Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

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Joe Mckay
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Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby Joe Mckay » September 7th, 2020, 8:03 pm

One of the most influential things I have ever come across in magic is Harry Anderson discussing the nature of conceit and instantiation.

He discussed this on his Penguin Live lecture. But I also found some lecture notes where he wrote about it as well. He covered the exact same points, but it was nice to have it in writing.

He thinks magicians focus on tricks (the instantiation of the conceit), and ignore the conceit.

As such - the audience defines the conceit for the magician instead.

The most important part of the show - the conceit - gets defined by the audience. Think of it as the subtext to the show.

It is never good in art when the artist loses control of the central message of their show.

Harry feels that the conclusion as to what the conceit is - when defined by the audience - is never a good one.

The conceit that the audience attribute to the magician is always - "I know something you don't because I'm smarter than you."

Who wants to pay money to buy tickets for a show whose only purpose is to make the magician feel good about himself?

I have spent the past year working on my show.

I have managed to uncover a conceit that works for me.

I guess my question now is whether or not that conceit should be communicated or left unsaid?

One of my favourite films is The Dark Knight. I never got round to watching it until last year. As such I am still processing the philosophical impact of this amazing piece of art. It still feels fresh to me.

I have watched a number of videos about the film. As such, I have a good understanding of a lot of the subtext of the movie that I would otherwise have missed.

Subtext is almost another word for conceit when you think about it.

Anyway - people say the Dark Knight is a post 9/11 movie. There are certain scenes that make this parallel clear. What I found interesting though was in one of the scenes - where The Joker is being beaten up and interrogated - he admonishes Batman for starting with the head since that always makes the subject woozy for the rest of the interrogation.

It is a throwaway remark.

But some people think it is the line that explains the whole movie.

The idea is that The Joker used to work in Military Intelligence interrogating (and torturing) suspects after 9/11.

And this work eventually sent him mad. G.K Chesterton said that the mad man is the man who has lost everything, but his reason.

So, maybe it is the rest of us who are mad.

As such - The Joker tries to destroy the soul of Gotham city by using terrorism to make the city over-react in response such that they give up the very principles they are trying to defend in the name of defeating terrorism.

That is the dark Catch 22 at the heart of this movie. This is why the only way The Joker can win is by getting Batman to kill him. Batman has an unwritten rule that he will never directly kill somebody (or use a gun). It defines his moral compass.

I love the idea that the central idea of the film is buried away as a piece of throwaway dialogue. That The Joker was sent mad by his experiences torturing terrorists that it inspired him to become supremely rational in using terrorism to do the same thing to others as was done to him.

Now - sorry for the ramble - but this brings me back to my conceit for my magic show.

Does a conceit have more power when it is unspoken, but instead forms the driving force for all the decisions you make? Or is it better to come out and communicate it directly? The conceit the audience already attributes to most magic is a negative one. So, this is an important decision since we have to fight the danger that the audience falsely attributes an incorrect one to us.

I suspect it is better to bury it and leave it unspoken - yet still allow it to define the rest of your decisions. This seems to be the approach Harry Anderson took. He communicated his conceit in his character, dress, presentations and tricks.

But, he never came out and directly stated it. What was wonderful about his Penguin Live lecture - is that for an audience of magicians, he did get to state exactly what the conceit was behind each of his tricks since he was there to teach and not entertain.

I guess as well that The Dark Knight is more powerful for leaving its true conceit as a riddle for obsessives to work out. Even though most viewers may not figure it out entirely. They will see understand enough of it to have a good idea of roughly what the underlying message is.

I like the idea that the artist has a message he wants to come out and state. But instead he uses art to communicate it, since that gives the message more power.

For those who are touched enough to try and uncover it...

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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby Bob Farmer » September 8th, 2020, 8:11 am

Jerry Seinfeld defined magic as, "Here's a coin, now it's gone, you're an idiot" (YAI). To get around this, a bit, I always say I have no idea how this works, it just seems to happen. If you are as amazed as the audience at what happens, you can undercut the YAI problem.

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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby MagicbyAlfred » September 8th, 2020, 11:18 am

That's a good one, Bob. It is an issue that I have constantly grappled with. How not to come off as showing off at their expense. This has cost me a bit of money, but in the last few years, I have taken to doing effects that culminate with the giving of a gift or a prize to the spectator. Although in restaurant work, I have more than made up for it in tips. For example, for women, turning a coin into one of those little heart stones/gems, for men, turning a penny into a quarter, or a dollar (my own dollar) into a lottery ticket and giving it to them. Or sometimes, giving the spectator a lottery ticket or other prize when they have successfully "done the magic" (for example, in the Gemini Twins, Out of this World, Poker Player's Picnic, etc. or where they have successfully read my mind, or another spectator's mind). For kids, changing a coin or other object into candy is always a winner. For some spectators, amazement or astonishment is enough of a payoff in itself, but there are a significant number for whom that's not the case. Sometimes, I will announce ahead of time that they will win a prize, for example, a dollar, a nice new two dollar bill (people love those), or a lottery ticket, if they succeed in the particular "magical experiment" we are going to try. It's a built-in emotional hook and changes up the moment completely...

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Gordon Meyer
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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby Gordon Meyer » September 8th, 2020, 11:54 am

It would be useful if you cited which lecture notes you are referring to.

Joe Mckay
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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby Joe Mckay » September 8th, 2020, 12:38 pm

ITALY LECTURE NOTES - "IMPOSSIBLE OBJECTS"

They are very short. It is about 14 paragraphs in total spread over about 10 pages. But the information that is shared is superb.

I don't think they were ever for sale. I stumbled across them online. I guess I got lucky. It may even just be some notes that a spectator transcribed for their own use after attending the lecture.

I have uploaded the notes here.

https://filebin.net/6w5sxe4mmf7oomna/HARRY_ANDERSON_-_ITALY_-_LECTURE_NOTES.pdf?t=fd3gwfs0

I hope this is okay, since this doesn't seem to have ever been a commercial release. I am just trying to help share the best of Harry Anderson's magic theory now that he is sadly no longer here.

[EDIT] I just had another read of the notes and it definitely reads as some notes taken by an audience member. So since they were uploaded to the internet - I can only imagine there is no problem with sharing them around with you guys.

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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby Frank Yuen » September 8th, 2020, 6:12 pm

Reads to me like a transcription of the lecture.

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erdnasephile
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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby erdnasephile » September 8th, 2020, 8:02 pm

Frank Yuen wrote:Reads to me like a transcription of the lecture.


If that's the case, I wonder if it might be more appropriate to reach out to Harry's widow to ask permission before posting on the Internet?

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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby Joe Mckay » September 9th, 2020, 7:26 am

Okay - I have sent her a message on Facebook.

Joe Mckay
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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby Joe Mckay » September 9th, 2020, 7:31 am

Also - if anyone has an email address for her - could you please message me with it, so that I can follow up my request with an email (in case she does not log into Facebook very often).

I will give it a couple of days. If I get no response - then please could somebody send me her email address?

Thanks!

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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby Jack Shalom » September 9th, 2020, 8:45 am

I attended a lecture by Harry at TAOM in 2013 on the same topic. Most of what was in the notes above match my fairly indecipherable at this point notes.

But I see that I also have a note which says, "The audience can't lose. They can't be foolish. It's a little game with winners or losers. They can never be wrong." Then he tells a joke and the punch line is, "When she wins, everyone wins."

And, "There is no magic, only magicians."

And, to the point of how explicit to be, "We would rather get our conceits in the form of instantiations."

His most important advice was, "Get up early as you can, work as hard as you can, and get yourself two sitcoms."

And, "In the old days, magicians could heal, make the crops grow. What can magicians offer now that Apple cannot?"

And, "Everyone's life could be improved if they could do one great trick, joke, song, piano piece, and did it well."

Joe Mckay
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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby Joe Mckay » September 9th, 2020, 11:05 am

I got a response from Harry's widow, Elizabeth, on Facebook.

She granted me permission to share the notes I linked to with the rest of you.

She also thanked me for asking. She told me that intellectual property was an area that Harry was very passionate about. As such - I want to thank the poster who sent me away to seek permission.

It is only proper we respect Harry's wishes in a thread devoted to paying tribute to his wonderful thinking.

Joe Mckay
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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby Joe Mckay » September 9th, 2020, 11:21 am

Elizabeth clarified with me that these are actually lecture notes that Harry Anderson sold at his lectures.

So - my initial link to them was based on a confusion.

She is happy for the link to remain since she thinks this is a productive and useful thread for other magicians.

I just wanted to pass along the extra clarification.

Thanks, Elizabeth!

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erdnasephile
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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby erdnasephile » September 9th, 2020, 3:12 pm

Thanks for asking, Joe, and thanks to Elizabeth for granting permission.

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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby MagicbyAlfred » September 9th, 2020, 6:29 pm

Harry was such a splendid, entertaining magician! This is a wonderful performance. Notice the subtlety in the presentation in terms of how he solidly ingrains what he wants us to perceive and remember, thus beautifully setting up the conditions and framing the effect. By the way, does anyone know the name of this fantastic trick and/or its provenance, and whether it is in print or a marketed item?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrEYujjPOqY

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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby Joe Lyons » September 9th, 2020, 6:45 pm

MagicbyAlfred wrote:Harry was such a splendid, entertaining magician! This is a wonderful performance. Notice the subtlety in the presentation in terms of how he solidly ingrains what he wants us to perceive and remember, thus beautifully setting up the conditions and framing the effect. By the way, does anyone know the name of this fantastic trick and/or its provenance, and whether it is in print or a marketed item?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrEYujjPOqY

That's Jumbo Marked Cards from Mike Caveney's excellent book on Harry, Wise Guy.

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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby MagicbyAlfred » September 9th, 2020, 7:20 pm

Joe Lyons wrote:
MagicbyAlfred wrote:Harry was such a splendid, entertaining magician! This is a wonderful performance. Notice the subtlety in the presentation in terms of how he solidly ingrains what he wants us to perceive and remember, thus beautifully setting up the conditions and framing the effect. By the way, does anyone know the name of this fantastic trick and/or its provenance, and whether it is in print or a marketed item?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrEYujjPOqY

That's Jumbo Marked Cards from Mike Caveney's excellent book on Harry, Wise Guy.


Thank you, Joe! Looks like I'd better make a little space on my book shelf...

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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby Mac Stone » September 11th, 2020, 8:21 pm

Joe Mckay wrote:ITALY LECTURE NOTES - "IMPOSSIBLE OBJECTS"

They are very short. It is about 14 paragraphs in total spread over about 10 pages. But the information that is shared is superb.

I don't think they were ever for sale. I stumbled across them online. I guess I got lucky. It may even just be some notes that a spectator transcribed for their own use after attending the lecture.

I have uploaded the notes here.

https://filebin.net/6w5sxe4mmf7oomna/HARRY_ANDERSON_-_ITALY_-_LECTURE_NOTES.pdf?t=fd3gwfs0



This link doesn't seem to work for me.

Joe Mckay
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Re: Conceit & Instantiation in Magic - Harry Anderson

Postby Joe Mckay » September 11th, 2020, 9:19 pm

Strange - you can email me at joe_mckay@hotmail.com and I will send you it.

Same for anyone else reading this thread.


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