Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Magical realism" meets Lew Amselem's "real world"

As we noted in a previous post, the US representative at OAS, Lew Amselem, continues to be the sole OAS member to argue for recognizing the Honduran elections despite the evident manipulations of mediation attempts by the Micheletti regime.

Now the New York Times' report on the same meeting crystallizes something we have not quite been able to put a finger on: Amselem's attitude toward Latin America is fundamentally dismissive and disrespectful.

The Times suggests Amselem was pushing for a more "pragmatic" position than that of people like Paraguay's Hugo Saguier Caballero, who is quoted as saying
Paraguay is not only not going to accept the outcome of the elections, it will not even accept that the elections are held...These elections for us simply will not exist.
Evidently frustrated with such declarations, Amselem is quoted as saying
I’ve heard many in this room say that they will not recognize the elections in Honduras...I’m not trying to be a wise guy, but what does that mean? What does that mean in the real world, not in the world of magical realism?
This would actually seem to illustrate the very definition of being a wise guy.

For those of you who didn't catch it, Amselem is displaying his cultural knowledge here: "magical realism" is of course a distinctive literary mode that is closely associated with Latin American literary pioneers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Amselem is in part responsible for the continual muddying of the purported US position, and thus is either part of an incompetent State Department, or-- as many Latin American observers think-- part of a devious neocolonial enterprise based on disrespect for other nations as political actors.

So perhaps before he makes what he thinks are effective digs at the irrealism of principled positions like that articulated by Paraguay, he might want to review one of the resources about magical realism out there on the web (assuming he is not up for reading a book about Latin American literature; I can recommend the 1995 collection Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, edited by Lois Zamora and Wendy Faris).

He might learn something. He apparently thinks "magical realism" is something like a belief in fairies: but that would be the US State Department position on Honduras, in which Craig Kelly will fix everything.

In fact, magical realism includes a serious awareness of the impossibility of entirely representing the point of view of another. Ambiguities and contradictions, including those of theories of causality (rationalism and irrationalism both motivate people in magical realist works) abound, as they do in the world most of us inhabit, where people are not always pragmatic and predictable. Latin American magical realism depicts the world of post-coloniality, shot through with contradictions between rich and poor, powerful and weak, persistent indigenous presence and only partly coherent European histories of colonization.

Most pertinent, as Lindsay Moore puts it on a webpage Emory University maintains,
The idea of terror overwhelms the possibility of rejuvenation in magical realism. Several prominent authoritarian figures, such as soldiers, police, and sadists all have the power to torture and kill....Characters rarely, if ever, realize the promise of a better life. As a result, irony and paradox stay rooted in recurring social and political aspirations....The reality of revolution, and continual political upheaval in certain parts of the world, also relates to magical realism. Specifically, South America is characterized by the endless struggle for a political ideal.
Based on this description, a little "magical realism" might be a useful addition to Mr. Amselem's understanding of the culture of Latin America of which he was so dismissive, and the histories that present-day Latin Americans want to ensure never come back again-- as the age of dictatorial coups has so tragically in Honduras.


Unknown said...

Thank you for your posting. I won't comment on how U.S. foreign policy is structurally hard-wired to promote and defend U.S. control, so that with or without the likes of Lew Amselem, or even with or without a real U.S. hegemonic order to hold Latin America to, this is what U.S. policy will be pursuing. Instead, I will go for the utterly tangential and share this bit interesting bibliography I recently stumbled on that complicates a conventional genealogy of magical realism as a purely Latin American phenomenon:

Roh, Franz, "Realismo Magico, post-expresionismo, problemas de la pintura Europeo mas reciente," _Revista de Occidente_ (Madrid: Tipografia artistica), 1927. 141 p. Laminas ilustradas.

Mark Morris

RNS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RAJ said...

I appreciate Mark's comment because it gives me a chance to be even more professorial than I already was.

While magical realism is considered by many (including, it would seem, Amselem) as a specifically Latin American literary mode, it is neither limited to Latin America, nor did it originate there. Thus, again, we see that academic knowledge circulates apart from general knowledge; academics (including me) take for granted that magical realism is neither recent nor Latin American in origin. Essays in the book I cited above give more detail.

To quote the website to which my original post links,

The term "magical realism" was first introduced by Franz Roh, a German art critic, who considered magical realism an art category. To him, it was a way of representing and responding to reality and pictorially depicting the enigmas of reality. In Latin America in the 1940s, magical realism was a way to express the realistic American mentality and create an autonomous style of literature.

Thanks to Mark for adding the citation for Roh's original article.