David Alexander wrote: An academic with too much time on on her hands. She doesn't have a clue what the metaphor is.
The sad and absurdist thing is - a number of people will take this drivel seriously.
Perhaps Im a little more forgiving than my friend David, but I certainly share his frustration. I welcome the so-called interdisciplinary study
of magic and its culture (for lack of a better term) under the umbrella of a general philosophy that welcomes any work which meaningfully expands our knowledge and understanding of magic, even if the contribution is minor.
As noted in a review of Philip Butterworths Magic on the Early English Stage
the demands and protocols of academic writing require an author to provide, among other things, novel and extremely cogent synthesis and analysis of his subject matter, and for the lay reader, a peculiar sort of disconnect can occasionally (and perhaps unavoidably) result, with the causes ranging from rather chewy text to distinctions which are so fine that they lose their apparent relevance and/or ability to meaningfully inform.
So thats the almost universal downside to these types of books. But there are upsides, a significant one being the extensive source documentation that accompanies these works (i.e., appendices, notes/footnotes, bibliographies, etc.). For the student or researcher, such documentation is a veritable treasure trove, and nearly always with a book of any appreciable size or scope, even the most experienced and knowledgeable folks in our group will discover many previously unknown sources for future study/research. In our trade literature, it is extremely rare to find exhaustive (or nearly so) citation, the most notable exception being Eddie Dawes books (Dr. Dawes is the one who pioneered the consistent use of rigorous footnoting in magic histories and biographies, and we are doubly fortunate because, despite his extensive academic credentials and training as a scientist, he writes in a very charming and conversational and thus easy to read style without sacrificing in the slightest his high standards, critical thinking and careful attention to detail).
Other than the fact that these academic writers seem unable (or unwilling) to write as unpretentiously and engagingly as an Eddie Dawes (if he can do it, why cant they?), my biggest general criticism is that their occasionally painfully obvious ignorance of magic leads to some ridiculous assumptions, conclusions and analysis or as David bluntly wrote, pure and unadulterated [censored]. :D In some cases, this ignorance shows with appallingly sloppy research; in other cases, its the more forgivable circumstance where the writer simply doesnt have the benefit of the years of being steeped in the culture of magic and thus aware of its nuances and complexities. Ive yet to read one of these writers acknowledge the fact that the secretive nature of magic can make their research and analysis comparatively much more difficult there is simply no such thing as an adequate crash course for certain areas of magic. So theres this irony that these writers bring their analysis and expertise to bear on magic and oftentimes they seem blissfully unaware of how ill-prepared they are for such analysis, with the result that our culture of misdirection turns around and embarrassingly bites them in the ass and like any other magic layperson, they dont know it! Yet, an outsider can sometimes offer fresh thinking and analysis, but only if tempered with the humility that comes with awareness of such ignorance.
The quote kindly provided by Richard Hatch correctly observes that there has been, relatively speaking, a recent explosion of academic interest in staged magic. But these academics simply cannot dignify our art if they fail to approach magic with the same scruples that they espouse for their own disciplines.
So has anybody read either of these books?