Garciá Márquez, magic realism and language as material practice

Master Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

In this essay I examine the political implications of the shifts in definition of the term, "magic realism". Magic realism as it was originally employed in the Latin-American context signified a concept different to what it is currently held to suggest in metropolitan literary discourse. Magic realism in the first world has come to be regarded as a third world reflection of its own cultural dominant, postmodernism, without an acknowledgement of the alternative material realities which inform it. I investigate these ideas through an analysis of the work of two novelists, namely, the Colombian, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the American, John Barth. In a well-known essay titled "The Literature of Replenishment", Barth names Garcia Marquez as the foremost postmodern writer. This is deceptive, I argue, since although in the essay Barth presents postmodernist fiction as a political advance on the earlier styles of realism and modernism, his own fictional practice contradicts his claim. While in the essay Barth presents postmodernism as politically significant by virtue of its "democratic impulse", his novel, Chimera, seeks to avoid the political through a flawed understanding of textuality. Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude stands in stark contrast with Chimera since it underscores the political consideration central to discourse through stressing the text's material, historical context. This distinction between the two novels is brought to light particularly through the incremental differences in their use of the techniques of "narrative circularity" and repetition. I argue, furthermore, that Garcia Marquez's emphasis on language as a material practice is, at least in part, owing to the specifics of the style of magic realism. While postmodernist fiction, one of the cultural effects of an advanced capitalism, may slide ineluctably into notions of pure textuality, magic realism, constituted as it is at the interface of pre-capitalist and capitalist modes of production, compels an acknowledgement of the material world.