The Dirty Footprints of Magical Realism

Me and my friend, Maria were having a marvelous conversation over just who – that is if there is a who – just might be the father of magical realism. Bye the bye, Maria lives in Sayula and there also lives [part-time] in beautiful hotel that has Juan Rulfo – his writing and photography – as its theme.

But the more I read on the subject, the more annoyed I am.

I speculated to her yesterday – again – that if anyone can make that claim it has to be Juan Rulfo if simply for two reasons. First, because both other possible claimants have given homage to Juan Rulfo’s masterpiece Pedro Páramo. Second, because I maintain that Juan Rulfo didn’t set out to write a novel of such obvious genre but instead wrote what he knew (aka experiential).

Note: I think you have to see Pedro Páramo in the the context of Mexico and how some people have acquired the habit of talking to the spirits of their departed loved ones to understand my second conclusion.

But here is where it began to get annoying. The other two possible claimants in my opinion would either have to be Jorge Luis Borges or Gabriel García Márquez. I mean who else, right?

Yet when you breakdown the timelines both seem disqualified. For example Borges’ first short stories appeared in 1941. I haven’t yet read them but I can’t imagine how a mere eight stories comprising sixty pages would qualify him even if Borges did include a some hint of magical realism there.

It doesn’t appear that Borges’ had anything substantial published apart from some more short stories, some literary criticism and poetry until 1960, and that was a short story in a English science fiction magazine. Please keep in mind that Pedro Páramo was published in 1955.

As for Gabriel García Márquez, Wikipedia says ‘he felt blocked as a novelist after writing his first four books and that it was only his life-changing discovery of Pedro Páramo in 1961 that opened his way to the composition of his masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude published in 1967.

So we are back to Borges. I should read more of his stuff. Only I can’t, regardless of great one of my more brilliant friends says he is. I stumbled through Labyrinths some 20 years ago and quite frankly found it so extremely annoying that at the time a pencil jabbed through my eyeballs seemed a blessed alternative to reading more.

So who is the real father of magical realism? After a morning searching crumbs and opinions on the web it wasn’t surprising to see the liberal New York City rag, The Village Voice had to come from way far out left-field to say the Uruguayan writer Felisberto Hernández (1902–1964) started it all.

Sure why not? But it’s really like I don’t care anymore.

Because the more I think about it, it is occurring to me that I am not all that really all interested in magical realism anyway. I certainly didn’t like the one thing I read of Borges. And I didn’t much like One Hundred Years of Solitude.

(And I most certainly don’t like Italo Calvino. He is a truly most tedious evil bastard.)

But I remember liking Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. And I most certainly loved Pedro Páramo. The former because it was such a wonderfully told story about an interesting family and the later for a number of reasons: The words, the phrases like the echoes of shadows are the very essence of true literary beauty. The story. And that beautiful delivery cast so nonlinearly. The village of Comala, past and present. The dead talking to the dead. The living talking to the dead. The dead talking to the living.

But I loved it most for the setting. Timeless eternal Mexico.

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