This is a discussion I started on social media with the intent of putting it in this blog. As in previous such discussions, the initials are changed except for mine.
Me: After reading “100 Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Marquez and “Grimus” by Salman Rushdie (as well my friend Karen Eisenbrey’s “The Gospel According to Saint Rage”, which has traces of the same genre), this question occurred to me: To what extent is “magic realism” in fiction the same as / similar to / different from surrealism in art? (Never mind their different origins.) Does either have any kind of counterpart in music? (Don't count song lyrics and 1970's rock album covers.) What do you think?
LoDonna Smith on her music: in the early days, we tried real hard not to be influenced by anyone, but to go into that trans: trance...transport...transportation... trans... transcend... transcendence... transcendprovisation... that comes from transfiguration... from tranced out... psychic automatism...! (whew)
We tried to steer clear of anything that sounded "like" anything else and sometimes engage in just raw energies leading the body into making all this noise but with a "listening ear to shape it" like free composition so when you'd hear a rhythmic set up, you'd solo on it, or set something up and watch Davey do guitar theater with it, or duel it out in flights of fury, or float slowly… or make imaginary landscapes – all of these were areas, not idioms...
Hal Rammel: My parents were both artists, …so I grew up in a house where making things and exploring new ideas were everyday activities. I decided in my teens that I wanted to pursue a similar course, and started drawing and making collages. This was all of a piece with reading, listening to Jazz, watching movies… I had been exposed to modern art throughout my childhood, so the historical continuity, the groundwork, was firmly at hand. Abstract and surrealist painting and imagery fascinated me, so in my reading I doggedly pursued the art, poetry, and theater of the early Twentieth Century. I knew there were new directions to take those ideas in new times—this was the early 1960's—and I still feel that way.
IR: I agree with RQ’s analysis. True surrealism in books/movies has a decidedly different flavor than magical realism. See The Milagro Beanfield War or Like Water For Chocolate for an example of what I consider magical realism, and perhaps The Life of Pi or Alice In Wonderland for surrealism.
Me: Concerning the disquiet, C. S. Lewis wrote the following in his sci-fi novel “That Hideous Strength”:
“[Mark] got up and began to walk about. He had a look at the pictures. Some of them belonged to a school of art with which he was already familiar. There was a portrait of a young woman who held her mouth wide open to reveal the fact that the inside of it was thickly overgrown with hair. It was very skillfully painted in the photographic manner so that you could almost feel that hair… There was a giant mantis playing a fiddle while being eaten by another mantis, and a man with corkscrews instead of arms bathing in a flat, sadly coloured sea beneath a summer sunset. But most of the pictures were not of this kind. At first, most of them seemed rather ordinary, though Mark was a little surprised at the predominance of scriptural themes. It was only it the second or third glance that one discovered certain unaccountable details — something odd about the positions of the figures’ feet or the arrangement of their fingers or the grouping. …Why were there so many beetles under the table in the Last Supper? What was the curious trick of lighting that made each picture look like something seen in delirium? When once these questions had been raised the apparent ordinariness of the pictures became their supreme menace… Long ago Mark had read somewhere of “things of that extreme evil which seem innocent to the unintitiate,” and had wondered what sort of things they might be. Now he felt he knew.”
Madeleine L’Engle expresses an opposing view of this same disquiet. I am unable to find the exact quote, but I remember her stating that the subconscious has become nasty because we have bottled it up. It should be the creative urge, but has turned into something quite different. This idea, subconscious=creative, minus any “nasty” aspect is, of course, what the original surrealist artists meant by liberating the subconscious to achieve higher states of creativity. (It should be pointed out that Madeleine L’Engle practiced the same religion as Lewis: a form of Christianity quite different from, and in many ways opposed to, our more familiar American fundamentalism. Their differing views on the same topic point to variety of thought within a larger system.)
Me: “Magical Realism” does not have that disquietude. In “100 Years of Solitude” – the man who is always attended by a flock of yellow butterflies; the woman who is taken up into heaven because she is too beautiful and too wise for the earth: both of these seem miraculous rather than sinister. Also, they are narrated as if they were common events, not something dredged up from an ominous dream.
JD: I write Realistic Magicalism.
And by the way, we’ve probably all experienced “magical” (or “glitch in the matrix”) events. I’ve had a couple myself that were a little on the weird side.