Magical Realism Is Still Realism

Question: How do magic and fantasy help you arrive at realism?

Salman Rushdie:  The question is: "What does truth mean in fiction?" Because of course the first premise of fiction is that it’s not true, that the story does not record events that took place.  These people didn’t exist.  These things did not happen. And that’s the going in point of a novel. So the novel tells you flat out at the beginning that it’s untruthful. But then so what do we mean then by "truth in literature?" And clearly what we mean is human truth, not photographic, journalistic, recorded truth, but the truth we recognize as human beings. About how we are with each other, how we deal with each other, what are our strengths and our weaknesses, how we interact and what is the meaning of our lives?  I mean this is what we look at.  We don’t need to know that Anna Karenina really existed.  We need to know who she is, and what moves her, and what her story tells us about our own lives and about ourselves and that is the kind of truth that as readers we look for in literature. And now once you accept that stories are not true, once you start from that position, then you understand that a flying carpet and "Madam Bovary" are untrue in the same way, and as a result both of them are ways of arriving at the truth by the road of untruth, and so then they can both do it the same way.  I mean this is the first novel in which I have actually managed finally to include a flying carpet.  I really I've been wanting to do it for a long time and the immediate thing that I thought.  The moment you decide you’re going to have a rug that flies through the air is you must immediately ask yourself realistic questions about it.  What would that be like if you were standing on a carpet and it levitated?  Would it be difficult to keep your balance?  Would the carpet be rigid or would the movement of the air under the carpet make the carpet undulate?  If you flew very high, wouldn’t it get very cold?  How do you keep warm on a flying carpet?  And I think the moment you start asking yourself those kind of practical, real-world questions the flying carpet becomes believable.  It becomes a thing that might exist and if existed, it would function like this. But in the end what you’re looking for in this book, a fairy tale, a fable, an allegory, a fantasy is the same thing you’re looking for in kind of kitchen-sink realism.  You’re looking for people that you can believe in behaving in ways that you can recognize, and which tell you something.  Those behaviors tell you something about your own behavior and your own nature and about the life of the person next door to you as well, so human truth is what you’re looking for and you can get to that by many different roads.

Recorded November 12, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler

People tend to focus on the "magic" more than the "realism." But, like all fiction, fantasy arrives at truth via the road of untruth.

Being a father to a school-age girl makes men less sexist, study suggests

The findings are based on a phenomenon known as the "Mighty Girl Effect."

Pixabay
Culture & Religion
  • The study tracked the responses of more than 5,000 men over the course of a decade.
  • The results showed that men who lived with daughters were less likely to hold traditional views on gender relations and roles.
  • This effect seemed to be strongest as the daughters entered secondary-school age.
Keep reading Show less

‘A rare sight’: Astronaut snaps incredible photo of 5 spaceships

The photos were taken the same day as Russian cosmonauts investigated a mysterious hole discovered in one of the craft.

Alexander Gerst
Surprising Science
  • The spacecraft belong to Russia and two private American aerospace companies.
  • Six astronauts are currently aboard the International Space Station to conduct a variety of experiments.
  • On Monday, Russian cosmonauts conducted a spacewalk to investigate the nature and cause of a mysterious 2-millimeter-wide hole in a Russian spacecraft.
Keep reading Show less

Technology will kill the 9-to-5 work week, says Richard Branson

The billionaire entrepreneur predicts the rise of technology will soon force society to rethink the modern work week.

(Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
Technology & Innovation
  • Branson made the argument in a recent blog post published on the Virgin website.
  • The 40-hour work week stems from labor laws created in the early 20th century, and many have said this model is becoming increasingly obsolete.
  • The average American currently works 47 hours per week, on average.
Keep reading Show less