Sorting as I've been doing for months, I came upon an article I had saved with the sub-title of “Re-envisioning Magical Realism’s Relationship with Fakery” by Maria Takolander and Alyson Miller, of Deakin University near Adelaide, Australia. Published in “Postcolonial Text,” Vol 9, No.13 (2014) This tag won’t link to the specific article, but google it anyway. Lots of amazing good stuff. Australia is a goldmine of thought.
Let me tell you two little personal stories first.
One Christmas I got tired of all the exploits and wonders that my correspondents claimed in their annual reports, so I decided to create one of my own. I explained that a Samoan man, huge but quite a bit younger than myself, had showed up in the congregation I was serving as a UU minister at the time. He was very attentive and sympathetic and I discovered that he was a marvelous artist, a wood carver. Over time, as two isolates, we were drawn together and now I was notifying my friends and family that we had decided to marry and move back to Samoa where I would act as a UU missionary.
People believed it. I threw in some details I got out of Wikipedia. Some were concerned that I wasn’t thinking this through carefully enough. They knew about my history with a sculptor twice my age and thought I should consider the possibility that I was repeating it. When I revealed that I made the whole thing up, they were angry.
The other story is just a kind of cultural twitch in America: the habit of calling old women “young lady.” It’s thought to be a great compliment, just what an old woman would want. Maybe at worst, a bit of teasing. In truth, it’s insulting, wrong, and hides an underlying contempt for old women. Sometimes I take the trouble to fight it and sometimes I don’t. If I do, people often get angry.
The journal called “Postcolonial Text” is a refereed open access journal that publishes articles, book reviews, interviews, poetry and fiction on postcolonial, transnational, and indigenous themes." As a loose translation for people who haven’t run into this context before, the focus is on defined groups that have been colonized — that is, controlled by bigger powerful organizations like the European countries that colonized other cultures whenever they found them -- and now these theories are considering the effects across the arbitrary nations formed out of that history while at the same time searching for the original people of that land.
The argument of this article, as I understand it, is that hoaxes and magic realism are closely related when it comes to this context. The ideas that the “settlers” have about the people they are displacing and — even more the assumptions of folks back “home” who like to enjoy “literary tourism” by reading about exotic places — will swallow anything, even the impossible. But beyond that, cultures that are whole and complete in their relationship to where they are can seem magical to those tamed and blinded by book-learning and authorities. Sailors bring back home the stories, and they had better be good. Anthropologists write accounts that are as much projection as analysis.
Examples given by this article are in this list below, which will surprise you because it mixes the “respectable” and even exalted tales with those flatly labeled hoaxes. I have not included the one that was in the primary title of this article, though it was why I even knew the article existed. I found it by googling the “hoaxer” who is also a writer of “magic realism,” often in poetry.
Angela Carter “The Bloody Chamber”
Jeanette Winterson “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit”
Tim O’Brien “The Things they Carried”
Gunter Grass “The Tin Drum”
Mudrooroo “Master of the Ghost Dreaming”
Alejo Carpentier (French-Cuban) “The Kingdom of this World” (African-Haitian)
Toni Morrison (African- American) “Song of Solomon”, “Beloved”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez “Macondo”, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”
Norma Khouri (Muslim-Australian) “Forbidden Love”
Margaret B. Jones (Native American) “Love and Consequences”
Merlinda Bobis “Fish-Hair Woman”
Salman Rushdie “Midnight’s Children”
Miguel Angel Asturias “Men of Maize”
Helen Demidenko (Ukrainian-Australian) “The Hand That Signed the Paper”
Sherman Alexie (Native American) “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fightfight in Heaven”
Araki Yasusada (Japanese poet) “Doubled Flowering”
Arundhati Roy “The God of Small Things”
Richard Flanagan (Anglo-Australian) “Gould’s Book of Fish”
Kim Scott (Aboriginal-Australian) “Benang”
One of the most egregious hoaxes is not listed here: “The Education of Little Tree” by Asa Earl Carter, a white Supremacist with Nazi affiliations who wrote a stereotypical novel about an NA boy, a story that people love.
This paper that I'm referring to is a “clean” discussion, dealing with the texts and how they are read rather than delving into the characters of the writers. Neither does it consider the cynical political and marketing motives of the publishing fates of the individual books, though they note that ethnic autobiography is “highly valued for its exotic appeal” and for “the status it confers on the consumer as an enlightened, sympathetic, and politically correct individual.” That’s the real difference between a hoax and a revelation of an Other life — the reflection on the reader’s pride and their appetite for titillation.
These analysts assert the idea that “a fictional autobiography inevitably exposes the rhetorical nature of all autobiography.” K.K. Ruthven argues “authenticity is simply a rhetorical ‘effect’, supplying 'the spectre of authenticity'.” Pretending a text was a letter is one device of authenticating, or that a hidden manuscript unearthed after the death of the author is another. So far as I know, none has been presented as screams forced out of a captive by a torturer, but that would be fitting for our times of suffering and lies. The more sex and violence are presented as evidence of reality, the more they are accepted. Up to a tipping point.
So far, our current political scandals have reached that tipping point for the majority of people, but we’re told that about one-third of voting citizens still do not believe they have been hoaxed by the president. The irony is that the chief generator of those lies seems to believe them himself.
Irony is the most slippery part of this discussion. Saying the opposite of what is true in order to ACCUSE the truth of domination is to risk the dominator crushing the truth-teller. Only if the readers can recognize what is being shown in shadow form, a metonymy of reversal, is the narrative fulfilled. Many people today cannot tell what is true, even on a conditional basis. The video cameras lie even more convincingly in that first-hand recounting, even more vividly than one’s own experience. But there’s a kind of fascination in that hallucinatory shifting of perception. It’s how brains work.
More to come.
More to come.