Magical Realist Writing as Narrative Strategy in the Recovery of Historical Traumata - Abstracts by June 30, 2013

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Eugene Arva & Hubert Roland - Interférences littéraires / Literaire interferenties (e-journal)
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Magical Realist Writing as Narrative Strategy in the Recovery of Historical Traumata
- Call for Papers -

Any attempt to resort to “magical realism” as a catchword when surveying European and/or world literature from the early 1920s to the present may raise quite a few challenges because of the difficulty to homogenize the semantic field of the concept. Although the tendency to universalize “magical realism” has characterized specialized research in past decades (see the seminal works of Weisgerber, 1987, and Zamora & Faris, 1995), its overall historiographical and theoretical record has undergone many twists and turns that have ultimately pointed out its intrinsic versatility.

A part of the problem may reside in the historical fact that parallel research traditions, such as Magischer Realismus in the Germanophone literatures of the interbellum and the post-World War II years, realismo mágico/real marvilloso in the Latin American tradition since the 1950s, and magical realism as postcolonial and postmodern aesthetics, have been tenuously superposed without any further integration. The principle of covering magical realism according to its distinct “locations” (Bowers, 2004) reinforces a general tendency to juxtapose linguistic and cultural areas.

Nevertheless, this issue of Interférences littéraires / Literaire interferenties does not aim at precluding the possibility that magical realist writing may constitute a viable approach to a comparative historiography of literature, but rather at underscoring its wide range of applicability by taking into account the following premises and caveats:

1) We consider magical realism as a poetics or mode of writing, and not as a canonical genre limited to a certain geography, culture, or literary trend. In this respect, we adhere to Wendy B. Faris’ definition of magical realism as a trend or a style which “combines realism and the fantastic so that the marvellous seems to grow organically within the ordinary, blurring the distinction between them” (Faris 2004: 1). Magical realist writing foregrounds and at the same time transgresses the traditional borders between reality and imagination by rearranging apparently antithetical ontological levels within the literary text: the logically and perceptually verifiable everyday reality, on the one hand, and the sensorially ungraspable and unexplainable phenomena of the supernatural.

2) Aware of the fact that this general definition could be applied to wide parts of European and world literature at least since the Romantics, we propose to regard magical realist writing from a perspective which challenges its function in contemporary writing beyond the different narrative modes and cultural environments from which it has originally emerged. By doing so, we do not circumscribe the field of research to postcolonial and postmodernist fiction, but also intend to take into consideration cultures and literatures in which magical realism has not yet been “canonized,” and which still necessitate further research (for instance, German-, French-, Dutch- or Italian-speaking literatures).

In order to foreground the psychological and socio-political relevance of magical realism, we proffer the general thesis that magical realist writing has become one of the most effective, albeit controversial, artistic media to re-present extreme events since its beginnings in the early twentieth century. The writing mode has indeed demonstrated its potential to adapt and to affect literary productions belonging to various cultural spaces and representing histories of violence, such as slavery, colonialism, wars, the Holocaust, genocide, and dictatorships. As a textual representation of the unspeakable, magical realism gives traumatic events an expression that traditional realism failed to accomplish, seemingly because the magical realist writing mode and the traumatized subject share the same ontological ground: being part of a reality that constantly escapes witnessing through telling.

By transgressing the boundaries of traditional realism, the magical realist text may both convey the authors’ empathy (through their narrators and/or characters) and at the same time induce empathy on the part of the readers – not by appropriating the victims’ voices but, rather, by making them heard for the first time. Even if the extreme events which the text recreates can be neither understood nor represented (in the traditional, mimetic sense) as a coherent history, magical realist writing takes on the daunting task of (re)constructing history in order to bring it closer to the readers’ conceptual system and their affective world. If there is a nexus between trauma, imagination, and magic, then it comes about in both the creative process and the reading experience, in the author’s and the reader’s minds. Through magical realist writing, an author’s “traumatic imagination” transfers to narrative memory events that have been precluded from narrativization by trauma. The magic in magical realism can help integrate events from originally unimaginable experiences into more or less coherent realities within the literary text. Magic is the indispensable element by which the traumatic imagination re-arranges and re-presents reality when mimetic reality-testing hits the wall of an unassimilated, and inassimilable, event.

Paper topics may include, but should not be limited to:
- the recovery of traumatic memories through magical realist writing in different cultures and
historical periods;
- the issue of moral authority raised by bearing witness by proxy and representing historical
traumata through magical-realist images;
- theoretical demarcations of magical-realist writing in juxtaposition with “poetic prose,”
allegory, or metaphorical imagery;
- the intrinsic potential of the magical-realist writing mode to simulate the “feeling” of
extreme events; etc.

In order to preserve the thematic coherence of this issue, individual case studies on magical realism which are not related to the question of historical traumata will not be considered.

Interférences littéraires / Literaire interferenties accepts works in six languages (English, French, German, Dutch, Italian, and Spanish).

Please send your proposal before June 30, 2013 to both editors:
Eugene Arva ( and Hubert Roland (
Attach a 300-word abstract and a short bio including institutional affiliation, research interests, and main scholarly achievements.

After selection, full papers will be submitted electronically before December 31, 2013. Paper lengths should range between 4,500 and 7,500 words.


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