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January 1994


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Jonathan Beasley Murray <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 24 Jan 1994 19:52:11 -0600
text/plain (58 lines)
>          contrast, I  had  thought  that  the  key  if  not  the principal
>          distinguishing element of magical realism must be its basis in  a
>          certain social or sociological viewpoint behind the narrative and
>          frequent  roots  in  folklore outside  of  the  dominant  Western
>          culture.  Otherwise,  the  simple  journey  into  a  make-believe
>          netherworld where magic is a possibility is  a standard Hollywood
>          genre.  (I  don't  mean  magic  as  basic  wish-fulfillment,  but
>          embodied  in  such  manifestations  as  guardian  angels,  flying
>          carpets, etc.) For instance, is there  a difference between Field
>          of Dreams and Heaven Can  Wait  vs.  The Thief  of Bagdad or  The
>          Jungle Book and Lost Horizon? I fail to see it. Magical realism I
>          would think, by  its  very nature  and commitment to  a political
>          perspective, must  remain almost entirely out  of  the  realm  of
>          mainstream production, generally precluding the  Hollywood  genre
>          of "fantasy".
I think this is (for me) a very important aspect of the generic problems
raised by magical realism.  Essentially I agree with you, as I understand
you to be saying that MR cannot be defined formally alone--although formal
elements are necessarily present for a work to be defined as magical
realism.  On the other hand, nor can it be defined much more easily by
referring to content--although certain subject matters, generally revolving
around the home, for example, are familiar in many such works.  This seems
to leave us suggesting that magical realism must be defined by a certain
political "commitment"--as you suggest--but that seems to be very shaky
ground from which to begin an analysis.  If magical realism (and here I
over-simplify, of course) is to be judged on the basis of a "party line",
then it seems closer to *socialist* realism than anything else.
Besides, how exactly would you compare the political views (even given they
are self-evident) of, say, Allende's _House of the Spirits_, Rushdie's
_Satanic Verses_ or Kundera's _Unbearable Lightness_.  Compare the gender
politics of each, for example.  More evidently, each comes out of a very
different social and political context (although much magical realism can
loosely be defined as "postcolonial" there are many postcolonialisms) so how
could we presume identity of strategy?
Here I am using literary examples, because they seem somewhat less
problematic in terms of identification than cinematic ones.  But, supposing
some of the films I have suggested are magical realist, how would one go
about comparing the political viewpoints of _Wings of Desire_, _Miracle in
Milan_ or _Like Water for Chocolate_?
At the same time, clearly any genre is problematic at some point, but here I
think that magical realism raises more problems than most.
>          These are just some initial reactions to what  I  find  to  be  a
>          fascinating question in  a discussion that has provided some very
>          worthwhile ideas to contemplate.
>          Brian Taves, Motion Picture Division
>          Library of Congress
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
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