Unraveling Magical Realism
For such a commonly used term, "magical realism" is surprisingly difficult to define. What are its origins, its dominant characteristics, its ideological underpinnings? Is it a specifically Latin American genre, or can it be written by anyone? Has magical realism become little more than a marketing strategy - or worse, a form of exoticism?
This course turns a critical eye to one of the most popular trends in twentieth century fiction. We will explore the political stakes of literary experimentation, examining how writers challenge Eurocentric worldviews by revising our notions of what is “believable.” By asking whether magical realism is a cohesive tradition, we will interrogate the boundaries between literary genres and the concept of genre itself. Finally, we will analyze the commodification of literature and ask how the structure of the publishing industry influences who becomes an icon and who is forgotten. In the process, we will spend a summer reading masterpieces.
While the canon of magical realism is packed with five hundred page novels and multi-generational sagas, this course accommodates the compressed summer semester by focusing on short stories, novellas, and essays, in addition to relevant literary criticism. We will begin by surveying some “non”-origins, with texts by Nikolai Gogol, Machado de Assis, Franz Kafka, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and André Breton. From there, we will turn to magical realism’s Latin American core, reading works by Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier, Juan Rulfo, and Gabriel García Márquez. We will then examine some of magical realism’s global incarnations, concluding with Toni Morrison.