Monday, January 25, 2010

And magical realism suddenly seems more appealing...

My first impression of El Reino de Este Mundo took root in the prologue, in which Alejo Carpentier lays the groundwork for the novel. I will say, after my confusion with Leyendas, I feel that I owe him a thanks. In a few short pages, Carpentier takes the reader through an explanation of ‘lo real maravilloso,’ and how it was created and changed over time through the different works of artists and writers. In particular, I liked his opinion regarding ‘lo real maravilloso’ in reference to the Americas in comparison with Europe. It starts:

Pero pensaba, además que esa presencia y vigencia de lo real maravilloso no era privilegio único de Haití, sino patrimonio de la América entera, donde todavía no se ha terminado de establecer, por ejemplo, un recuento de cosmogonías.

Then he continues with this idea for another page and a half until he comes to one key idea that I turned over while reading:

Y es que, por la virginidad del paisaje, por la formación, por la ontología, por la presencia fáustica del indio y del negro, por la Revolución que constituyó su reciente descubrimiento, por los fecundos mestizajes que propició, América está muy lejos de haber agotado su caudal de mitologías…

…todo resulta maravilloso en una historia imposible de situar en Europa…

If I think about El Reino de Este Mundo alongside Leyendas de Guatemala, it is clear to see the use of the exoticized non-European in order to create a sense of magic in these novels. In the case of Alejo Carpentier, the magical element in the novel is still attributed to the voodoo magic of the Haitian people, but is presented in a much more real way than I felt that it was in the case of Leyendas. From what I’ve quickly gathered from other sources, El Reino de Este Mundo tells the story of the Haitian Revolution, which I really don’t know anything about to be quite honest. This is where I could see the magic realism coming in: how are events portrayed? In particular, because the novel is told from the standpoint of Ti Noel, a slave and believer in voodoo magic, how does that affect the standpoint from which how things unfolded and what was the cause? In the prologue, Carpentier specifically says:

…el relato que va a leers ha sido establecido sobre una documentación extremadamente rigurosa que no solamente respeta la verdad histórica de los acontecimientos…sino que oculta, bajo su aparente intemporalidad un minucioso cotejo de fechas y de cronologías.

So I guess that statement leads me to question if in this story, reality and magic can be separated? Like I said, I’d like to know more about the history of Alejo Carpentier and his experience in Haiti, because I think it might uncover a bit of where he’s coming from.

As a quick side note: I am also intrigued by the quotes that start off the prologue and the parts of the book. I feel that Carpentier really tried to get some strong ideas in regards to the colonization of the Americas across, and specifically in the opening quote in part one by Lope de Vega, he did a great job of getting these ideas across. Once again, he gives us another frame through which we can read this interpretation of the Haitian Revolution. Personally, I really appreciate these additional quotes that he provides because I feel that he narrows the scope and lets his readers know more specifically what he's getting at.


  1. I enjoyed that you picked up on the "exoticized non-European" aspect of the book and how that was used to create the magical realism. It's an interesting point. Why is it that the author feels he needs to use the non-European aspects of Haiti and Haitian culture? It is a good tactic, but also one that I think we should be questioning. It is almost as if we have become so far removed from indigenous cultures that we see them as magical. Why have they not become more normalized and integrated into our own society and understandings?

  2. hey megan,
    i was interested in the question you asked about whether reality and magic can be separated in this story. i think carpentier's intention was to create a different genre than magical realism, as he calls it - lo real maravilloso. what is magic or fantastic about the story are the aspects that make you question its veracity. for example, Mackandal's metamorphosis stage. In this case I think Mackandal's fluid and changing character was seen and believed by the slaves but went completely unnoticed by the whites. Therefore there is this contrast between what the blacks see and what the whites fail to see. because we are allowed to see both perspectives, we can see the real maravilloso in the spiritual culture on the africans.

  3. Hi Megan,
    I also found it really interesting how he emphasizes the non-European magic as something necessary for the creation of lo real maravilloso. In the beginning of the course I wasn't sure what the difference between surrealism and magical realism was, but now thanks to this intro it's all cleared up. You are right we do kind of owe Carpentier a thank you for this prologue that made things make sense a little more. Great entry!

  4. Hey, I just wanted to say that I also found Carpentier's explanation of lo real maravilloso very helpful as it put into clear terms what exactly it was. Also, I thought that Carpentier did a masterly job of portraying the atrocities of colonization across, and, therefore, portraying it in an obviously negative light. Nice post,