Years ago, reading the cover of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, I encountered the term ‘magical realism’ for the first time. Instinctively, I knew exactly what it meant. I bought the book immediately. The first page welcomed me home like a prodigal daughter.
Magical realism is not about magic. Magic is about manipulation. In magic, one stands outside the world and focuses one’s will on changing or controlling it. Though magic recognizes other dimensions, it is at heart anthropocentric; based on the idea that man is innately superior to the rest of the universe. If he can’t control the world or bend the gods to his will, he can out-trick them. Even when the magician aligns herself with the laws and spirit of nature, even when she loves them, she does so with an end of her own in mind.
Magical realism is based on the idea that the things of this world have their own agendas. It explores the mystical and spiritual aspects of forms, coaxes out their tales and watches their mysteries unfold. Ordinary articles display extraordinary qualities, which are accepted by everyday inhabitants of conventional reality as perfectly normal. The spirit world exists congruently with orthodox society as if that other dimension was an invisible fog permeating each breath of our air. In some places invisibility thins or dissipates entirely and we catch a glimpse of the spirit world interacting with ours.
Magical realism contradicts consensual reality (consensus by a majority of a population about what reality consists of and which rules govern it). As luck would have it, I’ve never con-sensed with a majority of the population. I think my life-long love affair with symbols sprang from the feeling that everyone around me seemed to be missing something. Symbols are ordinary things (snakes, bones, mountains) charged with layers of mystery and meaning. They pierce the veil between interior realms, allowing intermittent sporadic communication and exchange between the conscious and unconscious realms of our minds. As a child, unless I was immersed in a book or alone outdoors, the only place to be free from consensual reality was inside myself. Symbols made up the magical component of my inner landscape. The literature of magical-realism mirrors my inner reality more vividly and truly than anything else ever has.
Latin America is cited as the birthplace of magical realism. There is something about the diverse heritage of the mestizo culture with its access to both the ambitious logic of European science and the mystic mythic roots of an indigenous people wedded to nature, which allows this kind of writing to flow freely from the pens of South and Central American writers. However, magical realism is a way of seeing the world. Less compatible cultures also produce seers; witness Günter Grass and his Tin Drum, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi or my most recent find, the delightful Alif by G. Willow Wilson set in the contemporary Emirates of the Arabian Peninsula
Though magical characters places and events insinuate themselves effortlessly into my prose, I can’t seem to layer and jumble my narratives in the manner of a true magical-realist. Happily, art is another thing. With collage I get to superimpose, assemble, juggle and juxtapose to my heart’s content. Like the magical realist I can mix and match mundane objects, pairing the ridiculous to the sublime, tragedy to beauty or comedy to horror in a kaleidoscope of imagery that eventually forms a new creation from snips and clips, pieces and parts of the old.
I’m grateful anytime the numinous finds itself into my work. Let the spirits be on notice that invisible or not they are always welcome here within and between the lines.