Magicland Disconnected, Magical Reconnect: Reflections on Film “Big Road” (Dalu, 1934) as Reverse Magic(al) Realism


Magical Memories and Magical realism: The Train Doesn’t Stop Here….But The Road Will, …eventually, if we can but Dream

Being “somewhere else”, in a sensorium that cannot or will not intersplice with the Grid of Modern Travel. It is this quite literal sense of existential spatial MARGINALITY that many or most writers in the Magical Realist mode invoke. A second universe is the magic habitat and its dreamers’ memory, but as in astronomy, it can’t really be seen or experienced from the PRIMARY universe ((“reality”), but neither can its denizens see or experience the “reality” of Universe 1.

The flashes of cross-connection are just that: flashes or intuitions that leave no hard evidence or trail. But they can embed in folklegend and monumental aura or even present-tense retrospects on a past cross-opening that is claimed problematically in handed down stories available to the real-time, realism-tilted writer/narrator.

One particular gate or fence that precipitates sensory isolation is a kind of through-a-peephole view of people or goods in transport, and of the armature that supports their movement in the machine age. Which links of course to urban modernity, even defines it. In the Chinese case (especially but not only in film) the in motu can be by truck, limo, longhaul steam-engine drawn train (Dushi fengguang) or steamship-docked harbor (Shanghai Triad), though the representation of these extensions of “Steam, Light, Power” (Midnight) can occur head-on, film-image becoming unquestioned reality for much of the narrative, and in no way preparing for inspection from the extra-historical “2nd universe” of magic.

History thus moves with or is leveraged to the extension and rationalization of travel and/or shipping of post-traditional commodities. Which thus helps define what it is NOT: in Magicland there is no such development; indeed the entrenchment of such causeways through (then above) settled space, because it bypasses or ignores populations on the topographical margin, only serves to make them more remote; meaning, in the self-consciousness of those who remain. As their identity is wiped away from the reassembled “map” of hinterland culture, as known or available to the New Builders, they (the Marginmen) perceive themselves as increasingly “outside” of history, self-contained within a set of legends and myths that are theirs alone, thus of course Magical to the outsider.

Yet this place is on a map of sorts because it has dream coordinates: one keeps coming back to it – or what FEELS like it – night after night

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