Figuring Magic Realism – International Interpretations of an Elusive Term
October 2, 2020
City University of New York, Graduate Center
Ph.D. Program in Art History
Professor Emeritus of Art History, University College London
Call for Papers:
In 1925, the German critic Franz Roh coined the term Magic Realism to describe the recent turn he identified in European painting from expressionist and abstract modes towards a reconstructed figuration. Commending this tendency, he wrote, “It seems that this fantastic dreamscape has completely vanished and that the real world re-emerges before our eyes, bathed in the clarity of a new day.” Yet even as this new realism seemed to return to mimetic functions remaindered by early twentieth century avant-gardes, it was by no means limited to the reproduction of surface appearances. Rather, the objects—depicted with “unemphatic” clarity and verisimilitude—seemed to radiate with uncanny vitality and power. “With the word ‘magic’…” Roh disclaimed, “I wish to indicate that the mystery does not descend upon the represented world, but rather hides and palpates behind it.”
A compound of two evidently adversarial terms, Magic Realism inhabits an apparent contradiction. This elastic term, still controversial, has been routinely applied to characterize representations of the real world in various media marked by strange or supernatural qualities that speak to psychological, social, and political alienation or to transcendental states. Artists from Felice Casorati to Georg Scholz, Paul Cadmus to Wifredo Lam, and at times even Edward Hopper to Frida Kahlo have been classified under this slippery label.
Stretched to new limits in the years following Roh’s coinage, Magic Realism soon became characterized by its ease of dissemination and appropriation. In 1927, the term magico realismoappeared in Italian poet and playwright Massimo Bontempelli’s journal 900, where it was first adopted as a literary style. The same year, José Ortega y Gasset’s Revista de Occidentepublished a Spanish translation of Roh’s essay, which subsequently circulated throughout the Hispanic world. In 1949, Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier invented the term lo real maravilloso Americano to theorize what he perceived as an autochthonous Latin American form of Magic Realism unique to the region’s culture, geography, and postcolonial situation.
Never a coherent style or aesthetic movement, Magic Realism has spanned the globe, extending from Europe to Asia, Latin America, and the United States, where, in 1943, the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition “American Realists and Magic Realists” brought together more than forty historical and contemporary under its amorphous auspices. That the term has been adapted to so many geographical and cultural contexts has only enhanced the difficulty of ascribing it a concrete definition.
We welcome submissions on manifestations of Magic Realism from the interwar years and beyond, embracing all geographical contexts. Current graduate students, recent graduates, and emerging scholars from a variety of disciplines are invited to apply. We will consider papers on the visual arts, literature, poetry, dance, theater, and film, and especially welcome interdisciplinary and imaginative approaches to Magic Realist topics. We particularly encourage proposals that consider the indeterminacy of the category, and how it might relate to notions of identity and agency for the oppressed.
Please submit abstracts of 150 to 300 words, accompanied by a c. v. and a brief bio (of 100 words) by January 24 to Stephanie Huber, Viviana Bucarelli, and Chloe Wyma at MagicRealismConference@gmail.com.
Topics and questions for discussion include but are not limited to: