Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Guest » 11/02/07 07:57 PM

Originally posted by castawaydave:
Just mindlessly repeating a statistic I read elsewhere...
Learning can be much more than the process of acquiring an ability to mindlessly repeat or regurgitate data.

Postby Guest » 11/02/07 08:06 PM

Au contrere: rote memorization is where it's at!

Postby Kevin Connolly » 11/02/07 08:14 PM

Well, the Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc. should have been converted into parking lots by now. I think you generalization just doesn't have merit.
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Postby Guest » 11/02/07 08:21 PM

If someone did a DVD on magic history then maybe more would get interested. Ask the magic dealers what the percentage is of books to video sales. I don't know personally but I can guess they sell more videos.

I know that with myself I had to reach a level of maturity before I realized how important the history is.

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Postby Guest » 11/02/07 08:34 PM

Originally posted by Tony Brent:
If someone did a DVD on magic history then maybe ...
Wasn't there a TV show in two parts about the history of magic?

Postby Charles McCall » 11/02/07 08:38 PM

There are several introductory DVDs on magic history available. Try the PBS one titled "The Art of Magic," or the series, " Grand Illusions: The Story of Magic."
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Postby Guest » 11/02/07 09:26 PM

Hi Kevin (and Mr. Townsend)--I WILL try to remember and locate the source where I read that.

Of course, as book lovin' guys, it is hard for us to believe there are millions of people who don't read, have never read, some who maybe don't even know what a so-called "book" IS.

Needless to say, of course, I am a cynical jerk, and my bloviating is based not only on the obvious pea-brainedness, and further-colored by my worry that the world may, in fact be, going to Hell in a handbasket--BUT:
If we're trying to answer the question in Tustin's post, what I have said above would at least rate a slice on the pie-chart of explanations. It is not wacky fantasy crap. Crap, maybe, but crap within the realm of possibilities. You've GOT to at least give me THAT...(choke, cough...)

Now, instead of picking my nits, as delicious as it is, why not chime in on the original question?

[I love you guys. :D :whack: ]

Postby Guest » 11/02/07 09:43 PM

Originally posted by Magicam:

[b]What concepts or kinds of information would need to be communicated to prompt more performers to take a more active interest in magic history (or at least to appreciate that some knowledge of magic history is important), or to conclude that magic historians play a vital role in the health of our art?

... [/b]
... and somehow compete for attention with the floods of data readily available online and for free which offer the how to of the latest trendy tricks and classic books/videos ...

At a guess, aside from preaching to the choir it may require some accessibility and connection to what is happening in the world as experienced to be perceived as relevant.

All that and manage not to succumb to a Borgesian agenda where a fiction like Tlon accretes around agendas and winds up replacing the historical with the mythical. Seems almost fitting given the nature of our craft.

Postby Guest » 11/02/07 10:46 PM

Part of what califmagic originally posted:
... I have been in love with the history of magic since I was a teenager. I performed ... but it was the history that intrigued me. ... I hope that adds some value to the thread.
Thanks, Scott, it does indeed add value. In my experience, its rare for a teenager to be drawn sua sponte into magic history. Do you recall what triggered it? Why has magic history intrigued you? Just curious, if you have the time to elaborate.

Also (and this is a question for all, really), what do you think might be a good way to get young magicians interested in magic history?

David Alexander wrote, in part:
.... ... Studying history has made me a better performer.
David, thats an excellent point (when I sat down some time ago and made a list of reasons a performer should be a student of magic history, that was at the top).

Tony, alas, you may be right in this ADD/MTV age, but as Charles points out, there are those kinds of things available maybe they need more publicity?

castawaydave begged the following:
... Now, instead of picking my nits ... , why not chime in on the original question?
Yes! Please! (Although Im not in any position to scold off-topic or straying-from-the-point posts, cause Ive done it myself here too many times to count.) By the way, Dave, its not Tustin, its Mr. Tustin to you...

And JT, if one of your points is, make magic history relevant, I could not agree more. But the question is, how? I think David Alexander gave us a wonderful "how" idea. The rest of your post Im afraid I dont understand, my friend.


Postby Guest » 11/02/07 11:00 PM

Originally posted by Magicam:
...I think David Alexander gave us a wonderful "how" idea. The rest of your post ...
The "how" is dependent upon access to the "who" in our community. It's getting to the rest of the community which lacks both mentorship and a classical education which looks to be a serious challenge.

There is a separate problem of how to achieve relevance in an environment almost saturated with free online magic data.

Postby Guest » 11/02/07 11:00 PM

I think that if you profess to love our art form (or any artform), then surely - as a matter of 'completion' - you'd want to know about its history.

I think that some magicians get involved in magic for the initial 'I can fool the pants off you' thrill. They have no notion or desire to go further than that. They BUY (not learn/practice) an easy-to-technically-do trick...and they are off and running. Easy!! You CAN'T, however, do the same with ANY other major artform. E.g., You can't easily become a singer, dancer, actor, painter etc., etc...

So, sadly, magic attracts some fly-by-nights. And, in my humble opinion, fly-by-nights don't give a toss about what came before. Of course, not all magicians who don't care for the history are fly-by-nights, but I hope you see where I'm coming from.

Now, some magicians 'get their fill' of history if they subscribe to various magazines. In The Magic Circular, for example, there is always a history piece...

Now, I have written three memoirs/biogs of three good (but not 'major league') magic 'names.' All three sold well..but, I don't think many youngsters bought copies. Maybe these youngsters will be more interested as they get older. I think some will... I did!!

But, it's like doing lectures. When I lecture, I'd rather teach nuances, patter, presentation, the business etc., etc. But, for the most part, all I hear is, "We want more tricks!"

Shut up, Paul. You are rambling...

Paul Gordon

Postby Guest » 11/02/07 11:07 PM

I also think that, in addition to the study of technique as described by David Alexander, magic's rich history can provide inspiration to enrich performances in other ways. The rediscovery of long lost effects powered the performances of many great magicians, including Chung Ling Soo and Houdini. The history of magicians offers a wealth of material that can be woven into patter and presentation, as anyone who has seen Ricky Jay at work can attest (think of his invocation of Hofzinzer or his account of Dai Vernon and the center deal). Many magicians, like Harry Anderson, make effective use of gambling history in their presentations. And one need only think of the millions that David Copperfield has spent acquiring magic libraries, magician ephermera and antique equipment to realize that there must be some performance value to all that history.


Postby Guest » 11/02/07 11:20 PM

Clay,you could say I was a book worm/geek. I was reading US and World history even before I was a teenager. When I discovered magic and first read Milbourne Christopher's Illustrated History of Magic I was hooked. I am also an artist and the combination of those early posters and images of ducks and rabbits blended with history was irresistable. The appeal is still addictive. The fabulous early tole and brass props and fine woods. Black and white and sepia theatrical images are really powerful. Having said all this, the truth is, you cannot make the proverbial horse drink. The reading habits of youth today are dismal as Dave says. His story and the link to that article in the SFO news was depressing. I think similar admonishments are made of each generation. But this time it's pretty bad. We can only hope to preserve what there is and try to inpsire. This Genii Forum is an excellent tool and maybe it's the state of the art that youth will be led to it and be inpsired to the history of magic. I think it will take historians like you to carry that burden.

Postby neil.kelso » 11/03/07 03:58 AM

What an interesting discussion!

Being very interested in the history of the art, I'm only guessing, but I wonder whether some magicians steer clear of history because they can't see it's relevance to themselves or today's audiences?

Obviously inspiration can be drawn from anywhere, but perhaps it takes a little less investment to learn from people in similar situations to ourselves than those who lived and worked in different places in different times.

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Postby Guest » 11/03/07 09:02 AM

One of the other problems facing us is the idea of magic becoming common. When I was a kid if you wanted to be a magician you had to work at it. Magic books were no easily obtained. Books and tricks were bought at a brick and mortar store or through a catalog. Some magic titles were available at libraries, but not all titles were.

Back then you learned by self-study through books or individual tricks; by input from peers and older members of local clubs; and if extremely lucky, via a mentor...mentors varying in talent and experience.

Back then, getting an education in magic took time, effort, and to really advance, the development of social skills. To learn from others meant learning how to be courteous and respectful, how to interact well with others. The Internet has changed all that.

In the Internet Age much of that socialization process is no longer present. "Publishing" is cheap and easy, the motivation to publish is not making a contribution to the literature of the art, but to show how clever one is...think the thousands of awful YouTube videos of people who have no clue about what they're doing.

Study is too often replaced by watching a DVD and replicating what is seen, giving a marvelous monkey-see, monkey-so quality to much in magic today. (I actually knew one young mentalist who used several highly inappropriate lines from Bob Cassidy, not understanding that Bobs audiences were found in biker bars.)

Today, unfortunately, the curious will have an erroneous impression that all magic secrets are available on demandfor free with a few clicks of their mouse.

The Internet feeds the flighty curiosity of young people and reinforces the idea that old is bad and new is good. Paul Gordons experience lecturing, giving nuance, presentation, etc., being met by We want more tricks, is sadly typical as I understand it.

(As an aside, I will remember Pauls description of his lecture and make it a point to attend one whenever possible as thats the sort of lecture I think is most valuable and the least seen. Anyway, I digress)

The amateur is in this for self-entertainment, which is fine. For them magic is a pastime, a fun activity to take them away from the hum-drum of their day-to-day lives. Ive met amateurs who do little more than perform in front of a mirror for their own amusement. The study of history isnt for them, even though it would bring their hobby alive and give it relevance. They are dabblers.

Then theres ego. Unfortunately, a number of amateurs (and wannabe professionals) have a fantasy that they must be original and that they must invent everything they do. Without a clear study of magic history, they are doomed to endlessly reinvent the wheel and work far harder than they need to if they want to be original.

Some times that attitude is laughable. I once offered to teach a routine to a young wannabe pro and he turned me down saying he "wanted to work up his own routine." Apparently he thought something that had been used professionally for 40+ years (and had a fanstastic pedigree beyond that) was something he could ignore.

But back to the subject at hand - as far as I'm concerned, for a variety of reasons, the study of magics rich and varied history is a necessity if you want to be a well-rounded performer, if you want to call yourself educated in the craft.

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 09:14 AM

Ill describe what Powell did that impressed me. He removed a glove, apparently placed it in his hand, reached for his wand, tapped the hand with the glove with the tip of the wand and the glove was gone.

Pure technique. The placement of the glove into the hand was a fake with the glove retained in the hand and dropped into a servante as the wand was obtained. The vanish then ensued. Perfect and highly magical and certainly as good as any Oscar-winning actor's "modern" technique.

The old pros knew the primary secret of a good magical presentation: massive and unrelenting attention to detail. Powells vanish of the glove is a great example of reducing an effect to its bare minimum, both in effect and method. Today, with the aptly described ADD/MTV generation, everything must be done quickly. Get to the next thing before the audience gets bored.

Simply put, thats [censored], regardless of what the idiots who produce television today might say. It is the job of the performer to engage the audience, attract and command their attention and go from there. If you dont understand that, you dont belong on a stage.

Powells presentation, learned and appreciated by a study of history is one of the things that has made me a better performer.

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 09:42 AM

When "old" is proffered with presuppositions and "history" is tainted with condescension...

What can you expect from those who simply don't want that poisoned apple?

Have a look at this video clip on YouTube and maybe the discussion on the magic cafe here . If that's the way "history" is presented by some, maybe folks are just avoiding abuse?

By way of counter example consider those like Sol Stone who sometimes offer what's helpful to those who appear open to assistance yet who also keep their transactions positive and supportive in general - becoming a community resource who happens to also make the history available.

Postby George Olson » 11/03/07 12:43 PM

I must concur with everyone: to wit: relevance is history; history is irrelevant. The battle cry fans and opponents of the book: the deliberate dumbng down of america. By Charlotte Thomson Isberbyt

I dont want to come off as a nay sayer but with the egocentrisim pushed at all levels of Media, Government, and Education et al we reap what we have sowed.

The Washington Times had this review of the Book:
Deliberately dumb
"Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt's new book, ' the deliberate dumbing down of america' is without doubt one of the most important publishing events in the annals of American education in the last hundred years.
"John Dewey's 'School and Society,' published in 1899, set American education on its course to socialism. Rudolf Flesch's `Why Johnny Can't Read' published in 1955, informed American parents that there was something terribly wrong with the way the schools were teaching children to read ...
"But Iserbyt has done what no one else wanted or could do. She has put together the most formidable and practical compilation of documentation describing the well-planned 'deliberate dumbing down' of American children by their education system.'" Samuel L. Blumenfeld, writing on "Deliberately dumbing us down," Dec. 2 on World Net Daily at worldnetdaily.com

My daughter is an Art Historian and she and I discuss the validity of history in a modern world and why it is necessary for the survival of the world.
Here is an example:
How many of us take Jon Rocherbaumers lead when he mentions a book hes just found in his musings. Its always a good read, amusing, distressing, probing, and entertaining. (And usually not directly related to the latest trick)
The never ending argument pro and con BOOK vs. Videos.
Your question is well asked, but I am afraid you preaching to the choir!
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Postby Guest » 11/03/07 12:45 PM

Watching Powell perform must have been a bit like seeing Alexander Herrmann perform. I'm envious.

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 12:56 PM

Originally posted by George Olson:
I must concur with everyone: to wit: relevance is history; history is irrelevant. ... I am afraid you preaching to the choir!
George, how do you think folks here would take to Bruce Stirling's suggestion that the notion of a "future" , relatable in the same way as our shared past, may also be on shaky ground?

Dumbing down? What do we say when when Hoffman and Lieber and Borges are not remembered and current explorers in the realm of fantasy including Pullman, Gaiman and Moore are unread?

Has semiotics become the study of "x for idiots" rather than how our best efforts to communicate with each other produce artifacts which reflect/encode our culture?

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 01:37 PM

Guys ... ?


Lord knows I share many of the laments posted herein, and the exchanges here have their interest and relevance, but do we have to fly at 30,000 feet to address these questions and related issues, or conversely study the deepest roots?

Threads take on their own lives, so I guess why should this one be any different? But I really was looking for more down-to-earth comments in response to the original post, such as Davids with his Im a better performer for studying the past masters comment.

Postby Kevin Connolly » 11/03/07 01:45 PM

Oh Well. [censored] Happens! :eek:

Maybe you'll get what you want in your duplicate thread. ;)
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Postby Guest » 11/03/07 02:09 PM

The Powers That Be deleted the duplicate thread.

Sorry for being such a scrooge, all, but there is some time sensitivity to my questions. Anyway, it's like Kevin says with his first point, and so if kickin' and whinin' doesn't get me my way, might as well enjoy the ride! :cool:

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 02:27 PM

The basic problem was discussed in Swift's Battle of the books.

How, specifically do we expect to reach out to those discussed earlier and those who have little background in literature or history from which to draw?

Originally posted by Magicam:
...to appreciate that some knowledge of magic history is important), or to conclude that magic historians play a vital role in the health of our art?...
vital or even relevant to who? Who's the audience? The converted? The choir? Why would other folks care how much we know till they know how much we care (about them)?

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 03:02 PM

Originally posted by Eric Fry:
Watching Powell perform must have been a bit like seeing Alexander Herrmann perform. I'm envious.
Fortunately, I'm not that old, althought I did spend an afternoon with Edwin Brush who saw Herrmann twice when Brush was 17. That was exciting to hear him describe what he saw.

I saw Powell perform in a clip in, I believe, the SAM Film Library some years back.

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 03:04 PM

I would point out to my friend Clay that indifference to history is not solely the province of amateur magic. The general population of the US is pathetically devoid of any knowledge of history. One survey of high school seniors put a high percentage of them thinking and FDR was President during the Vietnam War.

Many of them know what is current in pop culture and little else before they were 10 years old.

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 03:17 PM

Magic historians are highly valuable to the craft. Eddie Dawes immediately springs to mind as one of our treasures. His books are a wonder. I've read and re-read his books on Stanley Collins and Charles Bertram several times, enjoying them with each new visit.

It is interesting to contract and compare success in other fields. Often you'll find the guiding principles are the same.

I was just watching the BBC program, "Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares" where Gordon does his best to rehabilitate a failing restaurant. Sometimes he succeeds and sometimes he doesn't. His solution to the food problem is always the same: fresh and simple. The dishes may vary from restaurant to restaurant, but the basic approach - fresh and simple - never varies...and, when his advice is followed, the restaurants are successful. When they lapse into overly complicated dishes, they fail.

The same is true in our odd little craft. Keep the effects and the methods simple and the presentations fresh and you have a winning combination.

As a current example - Harry Lorayne talks on another thread about his Pecking Bird routine that he was doing in the late 1940s. Harry perfected his presentation through many hundreds of performances. He got every bit of entertainment out of it that he could. Once perfected he used it all the time. No need to continuously hunt for something "better."

This is the attitude of the pro who develops a repetoire of material that works. He then markets his entertainment services with that material and makes money.

The amateur is always looking for "better" and never spends enough time perfecting a routine because he thinks there's always "better" down the road or around the corner.

It takes far more work to do what Harry did, but you end up with far better and commercial material. Take a lesson from Harry and do likewise.

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 03:28 PM


This is a very interesting and important issue not only for the importance about the History of magic but for the importance in the history of all different genre's.

It is my opinion that history is important... but only to an extant. Depending on where we'd like to go, we must first analyze what resources are needed in order to get to where we'd like to be. I.e., if I'm looking for a way to improve how I control a card to the top, I will do research (i.e.: "Card College") for that particular move. However, it would be time consuming and impractical for me to read the whole "Card College" series just for the sake of knowing.

My point is, people say "Knowledge is Power," but I say to you it isn't. Only APPLIED knwoledge is power. If we know we're not going to use something productively, why study it? I will bet, that all of us in this forum do not remember 70-80% of we've learned in school. Why? Because it does not contribute to our objectives. To passively study something for the sake of studying is truly wasting time when we can be focusing or actually taking action towards something that contributes to our purpose.

Lastly, there is one exception to this rule! If you truly enjoy studying history for pleasure during your off time, then why not? I am a teacher, but I have a passion and interest for magic, so why not practice and perform it during my off time!

But again, as far as history always being important, it's not always important especially when you don't have a passion for it or just simply don't NEED it.

Take good care everyone.

Anthony R.

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 04:08 PM

To David Alexander: I had overlooked you said you saw a FILM of Powell. Still, even a film like that is a fascinating window on yesteryear. What would we give for Herrmann to have lived 20-30 more years and been filmed?

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 04:33 PM

Originally posted by AnthonyR:
... If we know we're not going to use something productively, why study it?
The younger you are, the less you know what knowledge you will and won't use.

And "young" is a state of mind.

Postby Michael Pascoe » 11/03/07 05:21 PM

Todays youth are interested in speed. How fast can they learn the latest trick so they can buy the next trick that is hot. They dont slow down and learn everything about the art. I hate when a kid buys the latest trick, but I cant get them to buy a book that will teach them all of the basics that they need to know. They try to impress me with all of the latest flourishes. That may be cool looking, but you need your foundation.

The same applies to history. They dont want to take the time to learn about the greats from the past. They cant take the time because unless it isnt Chriss Angel, they can care less. They buy all of the t-shirts and playing cards with his face on it, but they wont take the time to learn about Robert-Houdin or Alexander Hermann.

I think there is a general population that likes to read. Book stores are packed even with the computer age. I am working on a novel that will romanticize the great magicians from our profession starting with John Henry Anderson all the up to Blackstone Sr.

Also, another problem is some of the books that are coming out on the subject are raw data that most people dont want to go through. When we were kids, we read books by William Lindsay Gresham, Melbourne Christopher, and Walter Gibson. Writers that knew how to tell a story.

Thats the void I want to fill. I think there still a need and a demand for it. That is, if one makes a demand for it.
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Postby Guest » 11/03/07 05:55 PM


Postby Guest » 11/03/07 05:56 PM

Good point to all of you in here that have said that "the young still don't know what they have to know." This is very true and that is another obvious exception to the need of acquiring knowledge.

However, when a child grows and matures into their early 20's and on, there will come more times in everyone's life when it's most appropriate to use only what is useful and discard what is useless.

Take good care.

Anthony R.

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 07:17 PM

Anthony R wrote, "...APPLIED knowledge is power." Well put.
I've heard Anthony (Tony) Robbins say: "Knowledge is POTENTIAL power". Coincidence?...

I can't say I have ALWAYS loved history, but I come from a strangely bookish family and circle of friends, and was certainly exposed to enough good stuff to spark my interest, rather than being completely turned off at an early age.

I really don't understand how someone could NOT be at least a little interested in or curious about SOME facet of history. --Think of the infinite endlessly fascinating topics.

I believe one sure reason I HAVE "been into" magic (for 30 years) is exactly BECAUSE of its interesting and amazing history.

Who doesn't like, once they've been exposed to them, the stories of Alexander the Man Who Knows, Kellar, Robert Houdin, the Egyptian Hall, The Great Wizard of the North, Chung Ling Soo, the posters, the tales, the ingenuity, Malini, the Professor, Jarrow, Scarne, the Jinx, the Phoenix? Dedi?...anyone? Buehler?

Or if you don't want to strain yourself by going too far back, maybe a little more recent history: Garcia, Goshman, Slydini, Fechter, Dingle, Sheridan, "Cards as Weapons", The Hedonists, The Left-Handed League, Harry Lorayne, and on and on.

I know, I'm babbling to the converted again, but how DO you explain someone who has no interest in anything? Their brain's just a big slab o' inert meat. No spark, just a big dead lump. Not to mention the fat and gristle...

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 07:32 PM

There are two more questions, beyond that of literacy, which bear upon this discussion of how to proffer the past to those who have enough trouble accepting the present.

In order of utility, the first might be phrased as: How do we manage to avoid using our skills to create a falsified literature? Consider how the historian's past is far less rich than we might like and part of the historians task is to offer a best guess for the reader. What limits can we set ourselves which serve our readers yet also permit us some dignity as historians? Are we ready to take on vetting as a general part of publication review?

The second question would be that of exposure. While a cogent and well documented/footnoted discussion of how a trick or method has come to us , it also pretty much lays bare the mechanics of guile and reveals the workshop and trickster behind the wonder worker the public has come to enjoy.

Between our footnotes and desire to be rewarding we may face a world where our texts quickly become public via the internet.

Okay, that said, here's the 30,000 foot exploration for those who enjoy such things:

We've pretty much separated into two camps on this; The faithful who already know to seek out wisdom from those who've decided to share - and on the other side of a wall we have the new kids on the block, the celebrated man in the street, the students of the school of hard knocks - AKA the great unwashed for whom there was much hand wringing over teaching literacy and deciding upon a course of appropriate literature back at the start of the industrial revolution. For them there is, borrowing a term from Orwell, the proletarian writing machine and the facile learning of skills along with a sense of "tradition" as established by the works used to indoctrinate them into their place in society. What then of the works they in turn produce. Do we want a two tiered literature? One could well argue against and cite Swift's Battle of the Books as direct example the recent explosion of "stupidity" books on the mass marked as evidence.

What to do with those who have not chortled over Swift's beautifulp phrased complaints or raised an eyebrow over the liberties of Carroll especially when compared to the educational theories of von Sacher-Masoch or the later activities in Anne Desclos' Story of O? The serious student will have no doubt considered the place of Alan Moore's Lost Girls as a solution to the problem based upon a psychological reframe into more adult territory. What to say to those who can't read Mary Shelly's novel as a laugh out loud comment about the manliness of her companions and the basic question of how to confront the creations of a less-than-attentive parent called "science". How do we recognize those who have not read Gaiman's The Books of Magic or explored the themes of Lovecraft's writings and lighter fare such as the old "what does it mean to be human" themes from the Kapec's R. U. R. through Philip K. Dick's oeuvre to Rudy Rucker's bopper stories?

Ah.. but onto the second concern of the day, that of the fundamental conflict between the scholarly and the dramatic. Umberto Eco offers ways of reconciling the crude with the rude to permit us to be at one in our historical agendas yet there may not be an easy answer to the basic question about what should be exposed to print, how it should sit in print and where the drama (effect) can become its own method using print medium.

Consider that some of Borges short stories used a literary playfulness regarding falsified sources. Just as Victor Hugo used this trick in enrolling the reader into his fictional world, a parallel to the real one set a century earlier, one is wont to apply our basic skills to create a Tlon, a fictional world which as rich or richer than our own in terms of documentation yet as spurious as the three versions of Judas proffered by a fictional author serving as knowing proxy for Borges. What then of our basic agendas as magicians, to create wonder where possible and home wherever it might take root?

This child of a classical musicologist, who was taught an an early age to seek out and work from primary sources where possible, has concerns for an art which may soon be having it's first Halloween and may need to learn to live with its ghosts as active members of the community.

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 08:54 PM

Hi Dave,

you should read my previous post and you will see that we are on the same page. =)

Take good care.

Anthony R.

Postby Guest » 11/03/07 10:00 PM

Clay, I would like to share a few thoughts on your question.....

I think I can count on one hand the number of real magic historians I have come across.

I do not necessarily assume that someone who is a collector is also a magic historian. We know that there are lots of collectors. But, just because someone has a large and impressive collection of photos related to Herrmann, for example, does not make them a historian. More likely, they are INVESTING in magic related collectibles. One very well known seller of magic antiquities once said that one should focus on buying the best most pristine items in your area of interest and that is what makes a collection impressive. I think it is this investor philosophy that makes many performers see the collector as not very important in the magic world.

I mention these comments because I see a difference between accumulating the most complete collection of an item and the collection and preservation of magic related historical information. Often I find that there is a rich knowledge in magic in the areas of showmanship, performance technique, routining and even ordering of tricks in a show, that a magician has used completely lost and of little interest to the collector. The 8 x 10 of those magicians, however, does survive and is a prized possession!

I have only made these points about historians and collectors because it seems to me that most younger magicians have not met a real magic historian. I think it is likely that they may have come across someone who is a collector and possibly mistaken them for a historian. What value is there for a young magician to see the large collection of Harry Houdini photos? What relevance is that to their performance?

So, I would not say that the younger generation of magicians has a low opinion or is indifferent to magic historians and magic history. More likely, they have had very little exposure to any REAL historians or history.

I also tend to agree with a number of the previous posts that suggest that an individual who just wants to PLAY with a few tricks would not see value in knowing magic history. But then again, why would we want to teach them anything anyway? If there comes a time where an individual is serious about our art, THEN a mentor with a knowledge of magic history would be a good thing. This group, I think, would NOT have a low opinion of magic history. I do, however, think it does require a certain maturity and an interest in some area of magic besides card tricks before magic history will appear relevant.

Postby Matthew Field » 11/04/07 05:04 AM

Originally posted by castawaydave:
Everything boils down to a bell curve: MOST people DON'T read.
Most people don't read, but including Racherbaumer skews the average much higher.

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Postby Matthew Field » 11/04/07 05:24 AM

OK. Seriously.

Most magicians do not care for or about magic history for the same reason they do not care about stagecraft. They are interested only in tricks. More and more tricks. I think Richard Kaufman and Stan Allen would concur regarding the desires of the readers of their magazines.

I edit The Magic Circular, which has quite a bit of history between its covers each month. But that magazine is aimed at professionals and an older readership who presumably have gotten over the often unquenchable intellectual thirst of the newcomer to our art.

But even among the readership of Magic Circle members I get people telling me that, (1) they don't want to read about magic theory ("Eugene Burger has some good tricks, but I can't read the rest of what he writes" is something I've heard more than once); (2) they won't read about magic history unless it's about someone really well known -- Houdini or Devant for example.

The reason for this is, I think, threefold. First, amateurs are showing new tricks to the same audience, so they've got to keep coming up with new things, semi-learned but really undeveloped, to show their friends and family; second, amateurs often don't thirst for anything more than, "Isn't he clever" comments -- they're not earning money or trying to establish a career; third, they may have not been properly tutored, so they do not realize the value either of magic history or stagecraft to their performance.

This is not an age thing, although younger people are still in the formative stages of their craft, and are more likely to be searching for the new effect which will transform them from a mediocre to a great magician. The answer is, of course, that it's not the trick, it's the magician. The way to become a better magician, other than practicing your craft, is to see what made the great magicians great (magic history) and discover how best to reach audiences effectively (stagecraft).

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Postby Guest » 11/04/07 08:51 AM

While I agree with Matt Field's observations, I think that there's also a far simpler reason.

Most people who take up any hobby/profession/activity, be it a performing art or not, simply want to do it. In general, they're not interested in how someone else, decades ago, used to do it. And that's just human nature.



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