COOL CLASSES: “Introduction to Magical Realism”

Associate Professor Ariana Huberman’s class class offers is a unique deep dive into the history and central characteristics of magical realism and explores texts, artworks, and films that resonate with it.

Class name: “Introduction to Magical Realism”

Taught by: Associate Professor of Spanish and Coordinator of Latin American and Iberian Studies Ariana Huberman

Says Huberman about her class:
This course introduces the body of Latin American literature known as magical realism. Latin American authors rebelling against the realism of the ’20s and ’30s gave it a new meaning. Their innovative narrative techniques resulted in the literary boom of the ’60s and ’70s. It belongs to what is known in Latin America as “nueva narrativa.” 

Some of the style’s key aesthetic influences stem from Europe, including surrealism (inspired by the subconscious and the world of dreams), history, and ancient mythology. Latin American authors thread aspects of Criollo, Indigenous, and African traditions with European cultural elements in their works. The most significant leit motifs include folk beliefs, time and space warping, and the normalization of magic. Dreams, Indigenous, African, and Christian beliefs coexist with common sense. 

In this class, we introduce authors who are considered precursors of this literary style (Borges, Bombal, Quiroga). Then, we study texts by the most representative authors (García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes). The last section explores more contemporary texts, artwork, and films that resonate with magical realism. 

We also study central aspects of Latin American history that are central to understanding these materials, such as the Cuban Revolution and the lure of socialism as the answer to Latin American inequities, the long history of dictatorships and strongmen, and the shadow cast by U.S. foreign policy and corporations present in these texts. The course ends with a brief incursion into the global dimensions of magical realism (cosmopolitanism, post-colonialism).

Huberman on why she wanted to teach this class:
Magical realism had not been taught at Haverford since Professor Ramón García Castro retired years ago. When I went to his memorial service and listened to his students remember how much they loved his courses on this subject, I thought it was time to bring it back to our program. I knew students would appreciate it and that I would enjoy being able to teach the authors who made me fall in love with literature in the first place.

Huberman on what makes her class unique:
In some ways, this course is a traditional offering, and several of us have included texts from this body of literature in our courses, especially in advanced intermediate classes and other courses. What my class offers is a unique deep dive into the history and central characteristics of the literary style, its precursors and detractors, and also a peek into the world literature versions that were inspired by it. 

I am planning to teach more extensively about this in the 300-level version of this course, “Magical Realism, Latin America and the World,” next spring.