Michael [ watching Rita walk on water ]: “ Is that your trick , G . O . B .?” G . O . B .: “ No , Michael , that ’ s not my trick . It ’ s my ILLUSION !”
- Arrested Development , Season 3 , Episode 6 1 https :// youtu . be / hk6EAfo2eyQ
In his book on Indian street magic , Net of Magic , magician and religious studies professor Lee Siegel relates the following conversation :
“ I ’ m writing a book on magic ,” I explain , and I ’ m asked , “ Real magic ?” By real magic people mean miracles , thaumaturgical acts , and supernatural powers . “ No ,” I answer : “ Conjuring tricks , not real magic .” Real magic , in other words , refers to the magic that is not real , while that magic that is real , that can actually be done , is not real magic . ( Siegel , 1991 : 425 )
This article is not about “ real magic ,” but theatrical magic — magic “ that can actually be done .” ( So , think Copperfield or Blaine , not Prospero or Potter .) Theatrical magic ( henceforth simply ‘ magic ’) is one of the most popular forms of live entertainment of the last 200 years . Nevertheless , philosophers , art critics , and art historians have paid it scant attention . This is unfortunate , because magic is a rich and fascinating artform that deserves — and rewards — critical reflection .
I . What Magic Isn ’ t
I begin with two common misconceptions .
First , many people think that the goal of a magic performance is to fool the audience ( after all , magicians do magic tricks !). But this is only half right . There ’ s no question that many magicians — mainly amateurs — derive pleasure from fooling people ; and a magic trick that doesn ’ t fool you isn ’ t magical at all . But the point of magic is not trickery . As magician and magic theorist Darwin Ortiz writes : “ Magic is not simply about deceiving . It ’ s about creating an illusion , the illusion of impossibility ” ( 2006 : 15 ). 2 In this respect , then , trickery is just a means to an end .
45 https :// youtu . be / 4aVmlv2YVZ0
Second , there is a widely shared impression that magicians would like to convince us that they have supernatural abilities . Again , this is only half right . Some performers — usually , would-be psychics such as Uri Geller — fit this description ; and inasmuch as they profit by using “ magic ” to con their audiences , they deserve our scorn . But that a charlatan such as Geller knowledgeably deploys the magician ’ s tools does not make him a magician . A magi-
1 ) See https :// apps . npr . org / arrested-development / joke- 41 . html . 2 ) Note that I think Ortiz really should have said : “ Magic is not at all about deceiving .” And that magic ’ s not about deceiving is compatible with James Randi ’ s reminder that it shows that even the smartest among us can ( easily ) be fooled .