Monday, May 28, 2007

Magic Realism and a Dream of Death

Magic realism: an artistic genre in which magical elements appear in an otherwise realistic setting. In popular literature, it's most well-known and most pronounced in the novels of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez.

It's also one of the common comment of foreign literary critics about Philippine stories. One question which popped up in the workshop just past: why do Filipino authors emulate the magic realist style of Garcia-Marquez?

And the answer: they don't; it just so happens that the Philippine life is a rich source of magic realism in everyday life. Stay a week in Quiapo and you'll see it in the operative mode.

As if to reinforce this statement, I came upon the following account in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Just before the weekend, Makati deputy chief of police, Jovem Bocalbos, was murdered while moonlighting as a passenger van driver in Quezon City. (And that in itself is a mild form of magic realism, if you think about it.)

From the article:

Bocalbos’ widow, 35-year-old Maria Cristina, told the Inquirer that on the day her husband was killed, their 12-year old daughter had a bad dream.

“Napanaginipan niya na may nangyaring masama sa Daddy niya (She dreamt that something bad happened to her Daddy),” Maria Cristina told the Inquirer.

On Wednesday morning, her daughter Jill Christie dreamt of her father pleading for help.

“Nasa loob daw ng sasakyan ang Daddy niya tapos nakita lang niya na humihingi ng tulong doon sa side mirror (Her Daddy was inside a vehicle. She saw him in the side mirror pleading for help),” she said.

In the dream, the Bocalbos family were inside the Nissan Urvan Escapade vehicle waiting for Maria Cristina to return from a fastfood restaurant. Suddenly, someone opened the front passenger seat and attacked the police officer. Jill Christie looked in the vehicle’s side mirror and saw her father pleading for help.

The 12-year-old girl woke up with a start and told her mother about the dream.

Maria Cristina wanted to send a text message or call her husband to tell him about the dream and to warn him against going out that night to ferry passengers.

“Kaya lang hindi ko na nagawa. Inisip ko na wala lang siguro iyong panaginip ng anak ko. Tapos ito na nga ang nangyari (But I never got around to doing it. I thought nothing of my daughter’s dream, then this happened),” she said.

Dreams, premonitions, ominous signs, unheeded warnings, and belated recriminations. It's something that you expect to spring out of a Latin American novel. But it happens in real life in the Philippines.


  1. I like magical realism as a genre. I first encountered it "officially" at UP when I was a student, now I'm hooked, especially on Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's writings. I just finished his Memories of my Melancholy Whores.

    Maybe it's a way for me to keep in touch with my roots.

  2. Hi Dom.

    If these foreign literary critics know a bit about Philippine literature, they would not say that we emulate magic realism. Filiipino writers don't emulate magic realism, our writers already had elements of this before it became popular in the mainstream and became officially known as "magic realism."

    It's just that magic realism has become closely identified with Latin American literature, maybe because they have more writers and work published. And of course, they have Garcia-Marquez, who is one of my favorite novelists, as a popular example.

  3. Dreams serves as warnings.. and it is pretty much symbolic...

  4. amee is right. WE invented magic realism. the latinos just got recognized for it unfairly. nick joaquin and wilfrido nolledo were writing magic realist stories before vargas llosa and garcia marquez ever did

  5. Oh, no argument from me on that account. I was simply recalling the conversation at the workshop. That said, it's also that matter of perception that we have to deal with.