I was very impressed with the article. First, it treated magic like a worthwhile creative pursuit for adults, and then it clearly articulated what I think is a real divide in contemporary magic.
I was also very, very impressed by the insider/outsider balance that Gopnik was able to strike. He knows enough not to sound like an ass to those who are in magic, but is also far enough away from it to see it clearly.
Some of my favorite passages:
Just as chefs know that recipes are of little value in themselves, magicians know that learning the method is only the beginning of doing the trick. What they call 'the real work' isn't the method, which anyone can learn from a book (and, anyway, all decent magicians know roughly how most tricks are done), but the whole of the handling and timing and theatrics of the effect, which are passed along from magician to magician and from generation to generation. The real work is the complete activity, the accumulated practice, the total summing up of tradition and ideas. The real work is what makes a magic effect magical
Talking about the Joshua Tree after MNM:
The few civilians who do come around as often as not have no idea of the quality of what they're seeing--the magician's eternal plight being that of a Yo-Yo Ma who, after he plays, has people come up onstage and tell him that they know how he does it, he scrapes that bow thing across the strings, and, anyway, they have an uncle who used to play the cello a little, has he ever met him? Most cellists, in those circumstances, would do what most magicians do--nod politely and say yes, I bet your uncle was a real music lover, and retreat into beer and diffidence. Perhaps one cellist in a generation would say say no, scraping a bow against a string has nothing to do with making music, you don't know how it's done, and your uncle was no more a cellist than a man with a stereo is a conductor.
Jamy Ian Swiss is that cellist
On the story of Vernon seeking out Kennedy and the center deal:
The deeper meaning of the myth, though, is that the magician is one of the few true artists left on earth, for whom the mastery of technique means more than anything that might be gained by it. He center-deals but makes no money -- doesn't even win prestige points -- because nobody knows he's doing it
quoting Teller on the Germain Vase:
You know the funny thing about that? A friend and I did the Germain flowers last year. We put the music on, the right music at the right time, slightly off speed, and we prepped the illusion properly, you know, had the buds set right so that they would open when you fanned them -- the fanning is part of the piece -- and we watched it emerge. This lovely music was playing and we just wept at the beauty of it -- tears streamed down our cheeks at the lovely apparition of it. That was magic.
On a conversation between JIS and David Blaine:
...Swiss mentioned a young student of his who had been hanging around with Blaine as well.
'I'm trying to get him to see some of the--some of the deeper psychological things, not just tricks," Blaine said, in his Brando mumble.
'I don't think I'm showing him tricks,' Swiss said.
'Not tricks, man. I mean--you know, techniques. Showing him something deeper than techniques.'
'I'm not showing him tricks,' Swiss repeated, quietly.
Blaine changed the subject
...David Blaine is absolutely sincere in his belief that the way forward for a young magician lies not in mastering the tricks but in mastering the mind of the modern age, with its relentless appetite for speed and for the sensational-dressed-as-the-real. And I thought I sensed in Swiss the urge to say what all of us would like to say--that traditions are not just encumbrances, that a novel is not news, that an essay is different from an Internet rant, that techniques are the probity and ethics of magic, the real work. The crafts that we have mastered are, in part, the tricks that we have learned, and though we know how much knowledge the tricks enfold, still, tricks is what they are. If felt for Jamy, and for us, and for the boy caught between.