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Magical Realism in Global Literary and Cinematic Trauma Narratives

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Organizer: Eugene Arva

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By ordering traumatic memories into a narrative, each act of telling becomes an act of witnessing. The moral demand for representing trauma inevitably leads to the difficult choice of a medium of expression. Not a canonical genre limited to South-American and/or postcolonial literatures, magical realism has, by now, become a versatile, global mode of representation and one of the most effective artistic media (literary and cinematic) to recover the memory of extreme events. This seminar builds on fundamental elements of magical realism scholarship, trauma theory, and film studies in order to situate traumatic histories within a growingly complex field of reality representation.   Papers will rely primarily on Wendy B. Faris’s definition of magical realism as a poetics or mode of writing that “combines realism and the fantastic so that the marvellous seems to grow organically within the ordinary, blurring the distinction between them” (Ordinary Enchantments, 2004), and will establish connections to filmic narratives. By exacerbating the crisis of representation, magical realism paradoxically brings order to the chaos and randomness of traumatic memories; it undermines the ontological integrity of a realist text by including irrational elements, breaks the logic of subordination, and ultimately creates a new reality framework, which seems to favor the healing power of imagination.   The nine-member panel (including two PhD students and five senior scholars) will treat magical realism in literature and/or film as a storytelling technique uncannily well-suited to represent individual and historical traumata. Ghyath Alkinani’s presentation discusses fictional representations of the war in Iraq, with special emphasis on magical realism as a creative space to process traumatic events and undermine official history. Eugene Arva focuses on the ekphrastic relationship between text and film, as well as on the power of magical realism to convey the ineffable of the traumatic void. Fabrizio Cilento finds magical realist elements in films representing drug-trafficking and the Escobar-era in Colombia. Victoria Chevalier’s paper explores magical realist elements that narrate trauma in two literary works and in recent cinema. Gail Finney uses del Toro’s most recent film as an example of magical realism representing traumatic histories. Boutheina Khaldi analyzes the memoir of an Iraqi writer using magical realist writing techniques in order to convey the brutality of war. Rachael Mariboho discusses three magical realist films focusing on diverse traumatic experiences. Richard Perez takes on magic and trauma in Jamaica Kincaid, whose main character he reads as a decolonial embodiment of radical forms of freedom. Maria-Josee Mendez Troutman turns to several cinematic narratives that make use of magical realism in order to make sense of traumatic events and to provide help in the process of healing.

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