Swords and Silver Rings: Objects and Expression in Magical Realism and the New World

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Swords and Silver Rings: Objects and Expression in Magical Realism and the New World Baroque

Quote:While all works of fiction require that we visualize objects, realism requires of objects that they represent only themselves. They may, of course, have symbolic or psychological or metaphysical content, but their signifying function is nonetheless different from the objects in magical realist texts, which must represent not only themselves but also the potential for some kind of alternative reality, some kind of "magic": think of Clara's table in The House of the Spirits, Melquíades' magnets in One Hundred Years of Solitude, Saleem's nose in Midnight's Children. The "magic" may inhere in the object, as in the examples I've just cited, or it may precede objects and generate them: think of Mackandal's spirit force in The Kingdom of this World, Borges' idealism in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius," a story we will consider further in a moment. But whether the magic inheres in the real, or pre-exists it, objects in magical realist texts operate with symbolic energies that are distinct from those in realistic texts. Put another way, magical realist texts often conflate sight and insight, thus collapsing the literal and figurative meanings of "vision" by making what is seen the very source of insight. So I propose this generalization at the outset: magical realism is characterized by its visualizing capacity, that is, its capacity to create (magical) meanings by envisioning ordinary things in extraordinary ways.

Quote:My talk today unfolds in three parts; my first section, entitled "Franz Roh's Magical Objects," will highlight the German critic's understanding of the magic inherent in the painted objects of Post-Expressionist art. In section two, which I call "Borges' Poetic Objects," I will trace Borges' participation in the Argentine avant garde in ways related to Franz Roh participation in the German avant garde; the two were contemporaries--Roh was born in 1890, nine years before Borges--but we will find that Borges reverses Roh's understanding of the object in ways that are better labeled magical idealism than magical realism. Section three, called "García Márquez's Baroque Objects," will locate García Márquez's visualizing procedures in terms of Baroque aesthetics. So then: three parts: "Franz Roh's Magical Objects," "Borges' Ideal Objects," and "García Márquez's Baroque Objects." I have selected Borges and García Márquez because I can be fairly sure that you will have read both writers, and also because they seem to me to be at opposite ends of the spectrum among Latin American magical realists, both in style and substance. For that reason, their work will allow me to range far and wide, from 20th century Post-Expressionism to 17th century Baroque art and back again. I will be showing slides as a means of aiding us to visualize the symbolic seeing in the work of Borges and García Márquez; my analogies between painting and prose will, I hope, illuminate their very different approaches to magical realist representation. So, let's begin.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell

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