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Clowning seriously: The political force of magic realism in postcolonial fiction from Australia and Canada

Baker, Suzanne Lynda (1997) Clowning seriously: The political force of magic realism in postcolonial fiction from Australia and Canada. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The primary objective of this thesis is to demonstrate that the discursive mode of magic realism can contribute to the political force of postcolonial texts. This is achieved through detailed readings of contemporary works of fiction, written in English, from Australia and Canada. While the term ‘magic realism’ has been in use for more than seventy years, in recent times it has gained increasing currency in the critical discourses of Western literature. Commonly associated with the literature of the Latin American region, with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude generally considered the paradigmatic example of literary magic realism, the term is now being applied to writing emerging from countries as diverse as Canada, Australia, Greece, and Norway. This thesis will argue that because of its inherent ambivalence and hybridity, the mode of magic realism represents a challenge to the authority of colonial discourses and hence its current popularity in the context of postcolonial writing.

This thesis works on two fronts. The first part examines the historical evolution of the concept of magic realism, from its origins in the art world to its appearance in the literatures of the Latin American region. Existing definitions of the term will be evaluated in order to delineate the most important characteristics of magic realist writing. By exploring the concept in this way, the thesis aims to demonstrate the relevance of the term for contemporary literary theory.

The second part of the thesis specifically addresses magic realism in the context of postcolonial writing from Canada and Australia. These nations have been chosen because of their similar postcolonial literary histories. This thesis represents the first extended study of magic realism in the context of postcolonial writing. The central claim of this thesis is that magic realism is an important politicising agent in that it challenges dominant and coercive ideologies and belief-systems at the same time as it challenges the conventions of the realist genre through which these ideologies are often perpetuated. It is argued here that the transgression of boundaries inherent in magic realism enables writers to move beyond the constrictions of commonly-accepted hierarchies. At the same time, however, by maintaining links with the discourse of realism, magic realism anchors the narrative to a ‘real’ world and thus creates a space where such hierarchies can be challenged and perhaps overturned. The thesis substantiates this claim by presenting readings of selected texts from the postcolonial settler cultures of Canada and Australia in which specific instances of magic realism add political force to the postcolonial themes and concerns which the texts explore. While magic realism has occupied a prominent position in Canadian literary theory for some time, this thesis is the first critical survey of magic realism in Australian fiction.

The special contribution which this thesis makes to postcolonial studies is its bringing together of Australian and Canadian texts to explore their use of magic realism in the context of postcolonial writing. Also, included as a part of this thesis is the first annotated critical bibliography of magic realism which, it is anticipated, will be of considerable value for other researchers in the field.

There is no doubt that we live in a world where rapid developments in technology and vast increases in scientific knowledge have meant that the limits of the ‘possible’ are constantly being challenged and redefined. This thesis will conclude by arguing that in spite of the fact that everyday ‘reality’ is becoming more and more ‘incredible’ as the borders of the possible and the impossible are subject to constant expansion and change, magic realism will continue to be an important and relevant discursive mode for exposing and critically challenging the ideologies behind the current status quo.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Longley, Kateryna
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