What is real? There is no such thing as objective reality which exists outside of our own observations. Full stop. What we think of as real is nothing more than a macroscopic blurring, a gross averaging of phenomena which allows us to create a tenuous agreement with other people of what constitutes reality. Realism in literature was an attempt at describing an objective reality, without intentionally introducing the fantastic. Writers attempted to strip away the overly dramatic, the hyperbolic, and to capture in detail what is really out there in the world.
In contrast, Magical Realism sprouted from the seeds of realization that, upon close scrutiny, reality collapses like a house of cards. Some people experience the passage of time slowly when they experience pain, and equally fleeting when they feel joy. Other people like Cabernet Sauvignon, while to some it tastes like vinegar. Even the immutable image in a photograph can seem beautiful to one observer, and horrid to another. One might argue that the pixels making up the photo are the same for everyone, so isn’t that objective? But the pixels are meaningless until we back out far enough, until they blur together to form an image. And then the image is meaningless outside of the context of the observer. It is the same with writing. The words I’m typing right now have no objective meaning. The reader gives them meaning based on his or her own age, education, cultural background, and myriad other factors.
Magical Realism recognizes the futility of plain old Realism, and mixes the fantastic with the mundane, without calling attention to it. The extraordinary is given no special rank or privilege; angels and cats, dogs and dragons, they are all on equal footing. In Latin American literature, this genre of writing was used to great metaphorical effect. The authors of Central and South America arose from cultures that already recognized and embraced the blurring of the so-called natural world with the supernatural. A climate of political and cultural upheaval proved to be fertile grounds for this type of literature.
While Magical Realism as a literary movement may have peaked in the early 1960’s, the genre left an indelible effect on writing and film. How do the works of modern authors and filmmakers such as Guillermo del Toro compare with the works of earlier writers such as Pablo Neruda?