employed when constraints are too “real” to be overcome: art provides if not an escape, at least a sense of seeing beyond, a sense of perspective, and I think magical realism is precisely an emblem of this core function of the aesthetic. Of course, I appreciate your commitment to realism and what it can do as a charged image of the here-and-now, but I’d have to side with Nora on this one!

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