|Here is the Lady K. That top window? is part of a GIANT|
USED BOOKSTORE. Also, the cafe is named after a
LADY PIRATE. And they serve BEER. It is all of
the awesome. Via Lauren C. on Yelp.
|I mean, what's not to love? Via Art Slug.|
The thing is, I love the idea of magical realism. I explained this to my new friend. I want so badly to love it. For example, the short story I'm forever golloping on about, Yuri Olesha's "Love", is totally full of magical realism! And I'm always eager to like magical realism, in any form. I just don't think it covers up for only-okay writing, I guess. (Cue the hate mail.) Like, Jorge Luis Borges? I think he is the most amazing. There's an argument among the literati about whether he was a magical realist or a precursor to magical realism; either way, his work is incredibly magical. But I suppose not all that real, in the sense of writing about families and generational conflicts and multiple perspectives and political happenstance and all that. Maybe I just don't understand it? Maybe there's a cultural context I'm missing?
My companion listened to all of this with some mildness, occasionally nodding, and when it seemed like I was finished wandering around on my errant thought train he gave a little shrug and said, "Well, I guess I feel like magical realism is just realism."
"You know," he went on (I'm totally paraphrasing, I don't remember the exact words, I'm not Marcel Proust), "we perceive the world in magical ways. Humans think much more like characters in a magical realist novel most of the the time anyway."
I had never thought of it this way before. He didn't mean the world is literally the way it's presented in a magical realist narrative; he meant that we experience the world in mysterious ways that are often much better illustrated by magical realism than they are by, you know, anything else. For example, something I have always been profoundly annoyed by is Proust's famous madeleine scene, where he eats a cookie and suddenly remembers HIS WHOLE CHILDHOOD IN PERFECT DETAIL because, you know, that's how memory and evocation work.
|This is much funnier if you read the NPR article about how|
he obviously had never actually eaten a madeleine in his life,
linked below. Via newyorkette's rejected cartoon archive - she
calls this one "Proust's Freebird," which I think is HILARIOUS.
I don't know about you, ladies and germs, but when I am suddenly filled with a remembrance of things past, called forth by some small joy like the kind of cookie I haven't eaten since I was a kid, I don't suddenly recollect every chronological detail. I get these sweet, paper-thin flashes, each one full of a strange warped color and savor, and they seem, well, a little bit mythical. It is assuredly not like just, y'know, hanging out in the past the way I hang out in the present. Things have an aura in memory, a weight or a lightness that they didn't possess for me back then. All of which Proust completely fails to mention. he gives us a highly evocative moment - sudden, inexplicable pleasure! what's that? - and then completely abandons it for an emotionally disconnected narrative that makes it totally clear the whole damn thing was an emotional hoax. And that's what I mean about magical realism, maybe - in the hands of a magical realist, I think, that whole scene with the madeleine wouldn't have been some obnoxious excuse to tell a story the author wanted to tell. I imagine, instead, that it would be a genuine, evocative exploration of the strange and mysterious processes of sense and memory, which we all know are highly unreliable and do not work along the lines of tidy hyper-detailed linear chronology. (Man, I've been wanting to bash that scene in public for YEARS. I feel GREAT.)
|I think of it like this. Like, yes, you could see it as just|
leaping around. If you really wanted to. Or you could
see it as what it is: somebody flying with joy.
Via The Weather Up Here.
|These lil dudes change color super fast! And by "change color"|
I mean they TURN TRANSPARENT. See, this? This is
ORDINARY REALITY, KIDS. Via Scientific American.
Part of the reason I have been thinking so much about this is the novel I am writing. At base, it's about a reasonable, modern Jewish man who sees his father's Orthodox faith as being sort of sweet in its adherence to the sacred, but still basically ridiculous, blind, and foolish...that is, until a series of strange and miraculous events start happening to our little rationalist hero, and he has to start asking himself if maybe the experience of wonder is pretty cool after all and whether he wants to ruin it with logic - in order to KNOW the TRUTH! - or accept foolishness as a part of experiencing the marvelous. At the risk of ruining the suspense, what I really wanted was to make it clear that everything that happens to him could be explained logically, albeit by a stretch if necessary, if he really really wants it to be. That means the choice is up to him, and his own way of perceiving the universe: is it sleight of hand, or is it the Hand of God? (I'm pretty proud of that phrasing. I use it a lot.) He could conceivably argue it either way; the question is what he wants the world to look like. Either he gets a world of mysteries in which he must be willing not to ask too many questions, or he gets a tidy world of knowledge and answers that leaves out a whole lot of the joy. I was really struggling to create a balance where things were magical enough to seem potentially divine, but not so magical that there couldn't be a rational explanation.
|A still from Sylvain Chomet's extraordinarily lovely film|
The Illusionist (2010), which is based on an unproduced
script Jacques Tati wrote for his estranged daughter.
YOU SHOULD SEE IT RIGHT NOW.
Except wonder, also, happens every day. The decision I've come to is that one is no more true than the other. You've probably heard me say this before, in some form, but I'll say it again: the weirdest thing about the world is that the fantastical, the miraculous, the joyful, the sacred, all those those things just sit next to the greed, poverty, tedium, apathy, anger, corruption. There's no big war between them. One side won't win. I used to like to think there was some epic battle going on between the forces of beauty and the forces of - well, not darkness so much as apathy, which seems to me to be the root of all evil - but I've changed my mind. The world is much weirder than that. There's no triumph; there's not even an opposition. It's just, well, miracles on one hand and Miracle Whip on the other. From the sublime to the ridiculous. And this is why I think I agree with my quiet friend at the bar: trying to pretend that magical experiences are somehow less true than the other kind strikes me as basically absurd. What the heck do we know about reality? We're a bunch of monkeys that can't even manage to agree about whether we are monkeys or if some big beard in the sky made us out of dirt, for Chrissakes. (No pun intended.) Yeah, I'd say magical realism is no less real than Proust's teeth-grinding detailing, or even works I love to death like Grapes of Wrath, which is poetically abundant and astonishingly alive and also full of symbols and intuitions, although I don't think he meant it to be magical at all. Too bad, Johnny boy! Life is too weird for the extraordinary not to creep in around the edges, unless you're actively holding it off with a shovel. And if you are, well, who's in denial now?