… if it meant you could see the full text of Adam Gopnik’s fascinating March 17 story in the New Yorker about the current state of stage magic. But only an abstract is available online.
Like a box of wonders, Gopnik’s piece manages to contain
- a history of illusions
- an analysis of how we experience magic as spectators
- an explanation of the essential “irony” of magic and the profound aesthetic implications of the Too Perfect theory (“Illusion affects us only when it is incomplete”)
- a tour of David Copperfield’s private magic warehouse
- an interesting argument about every era having both a leading “tradtionalist” magician and its “anti-magician” who wants to get to a wider audience as a kind of performance artist via TV or stunts (Houdini is the great example; David Blaine is today’s anti-magician)
- interviews with everyone from Jamy Ian Swiss (relatively unknown except among pros) to the famous, normally silent Teller (“Small and curly-haried, he looks like Harpo Marx released from his vow of silence and given tenure”)
- and, yes, even basic revelations of how tricks work.
Most big illusions, similarly, involve a remarkably limited, though resourcefully manipulated, arsenal of mirrors and lights [often metaphoric mirrors and lights — he means distractions and improbable angles from which to view an event]. We will ourselves both to overlook the obvious chicanery and to overrate the apparent obstacles. Or we imagine that an elaborate bit of trickery couldn’t be achieved by stupidly obvious means. People participate in their own illusions. That is why a magician’s technique must be invisible; if it became invisible, we would be insulted by its obviousness.
Can’t recommend it enough. A rarity, a profound essay about cheap tricks.