Magical Realism

It’s 1927, and surrealist poet Robert Desnos lends his passport to Alejo Carpentier, facilitating his escape from Cuba and a decade long sojourn amongst the surrealists of Paris. 35 At first influenced there by Breton, by now self-styled 'Pope' of surrealism, Carpentier, along with Desnos, break with the pontiff, who has excommunicated members of the surrealist movement not to his taste in his 1929 Second Surrealist Manifesto, by adding their voices to 10 others in a 1930 manifesto denouncing him. 36 Collaborating again with Desnos on a 1933 radio production of Desnos's 25-stanza poem La Complainte de Fantômas (a chameleon criminal figure popular with the French avante garde) he works with a ‘cast of over one hundred, including cabaret and music hall artists, buskers, accordionists, whistlers, and clowns, as well as opera singers and recitalists’ on a production broadcast throughout France and Belgium. Carpentier conducts the ensemble, Kurt Weill composes the music, while Antonin Artaud, founder of the ‘theatre of cruelty’, a precursive contributor to the development of the ‘theatre of the absurd’, directs. 37

Carpentier returns to Cuba in 1939, at first acknowledging that his exposure to European surrealism prompts him to see 'aspects of American reality that I had never noticed before.' 38 By 1949, however, his prologue to The Kingdom of this World denounces European surrealists and their techniques as sleight of hand performed by ‘dream technicians turned bureaucrats’ and indicating a ‘poverty of imagination’; as ‘”adolescents who find pleasure in raping the fresh cadavers of beautiful, dead women” (Lautreamont), who do not take into account that it would be more marvellous to rape them alive.’ 39 Carpentier becomes a forefather of Magical Realism with his exposition of lo real maravilloso americano in the same prologue, which recognises the indomitable magical undercurrents of native American and black shamanic traditions in Latin America and the Carribean woven through the texture of Hispanic colonial reality; which mirrors and marries the ‘marvellous’ to realism in its literature.

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