Perspective Shifts: From Agency into the Magic of Reality

Following on from my previous writing (as linked to the recent magic realism blog hop), I find myself delving deeper into the magic of the real world. Lynne Cantwell wrote a thought-provoking piece titled Urban fantasy and magic realism: a matter of agency, and it prompts me to reply here as a post (my attempts at a direct reply were thwarted by the convergence of hardware, systems, the forces that be — all in the moment).

Despite her advocation that ‘alternative realism is a better descriptive name for the genre, mainly because it takes the ‘taint’ of magic out of play’, she goes on to write that ‘the magic in magic realism is woven into the fabric of society’ where ‘no magical creature’ need intervene. She adds that ‘the crucial difference between urban fantasy and magic realism [is that] urban fantasy requires an agent to deliberately effect the magical change’.

It’s not my intention here to quibble at length over the differences in definitional stances; I intend to look into the magic woven into the fabric of society. It’s interesting to read another writer’s perspective that some external agency might be the cause of magic, in certain written forms. That the fantasy construct is dependent on the magic inherent in an object (such as a ring), or a creature, or a person, or a creature-person, suggests that ‘grafting on’ process I wrote about recently: an almost superfluous layer, an oil-slick on what we usually see.

Lynne goes on to write that ‘one of the conceits of urban fantasy is that the fantastic is happening right under our noses — it’s just that most of us either aren’t equipped to spot it, or are more than willing to explain it away.’ Cue the creatures with the higher powers, greater knowledge, wisdom, call it what you will?

I’m not altogether comfortable with the term ‘alternative realism’. I was comfortable with a description coined as ‘alternate poetic reality’, in depicting some of what I’ve written, so why not the former? Perhaps it amounts to the thinking that in the former there’s the suggestion that what is ‘real’ (i.e. real magic in our actual reality) is somewhat devalued; in the latter, in the alternate poetic reality, it is that our own perspectives of the thing we see (reality) shift, rather than the reality itself.

We aren’t usually equipped to spot the magic. Yet we don’t need external agency to be able to affect that change in perspective: we need only internal belief. Belief is, after all, all powerful. What we believe is true. This I know. This is the power of stories, of story-tellers, of myth and magic. There’s no way to believe these words here unless what they aspire to transmit is also felt in you, the reader, by personal experience. Go into the garden, or look out over the hills or the sea, or up at the clouds: what is that you feel?

In haiku it is that very sense of ‘now’, of almost absolute comprehension, of a ‘feel’ for what ‘is’ that is the essence to be captured. What is that essence if not the magic of the world? This is not something I can, or should, try to convince you of here: I would almost be external agent and that would be counter to my point. You should go out into the world that seeps around you and feel for yourself what is there: the flavours and the ripplings, the shifts in light and the different densities in gravities, all the ways your slice of the place we all live on ‘is’, not just could be.

Here, after a shortness of rain, the ghost of a cloud shreds in distant utter silence. It’s what I see and feel, and it’s the magic of the real: not tainted by the term but enhanced by it. It’s what I believe and what I know, here, now.

Real Magic and the Mythkeepers of the World

This world we live in has a different ‘shape’ to the ‘shape’ we often think it as. By this I mean that the world is arranged in ways other than what we think we know. We block out what we don’t see because we either do not understand it, can’t countenance it, or have been swamped by a modern veneer that is an oil on our sights and skins. What we block out is magic. By this I don’t mean the Harry Potter type of ‘magic’, or the stage illusionist’s ‘magic’: I mean real magic.

For millennia humans have been storytellers. We used to embrace the mythical, the lore of the folk, the poetry of epic tales: we saw real magic in the world. The world was a wondrous and sometimes confounding and frightening place. There were phenomena beyond our comprehensions in the spaces where we lived, in the cycles of the planet, in the lights above our heads. Our ancestors could only gaze in awe at what they saw; give praise to invisible forces that filled the gaps in their understanding; accept that much of what happened around them happened in some vast ineffable space and dimension, far bigger than their collective comprehension or ability to control it all.

In the modern world we live with an inflated view of our selves as omniscient beings. We live behind our screens which shield us from sensory interactions with the planet and the stars. We do not, or will not, or cannot see the real magic of the world.

Some writers have been and are continuing to address this. What we label ourselves as isn’t so important: what is important is that there is magic in the world and awareness of it should be shared. The ‘magic (or magical) realist’ writers (depending on your persuasion) fused the fantastical elements of possible other dimensions, for example, into this world we see here (Márquez, for instance, wrote as the ghost of a long-dead child in Someone Has Been Disarranging These Roses (1952), published in his collection Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories; painters such as Mark Rothko recognised the myths and archetypes of our primal selves and incorporated this thinking into his work; religious texts make reference to inter-dimensional beings as very real in this ordinary world (the jinn of the Quran, for example).

Writing magic into one’s work isn’t simply a grafting on of fantasy elements (the reader knows this isn’t ‘real’ but will go along with the flow of fantasy in this way instead). Fantasy serves its purposes but the magic of the real is an acceptance, knowledge, that what some might see as fantastical is an ordinary part of this world. In illusion and fantasy we can suspend our disbelief to create the self-delusion; in the magic of the real we see that other ‘shape’ and way of the place we live in, and on, as true — in all its ordinary extraordinariness.

In the artistic embracement of myth and archetypes, we understand that we are a part of what Jung called the ‘collective unconscious’: we are linked entities, not merely limited-dimensional beings, behind our modern screens. From this we might see how we’re writer-mythkeepers and that we can all connect, with shamanic clarity, to the truth of the stories we’ve always told: to the ghosts and gods and goddesses, to the mesmerising hybrid creatures of the sea, to the dream visitations and other wondrous logics of spaces we breathe in. We can see objects infused with powers and energies, and we can make some sense of the way things play out because they do not play out according to the logic of what we’ve been taught. In seeing the real magic of the world we can find comfort in amongst some vast cosmic realm that’s far bigger than our imaginations can conceive.

For those of us who choose to accept the role, it is our duty as mythkeepers to uphold the lore of the folk, to keep alive the stories of the magic of the world. If we lose our connections to this magic, real magic, we lose our connections to each other, to those who’ve come before us, to where we live, and to what’s above and beyond us.

This post is part of a ‘magic realism blog hop’. Please also visit the other blogs in this specific community (see below):

What is Magic Realism? (Zoe Brooks)
Night Logic (Kirsty Fox)
Dragon’s Breath (Karen Wyld)
Magic Realism or Fantasy (Zoe Brooks)
Flying High with Magic Realism (Leigh Podgorski)
Magical Realism and a Floating Life (Tad Crawford)
Urban Fantasy and Magic Realism: a Matter of Agency (Lynne Cantwell)
Serendipity — Down the Rabbit Hole (Rebecca Davies)
Facts and Fiction: Historical Magical Realism (Evie Woolmore)
Magical Realism Blog Hop — Giveaways! (Edie Ramer)
White is for Witching (Laura at Curated Bookshelves)
Magic Realism in Movies (Christine Locke)
Every Little Thing I Read is Magic (Susan Bishop Crispell)
Everyday Magic(al Realism) (Jordan Rosenfeld)
What The Masters of Magic Realism Say (Muriellerites)
Magic Realism Blog-Hop: The Moon and Cannavaria (Children’s Fairy Tale Short) (Eilis Phillips)
Some Brief Descriptions of Magic Realism Books (Zoe Brooks)
Extract from Company of Shadows (Zoe Brooks)
The Unknown Storyteller (Karen Wyld)
Interview with Leigh Podgorski, author of Desert Chimera (Evie Woolmore)
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (Zoe Brooks)
The Bagman (by Rachael Rippon) Review (Jeridel)
Timeless Voice (Karen Wyld)

The Shape of Settled Words

Words can settle. They’re sand and silt and then the hardened sedimentary layerings of the person, once, who wrote them.

Words often should be left to settle: all the immediacy of somesuch lack of grace leaves them, written into them as it can be. Here, the layerings are of tea strainings sitting out the winter, drying in the warmth and depths of the compostings. In the spring, or the spring after, when they’re good and forgotten, we may come across them. What’s left is the brittle crumblings that can be reassembled because there’s no immediacy of flavour to them.

I mix all my metaphors to find the shape of settled words.

Some words, of course, need no such settling: quite the opposite manner of formation takes place. Kerouac wrote never to drink outside your own home, or words quite like these; though out there in the world words of the very now can have the weight and ‘correctness’ of slight light alcoholic colouring. Some words feel immediately fine. These are rare but they happen.

On the whole though, I believe in the settling process. I sometimes come upon a piece lost in some depths and I don’t remember the me who wrote these fragile things. This is good. This takes me out of them and leaves them to their own breaths: I can crack the hardened silt and sedimentary layers of the person formed around them and I can find the truth or core of the piece within. Then I can reassemble them, if the will takes me.

The trick to it all though is knowing when to crack open forgotten pieces, when to know they’ve settled long enough: perhaps we know it’s time when chance takes us to their sand- and silt-filled rooms again.

I mix my metaphors to find the shape of settled words.