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Within the kingdom of this world: Magical realism as genreTiffany Magnolia
Magical realism has been applied as a critical label to literature since the 1920s. Even in its initial critical incarnation, though, its definition has varied widely. This dissertation, through first looking at the historical debate surrounding the term, crafts a definition of the genre influenced by literature and criticism in the past and the present. I argue that magical realism is a genre of literature based on realism but which contains fantastic occurrences that are naturalized in the realist narrative; in this definition, I outline the most basic and essential features of the genre. In order to explain how magical realism works in both theory and in practice, I look at three international and contemporary instances of magical realism: Ben Okri's The Famished Road, Gina Nahai's Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, and Achmat Dangor's Kafka's Curse. In my explanation of magical realism in practice, I have chosen texts that push at the boundaries of my definition, in order to show how the essential elements of magical realism can be combined in a number of different ways. Throughout the dissertation, I note features of magical realism that while not part of the formal definition, nevertheless go hand in hand with the genre. Among these are: that the historical setting of magical realist texts is often a moment of historical crisis that necessitates a form more expansive than realism to narrate it, that magical realism relies on history and the historical perspective of the oppressed, and that magical realism makes a political claim when it represents an expanded reality instead of a straightforward one. The magical phenomena in these novels capture the spiritual reality of politics, the gendered reality of religion, and the bodily reality of laws in such a way that these social entities have a politically specific impact on the characters they touch. Magical realism, because it is an expansion of realism, aims to represent these levels of reality, in a move that is not politically neutral. This political engagement is the key feature that makes magical realism compelling as a critical term historically and today.
Language, literature and linguistics; Genre; Iranian Jewish; Magical realism; Comparative literature; African literature; Middle Eastern literature; 0295:Comparative literature; 0316:African literature; 0315:Middle Eastern literature
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