Magic is not only a cultural sphere consisting of compensatorily inclined individuals with inflated egos wallowing in arcane structures and symbols (I can hear you: "Look who's talking!", right?). Let's call that "Sphere 1". There is also another cultural sphere based on trickery, illusions and mentalism that goes by the same name: "Sphere 2". Sometimes they seem to co-exist.
The megavolume Magic 1400s-1950s, recently issued by Taschen, touches upon Sphere 2 and its related cultural impact. Amply illustrated, the book is also a mind blowing tour of classic advertising for magic shows and other alluring events. Flyers, posters, photos and reviews are superbly reproduced, and it's an absolute joy to flip through the 650 pages of this truly heavy volume.
It's in this image material and in the introduction to stage magic that Magic 1400s-1950s earns its merits. Textually, it draws many erroneous conclusions in comparing Sphere 1 and Sphere 2 far too superficially. Simplifications about how self-transforming techniques in essence are but stage magic tricks and nothing more sets a somewhat nincompoopish tone, but I'm sure this is unintentional.
Sphere 1 and Sphere 2 are essentially independent of each other. Always have been and always will be. But sometimes they overlap, for example when a stage magician actively imposes his or her will on an audience because that's the best environment and technique for that specific magical working. But it's certainly not a given that all magic is stage magic. Nor that stage magic is magical in essence. Far from it. Illusions are of course not the same as tangible existential changes.
But this beauty of a book is worth getting for its overabundance of examples of awe-inspiring commercial advertising and a jargon usually associated with P.T. Barnum and like minded circus/sideshow entrepreneurs. It's a huge chunk of romantic yearning for a time when people could still become goo-goo-eyed because what they saw simply couldn't be rationally interpreted. Where would we find a similar kind of experience today? Nowadays, the human mind is programmed to be immersed in clinical cynicism, and the result is of course a general nivellation that walks very well hand in hand with existential complacency. The WOW-factor is long gone, sawed in two by unbelieving rationalists.
Magic 1400s-1950s is a weird and revealing excursion into the relationship between the tricksters and the tricked. And, as such, a beautiful exposé of a symbiosis that has permeated mankind since the birth of the first stage magician ever, and his well needed counterpart: the wide eyed "rube". A question here comes to mind: Where's the fun in everyone being equal and equally void of emotion? Perhaps better to believe in an illusion that to believe in nothing at all?
[Magic 1400s-1950s, edited by Noel Daniel. Taschen 2013. Written contributions by Jim Caveney, Jim Steinmeyer, Ricky Jay]
All material on this blog is copyright © Carl Abrahamsson, unless otherwise stated.
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