Magic is Realism

I’ve been playing around with these ideas for sometime now and this post has sat on my draft list for months, but tonight I met with a bunch of magical ladies so it seems like the appropriate time to explore.

A few years ago I took an intro to Latin American Literature course and on the first day of class the professor said she did not like the term, “Magical Realism.” She did not expound on this and no one asked, but this observation stuck with me. I suppose it stuck because intuitively I have always felt the same way, but at that point still did not have the vocabulary to voice it.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who has without a doubt mastered the form, is one of my personal literary heroes. The first time I read one of his short stories I felt an instant recognition. It spoke to my soul. His stories of small-town Colombia reminded me so much of what I had experienced growing up on the border of the USA and Mexico sixty years later. In his autobiography Living to Tell the Tale he spoke of his process and that all of his stories came from listening to the old people in his community. By this point I had written six short stories, all about the village my grandmother grew up in, and every single one could be considered “Magical Realism”, but when they were told to me there wasn’t anything magic about them. In fact, I didn’t learn to make the distinction between magic and reality until I entered middle school and now it seems that I am having to relearn what used to come so naturally to me.


In Mad in America by Robert Whitaker there is a chapter on cultural psychiatry that opens with an example of a survey done in my hometown. Over 70% of the population could be considered paranoid schizophrenic according to the DSM-IV due to “magical thinking”. Of course I found this hilarious, but it also made me think of my own upbringing and perception of reality. When I was growing up the dead paid visits, telepathy was a powerful form of communication, angels watched over you, and curses were a very real threat. The lady two houses down from me had her own magical church and if I concentrate really hard I can still hear the sounds of the drum keeping time to the dancers in headdress. I remember friend’s parents talking about crow feathers and offerings and how to ward off evil spirits. It all seemed so normal until I left that environment and was taught that that was silly superstition.

Tonight, as we were sitting and discussing magic I felt as if someone from far away was calling my name. As if a part of me that I used to know was being shook awake. I remembered the lady from across the street, the offerings to the dead, the rituals, ghosts and spirits who kept me safe.

So now I get it, the reason “Magical Realism” does not work is because it assumes a juxtaposition that does not exist. Reality is magic.  Magic is reality. I’m not going to try to convince you that it is sane because I don’t know what that looks like.


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