What is Magical Realism?

In the midst of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s wonderful novel, “The General and his Labyrinth,” we get this wonderful passage about one of General Simon Bolivar’s greatest lovers:

“…she traveled in a caravan worthy of Gypsies, with her trunks on the backs of a dozen mules, her immortal slave women, and eleven cats, six dogs, three monkeys educated in the art of palace obscenities, a bear trained to thread needles, and nine cages of parrots and macaws that railed against Santander in three languages.”

Is it real? Is it magic? Surely, slave women cannot be immortal. Unless they are. Surely, monkeys cannot be trained in obscenities. That should come naturally to them, and surely in a monkey’s mind there is no different between palace obscenities and just plain obscenities. A bear trained to thread needles? Parrots and macaws that rail against political opponents in three languages?

What are the numbers? 12, 11, 6, 3, 1, 9, 3. Such specific accounting! If the bookkeeping is in such great order, then how can it not be true? (Trust me, I speak as a social scientist when I say most statistics are just magical fiction!)

Companies pay taxes, and they are nothing but useful fictions. They pay taxes to the state — which is also a kind of fiction. They pay with currencies, which have value because of collective fantasies. So, if ghosts were real wouldn’t they pay taxes? Or, would they convince their counterparts that things like “states,” “taxes,” and “state currencies” are just fairy tales told by power-hungry storytellers?

When you think about it very carefully, our lives are both wonderfully magic and undeniably real (or is that the other way around?).

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