Academic journal article Journal of Narrative Theory

Writing the Vanishing Real: Hyperreality and Magical Realism

Academic journal article Journal of Narrative Theory

Writing the Vanishing Real: Hyperreality and Magical Realism

Article excerpt

Certain contemporary theorists tend to consider Jean Baudrillard's term hyperreality (Simulacra and Simulation) not as an object and medium of the traumatic imagination-of the literary consciousness engaged in coping with and reconstructing the real-but as an elusive rhetorical chimera. Nevertheless, should anyone wish to look for such hybrid images, magical realist writing offers plenty of them. Typically, readers of magical realist fiction must look beyond the realistic detail and accept the dual ontological structure of the text, in which the natural and the supernatural, the explainable and the miraculous, coexist side by side in a kaleidoscopic reality, whose apparently random angles are deliberately left to the audience's discretion. However, magical realist simulacra do not share the shallowness of Baudrillard's hyperreality-a world in which the distinctions between signified and signifier have all but disappeared through successive reproductions of previous reproductions of reality; the magical realist image stands apart, first because it is the result of an aporetic attitude toward reality, and second because it recreates the real-the limit events that resist representation-as an immediate, felt reality.

Felt reality is not the same as "felt history," a term that John Burt Foster, Jr. uses in relation to nineteenth-century realism for the "eloquent gestures and images with which a character or lyric persona registers the direct pressure of events, whether enlarging and buoyant or limiting and harsh" (273). For one thing, the felt reality recreated by the magical realist image comes to be "registered" belatedly by characters, narrators, and readers because the "pressure" of the initial event blocked its complete registration and further narrativization. Felt reality is thus the artistic reality produced by magical realist writing in its attempt to reconstruct violent events. More often than not, magical realist images attempt to recreate traumatic events by simulating the overwhelming affects that prevented their narrativization in the first place. For example, the images of massacre in Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1980), although rich in sensory details, conspicuously lack any specific words denoting physical violence, but rely instead on metaphors suggesting the pain and horror of the events as experienced by individual characters. Through the authors' and the readers' traumatic imagination, traumatic memories are turned into narrative memory.

Any attempt to understand the modus operandi of the traumatic imagination in magical realist writing needs to start with an analytical survey of the neighboring literary genres-fantasy, the fantastic, the marvelous, and the uncanny, all of which inform the most essential traits of magical realism and of the postmodern context in which magical realism first appeared and has developed since the mid-1930s. The thematic core of the magical realist writing mode at any of its stages concerns representation: the writing of the real. Magical realist authors turn to illusion and magic as a matter of survival in a civilization priding itself on scientific accomplishments, positivist thinking, and the metaphysical banishment of death. Yet it is curious that fantastic representation (imaginative reconstitution) works where realistic representation (descriptive mimesis) has apparently failed. What does postmodernist fiction in general, and magical realist writing in particular, re-present: reality, its non-referential substitutes, or mere simulacra? By virtue of its subversive character, magical realism foregrounds, somewhat paradoxically, the falsehood of its fantastic imagery exactly in order to expose the falsehood-and the traumatic absence-of the reality that it endeavors to re-present. As Robert Scholes would say, "Fabulation lives."

In 1967, Guy Debord, author of The Society of Spectacle, remarked that representations of reality through images had gradually led to a dissimulation of reality-and implicitly, to society's alienation from it. …

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