22 April 2005

Yesterday's things

In a recent interview, Salman Rushdie gave his thoughts on "magical realism":

R: I think the problem with that phrase is that it's now used rather lazily as a label. And when people use it, they tend to mean magical and not realism. You know, what the phrase tends to mean is the use of fantasy rather than a different approach to the realistic novel. Which is what it really meant.

W: "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

R: Yeah, exactly. And I think magical realism means something in that South American context, in the sense that it describes the work of a certain group of writers at a certain period. French surrealism is really the same thing as South American magical realism, and surrealism has some meaning in that French context of that time. North American fabulism of the 1970s, of the kind of Pynchon/Coover kind, is essentially the same thing as magical realism as well. But it has a meaning in terms of a North American context. I think there's always been, in the history of literature from the "Arabian Nights" and "Don Quixote" to the present day, a tendency amongst writers to seek to encompass the real world without necessarily using only naturalistic techniques. And I think, I hope, that I am part of that tradition. But I also think that my books are also very different, one from each other.
(Via Zayne at The Orchard)

Elsewhere, a delightful conversation with Álvaro Mutis finds him opining on that ubiquitous term:

What happens is that critics invent these words, if you know what I mean. Authentic magic realism is José Saramago's El memorial del convento, or the work of German Romantics like E. T. A. Hoffmann. But basically, magic realism is just an easy way for critics in the United States and Europe to think about Latin American literature. My books have been described this way and there's nothing magic realist about them. A book like One Hundred Years of Solitude is a work that presents an extraordinary universe made up of magic and truth and horror and sadness . . . one can just simplify all of that and call it magical realism.

Other Mutis snippets:

"[M]y life became a long trip and I met thousands of people, in all different kinds of situations. And this was like a continuation of what I had experienced as a child. In this way I lost the sense of belonging to a particular country. I know that I am Colombian and will be until I die, and there are landscapes in Colombia that I love and am fascinated by, and they appear in my poetry, but I don't feel a commitment to any one country because, after all, I'm just passing through."

"You know who is my greatest literary influence? Charles Dickens. Why? A real influence is an author who communicates an energy and a great desire to tell a story, and it isn't that you want to write like Dickens, but rather that when you read Dickens, you feel an imaginative energy that you use to your own ends. In other words, you're not going to write Oliver Twist. Dickens has an impressive imagination for situations, characters, places, corners. There are corners of his Dombey that I swear I've been to. I have read all of Conrad. I admire him enormously, and it has never occurred to me in the seven novels that I have written to do anything that bears any relation to Conrad. So people tell me, as if it went without saying, that The Snow of the Admiral is like Heart of Darkness, because a boat travels up a river. Well, I've traveled up that river, not in a beat-up boat, but in a nice one with engineers and such over the course of 15 or 20 days, and I know what it's like. So, I put Maqroll there, not thinking of Conrad, but of myself. If someone like Dickens, or someone completely different, such as Proust, who gives you an impression of the interior of life, helps you when you are sitting in front of the typewriter and gives you a kind of compass in your writing, then you can use that influence to write whatever you want to."

"As I don't follow politics, I have never voted, and the most recent political event that really preoccupies me and which I am still struggling to accept is the fall of Byzantium at the hand of the Turks in 1453."

"The amazing thing with Gabo is that Gabo, when I met him, was 21 or 22, but he was already a fully formed writer. Gabo has never lived an instant without his typewriter; writing is his destiny. What happened was that he would tell me about the book, and he would tell me about things that he was thinking about, but didn't end up in the book. I would tell our friends, 'Listen, Gabo is writing a novel in which a man does this, this, and this.' And then, when I read the book, it was a completely different book than the one we'd been talking about." (Via Golden Rule Jones in a comment at the Litblog Co-op)

Also, Maud points to Billy Collins' article on e.e. cummings. Is it really true that "he is not widely enjoyed these days"? Last month, I responded at length to another article that was similarly preoccupied with cummings' form at the expense of his content.

Syntax of Things reminded me of The Decemberists' very enjoyable appearance on Morning Becomes Eclectic. (Picaresque was the last album I bought before leaving the States.) The set included (among others) "Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect," "We Both Go Down Together," "Engine Driver" (my new favorite), and a madcap version of "The Mariner's Revenge Song" (which made me want to pick up Moby-Dick again!). Much fun was had by all.

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