327648.pdf - Magic Realism in Contemporary American Women's Fiction Maria Ruth Noriega Sanchez Ns COGNOSCOS Thesis submitted to the University of

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Unformatted text preview: Magic Realism in Contemporary American Women's Fiction Maria Ruth Noriega Sanchez Ns COGNOSCOS Thesis submitted to the University of Sheffield for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Department of English Literature August 2000 Magic Realism in Contemporary American Women's Fiction Maria Ruth Noriega SAnchez ABSTRACT The aim of the study is to illustrate the importance of magic realism in American women's fiction in the late twentieth century. The term magic realism, which has traditionally been associatedwith Utin American men's writing, has been known by different, and often contradictory, definitions. It may be argued that, properly defined, it can be a valid term to describe a number of characteristicscommon to a corpus of work, and can be consideredas an aestheticcategory different from others such as Surrealism or Fantastic literature, with which it has often been compared. Furthermore,magic realism has viability as a contemporaryinternational mode and is particularly suitable to women writers from minority ethnic groups. The present study intends to draw relevant comparative analysesof uses of magic realism that show various formal and thematic interactions between separateliterary traditions. The introduction offers an overview of the different conceptions and applications of the term since its origins within the area of painting, and suggests a working definition that can be effective for intensive textual analysis of several novels. In order to offer a new approach which can enable us to move away the paradigm of magic realism from Latin America towards a more multicultural framework, the focus will be on three geographical-cultural areas: African American, Native American and Chicano/Mexican writing. The implementation of magic realist strategiesin African American writing will be examined in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon (1977) and Gloria Naylor's Mama Day (1988), with a particular emphasis on the significance of African mythical background and the experienceof dispossessionand transferenceof culture. Magic realist elementsin the novels Tracks (1988) by Louise Erdrich and Ceremony(1977) by Leslie Marmon Silko will be studied in the context of Native American oral tradition and cosmologies. The practice of magic realism on both sides of the U. S.Mexico border will be explored in the novels So Far from God (1993), by the Chicana Ana Castillo, and Like Waterfor Chocolate (1989), by the Mexican Laura Esquivel. A description of the borderland culture in the American Southwest,as well as comparisons between North and Latin American uses of magic realism will be provided. Finally, some connections amongst the discussedliterary traditions and further lines of researchwill be suggested. This thesis is dedicated to my parents, Victor and Sofia, who taught me that the dream is the truth, and to my grandmother Maria, always in my thoughts. Acknowledgments I am most grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Shirley Foster, for her valuable and insightful remarks, her constant support, guidance and advice. Particular thanks for her patiencein reading my sometimes"Spanglish" expressions. Many thanks to Dr. David Wood from the Hispanic Studies Dept., University of Sheffield, for his advice on Latin American literature and to Dr. Duco van Oostrum from the English Literature Dept. for his comments on Native American writers. I would also like to thank Dr. Miguel Teruel from the University of Valencia (Spain) for his helpful remarks, and Dr. Canne Manuel and Dr. Marfa Jos6 Coperfas, from the sameuniversity, for their encouragementand advice. I am grateful to the University of Sheffield for a part-time fees bursary and to the English Literature Dept. which has provided me with part-time jobs, academic support and a friendly atmosphereto complete my studies. Thanks to all its staff and students. I am indebted to the FundaciOnBalaguer Gonel Hermanos, from Castell6n (Spain), and Bancaixa, from Valencia (Spain), for their partial financial assistanceduring the writing of this thesis. Above all, my thanks go to my extended and ever-growing family who has put up with my long absenceand never failed to emotionally (and sometimes financially! ) support me. Gracias to my parents, grandmother and great-aunt, my beloved sister Soffa and her encouraging calls, brothers Vfctor, Manuel and Guillermo and their respective families. I could not have done it without their inexhaustible love and encouragement. Thanks to all my friends and to my past and present housemates(particularly Nick), who have helped me through difficult times. Obrigada a minha irmd Sofia Lopes for her valuable friendship. Special thanks to Chris, for his constant support, affection and a computer which has made my work so much easier. TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction: Towards a Definition of Magic Realism I .............................. II. African American Writing and Magic Realism 26 ........................................ 2.1 What is True and What a Product of Our Imagination?: Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon (1977) 31 ............................................................................... 2.2 There is More to Be Known Beyond What the Eyes Can See: Gloria Naylor's Mama Day (1988) 64 ........................................................................... Ill. Magic Realism in Native American Writing 3.1 SuspendedBetween Worlds: Louise Erdrich's Tracks (1988) 3.2 Weaving a Magical Web: Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony(1977) IV. On Both Sides of the Border: Magic Realism in Chicano and 171 Mexican Literature. The Children of La Malinche .................................. 4.1 178 Building Bridges: Ana Castillo's So Farfrom God (1993) .......................... 4.2 Magical Cooking: Laura Esquivel's Como agua para chocolate / Like 212 Waterfor Chocolate (1989) ........................................................................... V. Suggested Connections and Conclusions Bibliography 102 ............................................. 108 ..................... .......... 139 244 ................................................... 253 ................................................................................................. CIUPTER ONE INTRODUCTION: TOWARDS A DEFINITION OF MAGIC REALISM 2 The term magic realism has been known by different, and often contradictory, definitions ever since it was first applied to painting in Europe in the 1920s. The lack of critical consensusabout the precise boundaries of magic realism and the indiscriminate use of the term to refer to almost any work which departs from the The in terminological and conceptual have confusion. resulted canons of realism, disagreementsbecameobvious in the XVI International Conferenceof Iberoamerican Literature held in Michigan in 1973, where some critics advocatedthe abandonment does is 'formula Monegal's in Emir Rodrfguez which not a words, of a term which, instead it; it dialogue, is: instead of That paralyses of stimulating critical work. it light instead the it; it interrupts throwing on work, of allowing communication, 1 makesit obscure'. However, in spite of conceptual problems, magic realism continues to have a in but in fiction, is it for Currently, also not only widely used critics. special appeal 2 It can be argued that, properly defined, in poetry, painting and particularly cinema. formal describe thematic, be and term to of a number a valid magic realism can be to considered as an can and work, structural characteristicscommon a corpus of Literature, Fantastic Surrealism from different or others such as aesthetic category the term been By it has the of uses various analysing confused. often with which definition introduction to a consistent this provide will attempt magic realism, framework. building to an effective essential The first to use the expressionmagic realism was the German art critic Franz Roh in 1925. Roh applied this term to a group of painters working in Germany in the 1920s who rejected Expressionism and advocated a return to the representationof focus from through on ordinary objects, the painter sharp a a new perspective: reality Roh in hidden them them, the real. appear more making mystery uncovers instead New Art; the the of transcendingreality as character of emphasises realistic 1 Emir Rodrfguez Monegal, 'Realismo mAgico versus literatura fantAstica: un dillogo de sordos', in Otros mundos, Otrosfuegos.- Fantasta y realismo mdgico en Iberoam4frica, ed. by Donald A. Yates (East Lansing: Michigan StateUniversity, 1975), pp. 25-37 (p. 27). My own translation. 3 Expressionism did, it attempts to grasp reality with a particularly spiritual intensity. Roh's description of the way in which the painter Schrimpf approacheslandscapesis highly illustrative: [He] insists that the landscapehas rigorously to be a real landscape,which can be taken for an existing one. He wants it to be "real", so that it strikes us as something ordinary is he intends it be however, familiar, but, that the to that even a magical world, and ... 3 smallestweed can refer to the Spirit. According to Roh then magic realism is not a mixture of reality and fantasy, but a 4 in hidden everydayreality. way to uncover the mystery The Spanish writer and philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset had Roh's book de his influential Revista issue in 1927 June into Spanish the of translated partly Occidente, and the term magic realism subsequentlybecamewidely used by literary became in There Latin America. the connectedwith realism magic concept of critics the myths and cultures of the indigenous populations and thus departed from the Europeannotion which was more individualistic. The Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier long had Angel Asturias, Guatemalan Miguel spent a significantly the who and had Surrealism flourishing in during Paris the and actively time of period of literary found in in the expression this perfect magic realism participated movement, of Latin American traditions and contributed to the theorisation of this mode. Carpentier introduced his concept of lo real maravilloso, the marvellous real, in the prefaceto his novel El reino de estemundolTheKingdom of this World (1949), by which he referred to the real objects and events which make America so different 5 from Europe and which he discovered after a trip to Haiti. For Carpentier, the American historical the continent characterise and cultural prodigies which natural, is history America the a chronicle of of source whole an endless of real marvels; are 2 For a detailed study of magic realism as an across-the-artsphenomenon,seeSeymourMenton, Magic Realism Rediscovered,1918-1981 (London and Toronto: AssociatedUniversity Presses,1983). 3 See Franz Roh, 'Realismo m6gico. Problemas de la pintura europea mis reciente', Revista de Occidente, 16 (48) (June 1927), 274-301 (p. 290). My translation. Roh's original work is NachExpressionismus, Magischer Realismus: Probleme der neuesten Europäischen Malerei (LeipzigKlinkhardt und Biermann, 1925). 4 For a discussion of Roh's theories on painting, see Irene Guenther, 'Magic Realism, New Objectivity, and the Arts during the Weimar Republic', in Magical Realism. Theory, History, Community,ed. and intro. by Lois ParkinsonZamora and Wendy B. Faris (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1995), pp. 33-73; Marga Paz, 'El realismo m6gico de Franz Roh', Realismo Mdgico. Franz Roh y la pintura europea 1917-1936 (Valencia: IVAM, 1997), pp. 13-25. 5 SeePrefacein Alejo Carpentier,El reino de estemundo (Madrid: Alfaguara, 1984), pp. 13-19. 4 lo real maravilloso. The marvellous emerges from an unexpected alteration of in faith, believing the marvellous reality of (the the element of and of miracle), reality America is essential: 'the senseof the marvellous presupposesa faith. Who does not 6 by "miracles"'. be believe in saints,cannot cured saints' In this Preface, Carpentier expressedhis disillusion with Surrealism. This had War, World First in France the signalled the which after shortly movement arose World, in Western the as a reaction againstthe excessiveemphasison crisis of values imagery forms Surrealism, In Western by demanded gave traditions. and rationality full play to the imagination, the dream world, and the subconscious. It was deeply influenced by the work of Freud, and in its simplest form, it was concerned with fundamental The theme in familiar of surroundings. unfamiliar objects putting Surrealist aestheticswas the search for 'le merveilleux', that marvellous world of be human being dream the the could of contradictions where all revelation and dream, Surrealists the In automatic of poetics this of made use search, resolved. 7 language. writing, free associationand total experimentationwith For Carpentier, however, all this was nothing but 'the exhausting pretension to arousethe marvellous' which characterisedEuropean literatures at the beginning just he had do had the to reality authentic marvellous with nothing of the century and in 'le Surrealists' Haiti. In in his the to merveilleux', contrast visit to experienced lo (conjuring de tricks), 'trucos Carpentier real prestidigitaci6n' only sees which by transformed myth and to represent a reality modified and maravilloso aims legend. William Spindler observesthat Carpentier's concept is closer to the ideas of Jung, especially his concept of the collective unconscious, which relates to the fabrication of myth, rather than to Freudian psychoanalysiswith its emphasison the individual unconsciouswhich attracted the Surrealists! In fact, Carpentier's lo real maravilloso implies two contrasting views of the world: one rational, modem, European;the other magical, traditional, mythic. This correspondsto the coexistence 6 Carpentier,Prefaceto El reino..., p. 15. My translation. 7 For a description of French Surrealism and its influence in Latin America, see Gerald J. Langowski, El surrealismo en laficci6n Hispanoamericana (Madrid: Gredos, 1982), pp. 15-22. It is interesting to its Langowski the term term, that rules out magic realism as a since necessary critical note characteristicsare the sameas Surrealism. Therefore, Langowski analyseswriters such as Carpentier and Miguel Angel Asturias as Surrealists. 5 in Latin America of a modem rational mentality with the myths and beliefs of ethnocultural groups such as Native and African Americans. Miguel Angel Asturias also moved away from Surrealism in the 1940s towards ideas similar to Carpentier's. Asturias was fascinatedby the traditions and myths of the indigenous population of Guatemala, particularly by the Mayas' conception of reality. In their narrative, there is no division between the reality of the sensesand that of the imagination. According to Asturias: Between the "real" and the "magic" there is a third category of reality. It consists of a fusion of the visible and the tangible, of hallucinations and fantasy. It is similar to what the Surrealists around Breton wished for, and it is what can be called "magic realism7. This magic realism, of course, has a direct relation with the original mentality of the Indians. The Indian thinks in images; he seesthings not so much as phenomenonsin themselves but as translated into other dimensions, dimensions in which reality disappearsand dreamsappearand are transformedinto visible and concreteforms.9 Consequently, Asturias aims to produce in his writing a world view different from the Western one but equally valid. For instance, his novel Hombres de mak/Men of Maize (1949) juxtaposes two world views without establishing a hierarchy between them, thus relativizing the dominant Western rational paradigm. However, further complications arose when Professor Angel Flores delivered a lecture on 'Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction' to the 1954 Annual Meeting of the Modem LanguageAssociation in New York, which was subsequently published as an article. Flores departed from Roh's original concept as he defined magical realism as 'the amalgamationof realism and fantasy' and traced the current back to European writers such as Marcel Proust and particularly Franz Kafka, with his 'difficult art of mingling his drab reality with the phantasmal world of his 10 nightmares'. According to Flores, realism and the magical had already made their appearanceseparatelyin Latin America: realism since the Colonial Period and the magical since the earliest writing (in the letters of Columbus, etc.). However, it was through the influence of Kafka on Jorge Luis Borges (who had translated Kafka's shorter fiction into Spanish) that magical realism as an amalgamationof realism and 8 William Spindler, 'Magic Realism: A Typology', Forum For Modem Language Studies, 29 (1) (January 1993), 75-85 (p. 76). 9 M. A. Asturias, interviewed by Ginter W. Lorenz, Altas (December 1967). Quoted in Robert G. Mead, 'Miguel Angel Asturias y su Premio Nobel en los Estados Unidos', Cuademos Americanos, 159 (4) (July-August 1968), 215-227 (p. 225). My translation. 6 fantasyenteredLatin America. Flores thus signalled 1935,the year of the appearance of Borges' Historia universal de la infamialA Universal History of Infamy, as the point of departureof this new phaseof Latin American literature of magical realism. Together with Borges, Flores listed Bioy Casares, Silvina Ocampo, Marfa Luisa Bornbal and Jos6Bianco among the practitioners of the genre, 'Meticulous craftsmen all, one finds in them the same preoccupation with style and also the same transformation of the common and the everyday into the awesomeand the unreal'. " Flores found in their narrative certain distinctive features: time exists in a kind of timeless fluidity, the plots are logically conceived, there is a repudiation of mawkish sentimentalism, and the unreal happens as part of reality: 'The practitioners of magical realism cling to reality as if to prevent "literature" from getting in their way, 12 if from flying in fairy tales, to supernaturalrealms'. as to prevent their myth off, as Flores' article contributed to the popularisation of the term magic/al realism among critics, but it also contributed towards the indiscriminate use of the term and the confusion with a more playful, metafictional and experimental style typical of Borges and closer to Fantastic Literature. The terms magic/al realism, lo real maravilloso and Fantastic Literature soon became interchangeable. Furthermore, Flores did not even mention Franz Roh as the first user of the phrase magic realism, but seemed to adopt the term as his own invention: 13 'This trend I term "magical realisnC. In 1967, the Mexican critic Luis Leal came to clarify some of these inaccuracies. Leal showed his disagreementwith Flores' definition of magic realism and with the list of authors he mentioned. He tried to return to Roh's original formula of making the ordinary seemsupernatural. According to Leal, magic realism cannot be identified with Fantastic Literature, Surrealism or Psychological Literature. Above all, magic realism is an attitude towards reality: the writer faces reality and attempts to discover the mystery which exists in objects, in life, in human actions. This is what writers such as Arturo Uslar Pietri, Carpentier, Asturias or Rulfo do in 10Angel Flores, 'Magical Realism in Spanish American Fiction'. Hispania, 38 (1955), 187-192 (p. 189). 11Flores, 'Magic..., p. 190. 12Flores, 'Magic... ', p. 191. 13Flores, 'Magic... ', p. 188. 7 their narrative. Magic realism does not derive, as Flores suggested,from Kafka's work and Borges cannot be counted among its practitioners. Magic realism is not FantasticLiterature since the main focus is not on the creation of imaginary beings or worlds, but on the existing relationship between man and his context: 'In magic realism the key eventsdo not have a logical or psychological explanation. The magic (as did) does the to the surrounding reality realists or aim copy realist writer not 14 in hidden did), but it Surrealists the objects'. to capturethe mystery modify (as ...
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