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Topic: Robert Houdin quote
Message: Posted by: lumberjohn (Jan 5, 2009 11:16AM)
Houdin is often quoted as saying "a magician is an actor playing the part of a magician." This quote was recently featured prominently in Joshua Jay's "Magic, the Complete Course" without much elaboration. In fact, I've seen it many times in magic literature, but usually in contexts in which it made no sense to me, as if those that included the quote had no real sense of the thought it was intended to convey. Perhaps it is I that have been getting it wrong.

I've always felt the quote lost something in translation and would make its point better if reworded as "a magician is an actor playing the part of someone who can actually suspend the laws of nature and perform miracles." I've always felt the intended lesson of this quote was that performing magic is about far more than doing tricks. One must think as an actor researching a part and take into account the motivation, mannerisms, style, etc. of someone who could actually do what you are representing to be able to do. That person would not be you. Houdin was saying that there is always something theatrical to every magic effect and to ignore this robs the effect of its power.

Am I the only one with this interpretation of the quote? Clearly, there are others who feel differently. What do you take from the quote?
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Jan 17, 2009 12:00AM)
First of all, the quote is taken completely out of context. Most magicians have NEVER read the quote in its entirety.

In one of the early threads in my old "column" in the Buffet -- From the Wizard's Cave, I wrote the following:

[quote]
"A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician." -- Jean Eugčne Robert-Houdin.

I know that everyone on this forum has read this quote somewhere, and possibly even quoted it to some other magician. But what is the context of the quote, and what did Robert-Houdin actually mean by it?

I think it is necessary to put the Robert-Houdin quote into its full context, because many of us are prone to quote it without understanding why it was said.

The quote is on page 43 of the Routledge edition of Secrets of Conjuring and Magic in a chapter titled "Escamotage, Prestidigitation."

He explains the meanings of the two words, then he states: "A conjuror is not a juggler; he is an actor playing the part of a magician; an artist whose fingers have more need to move with deftness than with speed. I may even add that where sleight-of-hand is involved, the quiter the movement of the performer, the more readily will the spectators be deceived."

Ironically, Hoffmann added this footnote at the end of the chapter -- "The present chapter being a disquisition of the precise signification of a couple of French terms, will have but little interest for the ordinary English reader. It would, however, have been an unjustifiable mutilation of the text to have omitted it."

Why is this ironic? Well, there are several reasons. One is that it is probably the only quote from this book that almost every English-speaking magician is aware of in any form at all. Most of us have no idea where it comes from or its context, just that Robert-Houdin said it. In fact, I must admit that I had never read it in its full context until I purchased a copy of the book from Andy Greget at the TAOM Convention last year.

And we have added a lot of meaning to the original text that may or may not have been intended by Robert-Houdin in the first place.

But were we wrong to do this?

NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Sometimes a tiny fragment of a book will assume a life greater than the book itself. And a whole new approach to an art form will appear because something was gained from an out of context quote.

Thanks to magicalaurie for starting the thread that inspired me to put this up.
[/quote]
Message: Posted by: Daveandrews (Jan 17, 2009 04:16PM)
Bill, many thanks for that. Oh, how true it is.

Dave
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Jan 18, 2009 02:26AM)
I stumbled across this entirely by accident. I had just got hold of a copy of [i]Secrets of Conjuring and Magic[/i], and was reading through it, when I came upon that chapter.

It was only a few pages. As I read it, I realized that I had no real understanding of what Robert-Houdin meant by that statement, because I had no idea why he wrote it. As it turns out, the original meaning was far simpler than most of us tend to apply to it. But our interpretation of it actually is important. It makes us better magicians if we understand this quote on both levels.



Regarding "Houdin," see the following: (fifth post down)
http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/viewtopic.php?topic=127345&forum=171&5
and
http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/search_post.php?topic=254152&forum=134&post=5538192
and
http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/search_post.php?topic=170858&forum=135&post=4651034

This may sound silly to you, but I think that knowing this is very important.
Message: Posted by: Lawrence O (Jan 18, 2009 03:59AM)
English!

Let's face it: English is an odd language.
There is no egg in an eggplant
No ham in hamburgers
And neither pine nor apple in a pineapple.
A guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
French fries are claimed by the Belgians, not the French.
And boxing rings are definitely square.

If lawyers can be disbarred and clergymen defrocked,
shouldn't it follow that electricians may be delighted,
musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed,
and dry cleaners depressed?
Now if writers write, how come fingers don't fing.
Since the plural of tooth is teeth
Shouldn't the plural of phone booth be phone beeth
And in the same way, that, during my youth, teachers taught,
Why didn't the preacher praught.

Most people take English for granted
But if we examine its paradoxes we find that
Quicksand takes us down slowly
And when stating that four men out of five suffer from headaches,
It doesn’t imply that the fifth one enjoys it.
Knowing that a vegetarian eats vegetables
doesn’t tell what a humanitarian eats!?
Could someone explain why people do recite at a play
And yet play at a recital.
Or why Americans park on driveways
And drive on parkways
Or how can the weather be as hot as hell on one day,
And as cold as hell on another one

Shouldn’t we wonder at the unique lunacy
Of a language where a house can burn up
As it burns down.
And in which I’m suppose to fill in a form
… by filling it out.
And a bell is only heard once it goes!

English was invented by people, not computers
And it betrays the ambiguities of this human race
(which of course isn't a race at all)
where a person who plays the piano is called a pianist
but a person who drives a racecar is not called a racist?
That is why when the stars are out, they are visible
But when the lights are out, they are invisible
So why is it that when I wind up my watch
It starts
But when I wind up this kind of fantasy
It ends.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Jan 19, 2009 12:36AM)
Good to see you back here again. I missed you.

Here is a funny story about "racists."

I don't know if you know Ralph MarcoM, the magician and doctor from Honey Grove, Texas, and former columnist for the Linking Ring. He and I were working at Scarborough Faire, near Waxahachie, Texas, about 5 miles from the Texas Motorway in Ennis, Texas.

As he was checking in to the motel one night, he asked the owner of the motel how things were going. The owner replied, "We had a very strange week. Had a bunch of them racists up here. Place was full of racists."

MarcoM asked "Ku Klux Klan?"

"Nope."

MarcoM was puzzled. "Black Panthers?"

"Nope."

"What kind of racists were they?"

"You know -- from that Motorway down the highway from here."

The poor man was serious. Can you imagine how the news must have sounded to him?
Message: Posted by: JRob (Jan 19, 2009 01:01AM)
On a related note I remember reading how an English monarch touring St. Paul's Cathedral upon its completion described it as "artificial and awful". Then the person relating this (possibly apochryphal) story reminded the reader that back then those words were understood as we understand "artistic and awesome"
Message: Posted by: spatlind (Feb 7, 2009 11:50AM)
[quote]
On 2009-01-18 04:59, Lawrence O wrote:
English!

Let's face it: English is an odd language.
There is no egg in an eggplant
No ham in hamburgers
And neither pine nor apple in a pineapple.
A guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
French fries are claimed by the Belgians, not the French.
And boxing rings are definitely square.

If lawyers can be disbarred and clergymen defrocked,
shouldn't it follow that electricians may be delighted,
musicians denoted, cowboys deranged, models deposed,
and dry cleaners depressed?
Now if writers write, how come fingers don't fing.
Since the plural of tooth is teeth
Shouldn't the plural of phone booth be phone beeth
And in the same way, that, during my youth, teachers taught,
Why didn't the preacher praught.

Most people take English for granted
But if we examine its paradoxes we find that
Quicksand takes us down slowly
And when stating that four men out of five suffer from headaches,
It doesn’t imply that the fifth one enjoys it.
Knowing that a vegetarian eats vegetables
doesn’t tell what a humanitarian eats!?
Could someone explain why people do recite at a play
And yet play at a recital.
Or why Americans park on driveways
And drive on parkways
Or how can the weather be as hot as hell on one day,
And as cold as hell on another one

Shouldn’t we wonder at the unique lunacy
Of a language where a house can burn up
As it burns down.
And in which I’m suppose to fill in a form
… by filling it out.
And a bell is only heard once it goes!

English was invented by people, not computers
And it betrays the ambiguities of this human race
(which of course isn't a race at all)
where a person who plays the piano is called a pianist
but a person who drives a racecar is not called a racist?
That is why when the stars are out, they are visible
But when the lights are out, they are invisible
So why is it that when I wind up my watch
It starts
But when I wind up this kind of fantasy
It ends.
[/quote]

This is a great passage, I've not heard it in some time. Cheers!
Message: Posted by: Eric Fry (Feb 9, 2009 11:36AM)
The real problem is that you'd need to know mid-19th century French to know the best English translation for Robert-Houdin, and I'm certainly not qualified to do that. Words can have very subtle shades of meaning, or can have different meanings in different contexts, or their meaning can change over time. Also remember that the original author may write unclearly.

That said, let's say the English translation is essentially a good one. Let's also say Robert-Houdin's point was mainly that a magician's dexterity manifests itself in deftness, not speed. I still think the statement about a magician being a type of actor can stand on its own as a meaningful insight.

Even when we're doing something as simple as a false shuffle, we're acting as if we're giving the deck a genuine shuffle. Not just the patter and presentation are acting. It's all acting.

In fact, there are effective types of magic performances in which the performer doesn't act as if he's a magician, even in jest. I wouldn't say Ricky Jay plays the role of a person with magical powers, for example. I'd say he displays sleight of hand skills in the entertaining context of talking about con artists, crooked gamblers, and so on. He isn't acting as if he has those skills. He really does have those skills.

Going back to Robert-Houdin's quote, I wonder if we still misunderstand exactly what he was saying. I wonder if he was trying to say that a magician isn't a ragamuffin street performer; a magician has the dignity of someone who acts on a stage. Maybe he was making a social point. Think about the way Robert-Houdin presented his magic. Think about his clothes, his stage setting, his audiences. Just a thought.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Feb 9, 2009 03:57PM)
Since the translation in question was done by someone who was basically a contemporary of Robert-Houdin, i.e. Angelo Lewis, it can be fairly well accepted as accurate. There is a very good chance that Lewis met Robert-Houdin when he appeared in London. I haven't verified this, though.

If you don't have the book in question in that particular translation, you owe it to yourself to get hold of it. For those who are not familiar with Angelo Lewis, he was better known to us as Professor Hoffmann.

I did not quote the whole chapter, by the way. There can be NO misunderstanding at all if you read and understand that chapter.
Message: Posted by: Eric Fry (Feb 9, 2009 05:27PM)
Good point about Angelo Lewis being a contemporary of Robert-Houdin. So let's grant that it's well-translated.

I still don't see why magic commentators so often say the sentence has been taken out of context. Robert-Houdin's point isn't SOLELY that magicians move with deftness, not speed. He makes a point of saying that a magician is an actor and an artist. I think that's part of the contrast he is drawing with jugglers.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Feb 9, 2009 08:01PM)
Have you read the whole chapter? The chapter [i][b]is[/i][/b] the context. If you haven't read the chapter, you can't judge what I posted. Also please re-read what I stated in the second post in this thread.

BTW, to the best of my knowledge, I was the first to point out, at least in recent years, that this quote had been taken out of context and had acquired a depth of meaning that may not have been intended in the original. That post was originally made in August of 2005.

So, it's not a matter of "magic commentators so often saying that the sentence has been taken out of context." Many of them are quoting me.

Note that I stated:
[quote]
And we have added a lot of meaning to the original text that may or may not have been intended by Robert-Houdin in the first place.

But were we wrong to do this?

NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Sometimes a tiny fragment of a book will assume a life greater than the book itself. And a whole new approach to an art form will appear because something was gained from an out of context quote.
[/quote]
Message: Posted by: Eric Fry (Feb 9, 2009 08:07PM)
Yes, I have read the chapter -- and the book. Let me re-read it tonight and get back to you tomorrow. Whether people drew their comment from you originally or not, it's still something that gets posted periodically by a variety of people. I'm glad to have the opportunity to discuss this with you.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Feb 9, 2009 10:55PM)
The paragraph following the one with the quote in it says a lot about what R-H meant.

Then, the two paragraphs that follow that one give some more interesting context.

Also, make note of Hoffmann's footnote on page 44. That says a great deal.

Please note that I am not disagreeing with anyone who says that a magician is an actor playing the part of a magician. Of course, this is true. What I am saying is that the emphasis that modern magicians place upon this quote may not be the emphasis that R-H originally intended.

In fact, an actor who was not a trained magician would intuit this in his interpretation of a magician as opposed to a "juggler," and would avoid anything that called attention to the perceived dexterity of the hands and the speed of the fingers.

Too often beginning magicians think that the grotesque stances, poses and gestures of the stage manipulator are the things that define magic. How much more impressive would it be if a manipulator could perform all of those magnificent feats without any apparent dexterity at all, but by simply plucking cards from the air?
Message: Posted by: Eric Fry (Feb 9, 2009 11:51PM)
I think we agree with each other.

I agree that the context is Robert-Houdin talking about the term "prestidigitation" and saying that it's misleading because it refers to quick movements of the hands. His point is that if you really had magical powers, such as through your wand, you wouldn't need to move your hands fast. Behaving like a slick, dextrous guy contradicts your make-believe claim to be magical.

I think modern magicians seized on the phrase about the magician as actor because it does have a lot of truth to it. I wouldn't say people have misunderstood the phrase. They may not know the original context. But the phrase does stand on its own as a meaningful statement.
Message: Posted by: mtpascoe (Feb 10, 2009 12:04PM)
If that's so, then the discovery by modern magicians is a happy accident. It has changed the lives of so many magicians that took it literally.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Feb 10, 2009 03:06PM)
Eric -- that's really my point.
Message: Posted by: arielf (Mar 7, 2009 08:46AM)
There's a lot of misinformation about this quote, as I explained in the forum on my site (I Saw That!), in 1997 (sorry, Bill :) ). There are bits of truth in all the above, but a lot of conjecture too. The fact is, what Robert-Houdin said in the original French is extremely clear, even to a contemporary French speaker. But no translation can convey his exact meaning without a full explanation. So, from having been a magician for over 40 years and being a full-fledged francophone myself, I offer the following.

Here's the original:

"Un prestidigitateur n'est point un jongleur; c'est un acteur jouant un role de magicien; c'est un artiste don't les doigts doivent etre plus habiles que prestes. J'ajouterai meme que, dans les exercises de prestidigitation, plus les mouvements sont calmes, plus doit etre facile l'illusion des spectateurs." [This stupid thing keeps adding an apostrophe in D-O-N-T, above -- ignore it.]

Or, in English (my translation):

"A prestidigitator is not a juggler; he's an actor playing the role of a magician; he's a performer whose fingers must be skillful rather than fast. I'll even add that, in the performance of prestidigitation, the more relaxed the movements, the easier it will be to create the illusion for the spectators."

The point he's making is that we should do our sleights without haste, gently, so that we don't draw attention to our dexterity. The idea is that our trickery should look like 'real' magic, not manual skill.

The translation problem stems from two words. Let's look at the French meanings first.

In French, the standard word for our art is "prestidigitation". It has two roots: prest- and digit-, which mean fast (or nimble) and fingers, respectively. In other words, a bit of a misnomer for sleight-of-hand. So when he starts the sentence with "Un prestidigitateur", it's clear that he's referring to us.

The word "magicien", however, meant (in his day) one who does REAL magic, the genuine article, the guy who makes things happen just by snapping his fingers. No trickery -- the black arts.

Replacing the words in the sentence with their explanation, we get: A sleight-of-hand performer is not a juggler; he's an actor playing the role of one who does real magic.

The meaning is very clear. For the record, in contemporary French, "magicien" can refer to either the sleight-of-hand trickster or the real magician, but the meaning of the sentence would still be clear because of the context, since "prestidigitateur" retains its original meaning.

Now comes the tricky part (pun intended). In the original translation, Hoffman did not use the English word "prestidigitator" (perhaps because it was too uncommon). He wrote: "A conjuror is not a juggler; he is an actor playing the part of a magician". I don't know English usage from Hoffman's time, so it may or may not have been clear that conjuror referred to sleight-of-hand trickster and that magician referred to real magician. But in contemporary English, the two are interchangeable: every dictionary I've consulted gives both meanings to both words (or doesn't distinguish between the two meanings). Therefore, to the modern reader, the sentence is a bit of a tautology, especially the rephrased version: a magician is an actor playing the role of a magician.

Regarding the word "artiste": it means artist, but in the context of performing arts, it simply means performer. Jugglers, magicians, singers, acrobats, actors, etc., are all referred to as "artistes" today, and I doubt that it was any different in R-H's day.

A final thought. Hoffman's footnote about this notion not being of interest to English speakers implies that Robert-Houdin wrote about it specifically to prevent aspiring magicians from taking the "prest" part of the word literally. Since I don't have access to the text that precedes the quoted paragraph, I don't know if this is indeed the case; it's possible that magicians of his day were showing off their skill by performing sleights at breakneck speed, as is often the case today. That's MY conjecture :)

Hope this helps.

Ariel
Message: Posted by: lin (Mar 7, 2009 11:39AM)
Thank you. I very much enjoyed and appreciated your explanation.
Message: Posted by: Eric Fry (Mar 7, 2009 01:06PM)
Very helpful post. I think the English did, and perhaps still do, use the word "conjurer" to refer to performers and the word "magician" to refer to people who have magical powers. So Angelo Lewis probably did come up with a good British-English translation.
Message: Posted by: The great Gumbini (Mar 8, 2009 10:17AM)
Well not to start anything here but this whole matter depends on who came first the magician or the actor? Is the magician an actor? Or is the actor a magician as he is able to transform himself into someone else? However I will add that I believe when we look at the definitions given above it does help us to better understand what was meant by the original saying. This is very thoughtful insight.

Good magic to all,


Eric
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Mar 10, 2009 01:45AM)
[quote]
On 2009-03-07 09:46, arielf wrote:
There's a lot of misinformation about this quote, as I explained in the forum on my site (I Saw That!), in 1997 (sorry, Bill :) ). There are bits of truth in all the above, but a lot of conjecture too. The fact is, what Robert-Houdin said in the original French is extremely clear, even to a contemporary French speaker. But no translation can convey his exact meaning without a full explanation. So, from having been a magician for over 40 years and being a full-fledged francophone myself, I offer the following.

Here's the original:

"Un prestidigitateur n'est point un jongleur; c'est un acteur jouant un role de magicien; c'est un artiste don't les doigts doivent etre plus habiles que prestes. J'ajouterai meme que, dans les exercises de prestidigitation, plus les mouvements sont calmes, plus doit etre facile l'illusion des spectateurs." [This stupid thing keeps adding an apostrophe in D-O-N-T, above -- ignore it.]

Or, in English (my translation):

"A prestidigitator is not a juggler; he's an actor playing the role of a magician; he's a performer whose fingers must be skillful rather than fast. I'll even add that, in the performance of prestidigitation, the more relaxed the movements, the easier it will be to create the illusion for the spectators."

The point he's making is that we should do our sleights without haste, gently, so that we don't draw attention to our dexterity. The idea is that our trickery should look like 'real' magic, not manual skill.

The translation problem stems from two words. Let's look at the French meanings first.

In French, the standard word for our art is "prestidigitation". It has two roots: prest- and digit-, which mean fast (or nimble) and fingers, respectively. In other words, a bit of a misnomer for sleight-of-hand. So when he starts the sentence with "Un prestidigitateur", it's clear that he's referring to us.

The word "magicien", however, meant (in his day) one who does REAL magic, the genuine article, the guy who makes things happen just by snapping his fingers. No trickery -- the black arts.

Replacing the words in the sentence with their explanation, we get: A sleight-of-hand performer is not a juggler; he's an actor playing the role of one who does real magic.

The meaning is very clear. For the record, in contemporary French, "magicien" can refer to either the sleight-of-hand trickster or the real magician, but the meaning of the sentence would still be clear because of the context, since "prestidigitateur" retains its original meaning.

Now comes the tricky part (pun intended). In the original translation, Hoffman did not use the English word "prestidigitator" (perhaps because it was too uncommon). He wrote: "A conjuror is not a juggler; he is an actor playing the part of a magician". I don't know English usage from Hoffman's time, so it may or may not have been clear that conjuror referred to sleight-of-hand trickster and that magician referred to real magician. But in contemporary English, the two are interchangeable: every dictionary I've consulted gives both meanings to both words (or doesn't distinguish between the two meanings). Therefore, to the modern reader, the sentence is a bit of a tautology, especially the rephrased version: a magician is an actor playing the role of a magician.

Regarding the word "artiste": it means artist, but in the context of performing arts, it simply means performer. Jugglers, magicians, singers, acrobats, actors, etc., are all referred to as "artistes" today, and I doubt that it was any different in R-H's day.

A final thought. Hoffman's footnote about this notion not being of interest to English speakers implies that Robert-Houdin wrote about it specifically to prevent aspiring magicians from taking the "prest" part of the word literally. Since I don't have access to the text that precedes the quoted paragraph, I don't know if this is indeed the case; it's possible that magicians of his day were showing off their skill by performing sleights at breakneck speed, as is often the case today. That's MY conjecture :)

Hope this helps.

Ariel
[/quote]

Just a couple of points -- considering the relative amount of traffic on the I Saw That! web site and the Magic Café, I have a feeling more people saw my column than saw your post, even though you had a head start on me. Although I have visited your site on several occasions, I never saw it.

Another point. "Prestidigitator" was not, at Hoffmann's time, a common word for a magician. It was and is basically a transliteration of the French word.

To understand what Robert-Houdin was writing about, it is [b]absolutely necessary[/b] to have the paragraphs that precede the one in question, because they are discussions of the meanings of escamotage and prestidigitation. If you read these paragraphs, then almost everything that you have explained is made quite clear.

Writing about the paragraph without them is almost as dangerous as quoting the paragraph out of context. In fact, it [i]is[/i] quoting the paragraph out of context.

Regarding the word "magician" -- no matter how many dictionaries one may consult, there is really only one that is the final authority for British usages. This is the Oxford English Dictionary. It is particularly applicable in this case, because it is contemporaneous with Hoffmann, that is, the compilation that went into the first edition was started about the time that Hoffmann published [i]Modern Magic[/i]. It is updated on a regular basis to keep it current. Anyone who writes in English should have a copy of it handy.

The definition of magician in this dictionary starts with the various occult meanings of the word, then it adds [i]occas.(ionally)[/i] a conjurer. This is still the common usage in the UK, particularly among people who are over 40 years old. Some of the younger people may use the words magician and conjurer interchangeably, but that is very likely due to influences from the US.
Message: Posted by: arielf (Mar 10, 2009 05:45AM)
Lots of good info -- thanks Bill!

I was given the quoted paragraph, years ago, and made to understand that it WAS the whole context... ouch. Now that I know that it isn't, I understand why Hoffman's footnote was so terse.

Let me just clarify one point: what I wrote about contemporary English usage of the word 'magician' was to explain why we (the tricksters) misunderstand RH's point so often. From what you're telling me, it's more of a North American thing, then -- which I suspected was the case. So now we know.

(And for the record: at least a DOZEN people saw my original post -- so there! :) )
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Mar 10, 2009 10:52PM)
That's understandable. I read a lot of British publications, so I'm fairly aware of the differences in the terminologies between the two areas. When I was writing the Punx translations, I had to arm myself with the Oxford English Dictionary and the second and third editions of Webster's unabridged dictionary, because Craige Snader had been isolated from English for a long period of time, and had a tendency to use words that were basically incorrect.

The paragraph in question actually lies right square in the middle of a three-page chapter called (in English) Escamotage, Prestidigitation. In this chapter, R-H attempts to explain the difference between the two terms and goes into his famous quote distinguishing the sleight of hand performer from a juggler.

All in all, I think Hoffmann did a creditable job of translating this chapter, as well as the whole book.

But it's good to see other interpretations of these things.
Message: Posted by: Bob Clayton (Apr 16, 2009 12:13AM)
[quote]
On 2009-03-10 23:52, Bill Palmer wrote:

The paragraph in question actually lies right square in the middle of a three-page chapter called (in English) Escamotage, Prestidigitation. In this chapter, R-H attempts to explain the difference between the two terms and goes into his famous quote distinguishing the sleight of hand performer from a juggler.
[/quote]
Key to the whole chapter is the following line.

“Neither one of these denominations [Escamotage and Prestiditation], however, authorized though they are by long use, is in my opinion fully adequate to describe the art of fictitious magic.”

R-H then goes into his famous quote after pointing out the short coming of the above terms.
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Apr 16, 2009 03:00AM)
That is true.
Message: Posted by: Mike Webb (Jun 18, 2009 01:19AM)
Invocation... ; )
Message: Posted by: Bill Palmer (Jun 22, 2009 02:03AM)
In this same vein, I have a story that several have told me is true. Therefore, it must be an urban legend. In any case, it applies to this subject.

A psychology professor walked into his classroom and wrote the following on the blackboard, in large block letters:

WALK WITH LIGHT

He paused a few moments and then addressed the class, "Who can tell me what this means?"

Several students tried their hands at explaining it. More than one suggested that it was a philosophical/moral imperative that meant we should follow "the light," whatever that was -- the right hand path, the teachings of the Buddha, the teachings of other great philosophers, God, etc.

After about a half-hour of debate, argument and/or discussion, the professor said, "Those are all very interesting interpretations of this. And they might apply, except not in this context. The context is important here. This was on a sign at a pedestrian crossing, right below a traffic signal."
Message: Posted by: JRob (Jun 24, 2009 07:44AM)
[quote]
On 2009-06-22 03:03, Bill Palmer wrote:
In this same vein, I have a story that several have told me is true. Therefore, it must be an urban legend. In any case, it applies to this subject.

A psychology professor walked into his classroom and wrote the following on the blackboard, in large block letters:

WALK WITH LIGHT

He paused a few moments and then addressed the class, "Who can tell me what this means?"

Several students tried their hands at explaining it. More than one suggested that it was a philosophical/moral imperative that meant we should follow "the light," whatever that was -- the right hand path, the teachings of the Buddha, the teachings of other great philosophers, God, etc.

After about a half-hour of debate, argument and/or discussion, the professor said, "Those are all very interesting interpretations of this. And they might apply, except not in this context. The context is important here. This was on a sign at a pedestrian crossing, right below a traffic signal."
[/quote]
This reminds me of what my late exegesis professor used to pound us with daily: "CIE: Context is everything"
Message: Posted by: Potty the Pirate (May 12, 2015 02:28AM)
Whilst I agree with the distinction made between "prestidigitator" and "conjuror", nevertheless, even those who perform self-working magic are still "acting the part of real magicians". Unless, of course, they present their shows as a challenge, for the audience to work out "how it's done". Personally, I find those presentations awkward and obtuse, it's missing the whole point of presenting magic as a theatrical entertainment, and instead being a "puzzle-maker".

I regard acting as the vital presentational elements of a good magic show. As mainly a kids' entertainer, the acting element is way, way more important than the tricks themselves. Double-takes, "look don't see", reacting to the magic in feigned astonishment - these are some of the acting skills we employ.

Not to mention theatrical blocking (considering your movements, command of the stage, etc); varied vocal dynamics (whispered, declamatory, etc); interaction with the audience ("breaking the fourth wall"), over-the top reactions ("hamming").....and many other elements of acting, which can all play a vital role in the magician's performance.
Message: Posted by: Anatole (Jun 10, 2015 11:54AM)
Back B.M.C. (before the Magic Café) I posted a message on the Electronic Grymoire about the Robert-Houdin quote explaining pretty much what many in this thread pointed out in their posts about the whole point of the statement. After my message appeared, a French magician wrote in the following:
-----quote-----
From: "jerome----" <jerome-----@ac.com>
Subject: Magician as Actor & Robert-Houdin

Dear all, Dear all, I would like to thank Amado Narvaez for his excellent explanation of Robert Houdin's statement in EG#1045. Being French myself I did read Robert Houdin's statement in his original words and never quite understood all the fuss that was made about it in the UK and in the US. As Amado explained, Robert Houdin attempts to define a new type of entertainers, the Prestidigitators. He then lists two traits which in essence mean "they act as if they had magical powers; they use skills to present these feats". I also always thought that a much better discussion of the Art in magic can be found in "Our Magic" by Maskelyne and Devant. ... Thank you very much Amado for paying such a tribute to a wonderful text which, like all original texts lose some of their meaning when translated. Regards.
-----end quote-----

Of course, sometimes a writer is not aware himself of the subtext of something he has written, perhaps because the muse that inspired it did not bother to point out all the nuances.

----- Amado "Sonny" Narvaez

Note: Here is the verbatim text of my original comment in the EG that the French magician was referencing:
-----quote-----
“A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician.” That is the most frequently quoted and most mis-understood statement ever made about the art of magic. It makes about as much sense as saying “A dancer is an actor playing the part of a dancer” or “A singer is an actor playing the part of a singer.” If you go back to Robert-Houdin's original French, you'll see that in context the statement was intended to distinguish a magician who does sleight-of-hand from a magician who does black magic.

-----end quote----
Message: Posted by: thevirtuoso (Mar 19, 2018 01:17PM)
I did a show over the weekend. Serious card work (that's what I do).

I finished the show by telling the audience this quote by Robert Houdin. And then I said, "And so to Robert Houdin, I say, "show me a F-in actor that can do that!"
Message: Posted by: Tudormagic (Jul 9, 2018 09:44PM)
Here is a talk on the Robert Houdin quote, that I presented at the Magic and Meaning Conference in Las Vegas, 2015.
https://vimeo.com/186025399/fc9a772beb
Watch it and let me know what you think...