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Magical Realisms and Speculative Literature (2023-)

The project on Magical Realisms highlights a genre for which both the community and the temporal are central elements: time is always essential in magical-realist texts – either by providing a clear historical reference, by using time travel or achronic narrative techniques transcending time-bound claims or through the sheer non-existence of the temporal.

Magical realisms function as a powerful tool in the configuration of cultural community-building by questioning both narrational and societal frameworks. Magical realisms, among other speculative genres (the fantastic, science fiction, utopia/dystopia, future writing and gothic fiction), have recently exploded into the realm of popular culture. In the Arabic-speaking world, research into these so-called “new genres” has been scarce, and they have even been labelled aberrant or outright banished from the modern Arabic cultural canon; to investigate them is all the more urgent, as they break up the bipartition between premodern and modern periods. These speculative genres challenge normative historical narratives and temporal hegemonies and defy the boundaries of (not just literary) realism viz. realities in order to push narratives towards the conditional: what could have been, what will have been and what could be.

Since the genre has not yet been studied as a whole in the Arabic-speaking world, the community of readers and writers that has formed around this movement still needs to be identified as such. It is clear, however, that facing up to the many varieties that have so far been identified, it is fitting to speak of Magical Realisms in the plural. Likewise, it seems evident that the large and complex Arabic language area permits study of the topics in a cross-border manner between different countries and contexts. Works are intertwined with the magical realism of Latin-America and other (not only postcolonial) regions to which they will be compared. Thirdly, instead of viewing the works of individual authors exclusively in the context of their national literatures, an approach by categories has been chosen: affect, popular culture/genre, materiality of the body. Here, forms of and reactions to violence seem to form a lead category or at least prominent markers, as is the use of magical realisms by minorities: both phenomena deserve closer investigation and unfold a sample study case within the project.

By bringing Arabic works into focus as a subject of research, the project does justice to the transcultural and transtemporal character of Magical Realisms and their affective, cultural and political connections in global literature.