29 January 2009

Schulz and genre labels

Just some random musing for the moment:

I once had a discussion with someone about the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and how to describe the supernatural elements. He had described the movie as surreal, but I had insisted that it was more like magical realism. My argument was that surrealism tends to reflect the fractured logic and imagery of dreams, while magic realism involves incorporating fantastic elements as extensions of a realistic narrative. (Although, I'm not certain that's the best description of magic realism.)

This all came back to me while reading Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. I've got it tagged in my library as both weird fiction and surreal, but I'm wondering if it should be tagged as magical realism instead of or alongside weird fiction.

If one opts for a narrow definition of the weird tale or magic realism, it's obvious Schulz doesn't really count as either. That is, he's neither part of an early 20th Century set of authors publishing in Weird Tales magazine nor is he a Latin American (probably Caribbean) author publishing after 1960 or so.

I usually try to be more expansive with both of those labels. So, weird fiction is a category of fiction where the everyday existence is brought into contact with something decidedly uncanny, sometimes an entire strange reality. This intrusion into the normal is by its nature threatening, and so the pervasive mood is one of dread and uncannines. (So, for example, Lovecraft's stories feature entities whose very presence will drive a man insane.)

Magical realism, on the other hand, centers on a reality so rich in essence, that everyday existence finds unexpected fantastic outlets of expression. Those supernatural outbursts are not intrusions into so much as expressions of the everyday reality. (For example, the familial bond can cause a murdered son's blood to flow directly towards his family's home.)

But Schulz' stories sometimes seem to operate on both levels at the same time. There's certainly a surreal quality to be sure. And sometimes the supernatural seems to be an intrusion, quite threatening and uncanny. At other times, it appears to be a flowering of some normal though concealed aspect of the everyday.

Writing this out rather convinces me to give it both tags, since I think the world featured in his fictions is so permeable as to make percolations both into and out of the everyday through the fantastic sort of inevitable.

I don't know if this is particularly interesting to anybody else. I find the WF/MR distinction an interesting way to think about the way fantastic or supernatural elements are used in a story.

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