cian may claim , as part of a performance , that he has the ability to read minds or to make coins vanish ; however , he actually doesn ’ t expect , or want , his audience to believe this . In fact , it ’ s essential to his aesthetic aims that the audience not believe that such feats are possible . That ’ s because , as discussed below , active disbelief is integral to the experience of magic . 3
These misconceptions are troubling because they prevent us from taking magic seriously . After all , why invest in watching or thinking about mere trickery — especially if it wants you to “ believe in the impossible ?” As magician and essayist Jamy Ian Swiss notes , mere fooling is worse than dull , it ’ s aggravating ( 2002b : 4 – 5 ); and using trickery to promote belief in supernatural phenomena such as psychokinesis or ESP not only intellectually insults the audience , it ’ s also ethically loathesome ( Swiss , 2002a ). So , it ’ s very important to distinguish magic from both charlatanry and simple deception . Fine , but the question still remains : what is magic ?
II . What Magic Is
The basic condition for a successful magic performance is that an impossible event appears to happen . David Blaine closes his hand around the coin and — per impossibile !— it vanishes . So , we might say that magic is a form of theater that appears to present impossible events . 4 But this can ’ t be quite right . As mentioned above , to experience a performance as magical , you must also believe that what you are apparently witnessing is impossible . Otherwise , it will seem , at best , like a demonstration of an unusual ability . When true believers watch Geller ( pretend to ) bend spoons , they don ’ t experience it as magical ; instead , they marvel at his powers . And Geller doesn ’ t say he ’ s doing the impossible ; he says , “ I ’ m really doing it ; so , it ’ s possible .” By contrast , the magician says , “ This is impossible ,” and then — as far as the audience can tell — appears to do it anyway . For this reason , we should think of the impossibility of the event depicted by a magic performance as part of the content of the performance itself . 5 So , then , what is
3 ) I think these misconceptions persist in part because many magicians are themselves not fully clear about them . The unfortunate result is that their performances can be quite aesthetically confused — and confusing — just further fodder for those who would dismiss magic as childish , intellectually insulting , or both . 4 ) This deliberately echoes , but is importantly different from , Teller ’ s proposed definition : “ Magic is a form of theater that depicts impossible events as though they were really happening ” ( Stromberg , n . d .). For discussion , see Leddington ( 2016 : 255 ). 5 ) For further discussion of this point and the semantic views underlying it , see Leddington ( 2016 :
Ricki Jay - sleight-of-hand master
magic ? Magic is a form of theater that apparently presents impossible events as impossible . Here is how one of magic ’ s most brilliant performers , Teller of Penn & Teller , describes it :
[ Y ] ou experience magic as real and unreal at the same time . It ’ s a very , very odd form , compelling , uneasy , and rich in irony …. A romantic novel can make you cry . A horror movie can make you shiver . A symphony can carry you away on an emotional storm ; it can go straight to the heart or the feet . But magic goes straight to the brain ; its essence is intellectual . ( Stromberg , n . d .)
Inasmuch as magic apparently presents impossible events , we experience it as as real — and so , as possible ; but inasmuch as it apparently presents impossible events , we experience it as unreal . So , if , like much of Geller ’ s audience , you experience a performance as merely real , then you don ’ t experience it as magic . But still : how is it possible to experience something as “ real and unreal at the same time ?” This is the key to understanding the experience of magic — more on it below . First , a few comments .
If magic performances are experienced , in part , as unreal , then they must also be distinguished from overt feats of skill , endurance stunts , and so on . When sleight-of-hand master Ricky Jay announces and then performs an invisible bottom-deal as part of demonstration of card-cheating — this is not magic . When David Blaine stands on top of a 22-inch wide , 100-foot tall pillar for 35 hours — also not magic . These performances are impressive , but they are not magical , because they
255 – 6 ). don ’ t appear to present the impossible . Magic is not about pushing the limits of what can be done , but about apparently going beyond them altogether .
Moreover , if magic is experienced , in part , as real , then magic is not fiction . Fiction asks us to imagine or make-believe that something is happening . In watching magic , you shouldn ’ t have to imagine the impossible , because you should already ( apparently ) be presented with it ! 6 In other words , magic is not fiction , but illusion . Compare the following figures .
In Figure 1 , the lines look , and are , the same length . Nevertheless , you can imagine them being different lengths . But , in Figure 2 , you
6 ) See the discussion of suspension of disbelief in the next section .