Metamorphosis Exercise

Bottom part of plate LXXI. from Veranderingen der surinaemsche insekten, Amsterdam, Joannes Oosterwyk, 1719

Bottom part of plate LXXI. from Veranderingen der surinaemsche insekten, Amsterdam, Joannes Oosterwyk, 1719

Today in Writing Out of the Ordinary the class animatedly discussed Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” and Márquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” During the last twenty minutes of class, they participated in the following exercise that asks them to transform a character into another creature in the spirit of Gregor Samsa’s overnight transformation or à la the “fearful thunderclap” that “rent the sky in two and changed her into a spider”:

1. Outline the narrative of an extraordinary—think of “extraordinary” in terms of its literal meaning, “outside the normal course of events”— event (the time when . . . i.e. you broke your arm skiing, you shared an airport shuttle with the mayor, the woman sitting next to you in 16A threw up on the plane window during takeoff, etc.).
2. Now, pick a character that you’re willing to change.
3. Turn that character into another creature (ghost, sheep, centaur etc.) but allow the world to stay familiar. Rewrite it with that in mind. What changes? What can stay the same?
4. Now, reflect. Is there a way to get to something you couldn’t by making this change? Does it change what’s at stake in the piece? How did you attempt to keep the world realistic even when there was a fantastical creature in the scene?

I also emphasized that the realism in magical realism isn’t simply that the context of magical creature is realistic but that the magical creature is also depicted in a way that seems real to that world of the story. What’s realistic in a fictional space can be different than what’s realistic in our lives. Other thoughts I encouraged: How does one keep the narrative squarely in the world of magical realism and not drift into fantasy? How does one prevent the fantastical creature from being thought of as only allegory? We’ll continue to think about these things as the magical realism unit progresses.

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