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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Food for thought » » Definition of "Magic" (9 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Lee Darrow
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Gentlemen, there is another term for magic in the theater that no one has brought up and that term is "convention." Not convention as in the IBM Convention, but a convention as in the convention that when Ahnold shoots the back of a taxi, we all know it is going to explode, even though, in the real world, that simply does not happen.

Theatrical convention is defined thusly: Theatrical: Of or relating to drama or the theater; Convention: An accepted way of doing something.

Thus, magic becomes a theatrical convention in that magic is the way magicians perform on stage or close up. The conventions being that what we do is a performance art that we call magic and that the public CALLS magic, but which rarely has little relationship to what a real thaumaturge, sorcerer, wizard, shaman, or other practitioner of the mystical arts would really do were they to perform for the public.

While this isn't a very flattering definition, in fact, it isn't a definition at all, but a categorization, more or less, it does seem to go a long way towards giving us a better understanding of our modern theatrical basis.

And it goes a long way towards explaining why, when we go to a magic convention, we see six performances of Snowstorm, four levitations, eight versions of the linking rings and at least twelve versions each of coins across, matrix and Triumph.

Because it's conventional. Pun intended, but also because the categorization certainly seems to fit.

Lee Darrow, C.H.
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<BR>"Because NICE Matters!"
Dannydoyle
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GREAT POINT Lee.

Except you forgot, Ambisious card, and Oil and Water!
Danny Doyle
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<BR>In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act....George Orwell
Bilwonder
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Quote:
Gentlemen, there is another term for magic in the theater that no one has brought up and that term is "convention."


Thank Lee for expanding on the concept, but it was mentioned eartlier. I mentioned it in my last post :

Quote:
..it must be short of "conviction" because you don't want the matter completely closed. You want equal "conviction" in the opposite (cued with "the conventions of Theater")...


And Whit mentioned it before this:
Quote:
....The dilemma is created by the artist's ability to balance complete conviction of the impossible against the subject's understanding of the conventions of theater...
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Jonathan Townsend
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Quote:
On 2006-05-28 19:23, Lee Darrow wrote:
Gentlemen, there is another term for magic in the theater that no one has brought up and that term is "convention." ...


The notion of the proscenium arch and its function as gateway to the fantasy world of the presentation is basic to our craft.
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Lee Darrow
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Billwonder, thanks for noting the prior mentions. I wanted to expand on the idea a bit in my post as the concept seemed to get lost in some of the semantics that were getting discussed so well in this discussion.

Theatrical convention, the agreement between the audience and the players of "this is what we agree is real for the performance" is something that some of the newer magi may be less familiar with and Jonathan's statement about the prosceneum arch being the gateway was very well put, indeed!

I just am surprised when magicians sometimes miss the idea that the audience sees us as performers who do strange things on stage with the point being to amaze and astonish (and often amuse at the same time), because that is what the convention has become since J.E. Robert-Houdin took us out of the wizard's robes and into modern garb.

When the bizarrist movement made its attempts at changing the face of magical performances, it did so by trying to re-introduce the elements of something that also goes into running a good role-playing game - Power and Terror.

Unfortunately, the convention was still too strong and the audiences had real trouble grasping the concept, moreso, the agents who booked the acts for pay.

Slowly, as "performance artists" have moved into the public's awareness, the bizarrist may, eventually, start to come more into his or her own as a working mae on a more regular basis. But until then, the convention still rules - both the public's general opinion of magicians and what they do and for agents and how to book them.

At least, that's my opinion. Other people's mileage may vary, of course.

Lee Darrow, C.H.
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Whit Haydn
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I think the idea of theatrical convention is very important. There are also "conventions" in a magic show, things that the audience and the performer often accept unconsciously.

For example, in a magic performance, the audience expects that the magician might lie to them, but they expect him not take unfair advantage of them--to not use his deceit for anything other than entertainment and art.

They expect any wallets stolen to be returned, any rings borrowed to remain undamaged.

By allowing someone to take over their reality, even for a short time, the audience is placing a lot of trust in the performer. It is important for all performers to respect that trust; otherwise, it will be impossbible to get anyone into the theater.

The conventions of theater enable people to fall into the role of audience easily and quickly. They generally know what is expected of them.

The conventions of theater and the audience's cultural understanding can create the first half of the dilemma--"There is no such thing as magic." Even if the performer claims his powers seriously and puts up no disclaimer at all, in modern Western culture it is generally understood that if it is just for entertainment, it should not be taken too seriously--the convention is that generally someone doing this sort of entertainment is a skilled trickster, and not really magic or psychic, etc.

Even if the performer claims powers, as long as he stays in the realm of entertainment--and doesn't, for example, give stock tips--he can still set up the dilemma because a large percentage of the people will assume that he is a fake simply because he is an entertainer.

If the moral implications of having a few people assume incorrectly that the performer does have "magic" or "psychic" powers don't bother the performer, he can achieve the same sort of impact by creating a dilemma that resides in the conflicting visions of the audience.

Some believe, others doubt. The resultant conflict creates the ping pong effect of the dilemma--in the conflict between people instead of in the conflict going on in a single head.

In some countries, the cultural conventions aren't the same, and charlatans and entertainers are not easily distinguished. In a place like that, the dilemma has to be set up by the performer.
Lee Darrow
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Maestro Hayden posted:

Quote:
In some countries, the cultural conventions aren't the same, and charlatans and entertainers are not easily distinguished. In a place like that, the dilemma has to be set up by the performer.


Or, because of the culture, the dilemma has been set up for you already and you have to be VERY careful how you play it or you may wind up missing body parts! Ask any performer who has worked in the Middle East about THAT!

And therein can lie a very dangerous place for a western entertainer to go - and with the USO and Special Service troupes pulling in more and more variety entertainers these days, we HAVE to make sure that e LISTEN at the briefings and make sure that we follow the rules laid down by the people running the tours!

Otherwise, one might - just might, wind up on the wrong end of a court in a far away country, being tried for witchcraft. Where the penalty for such is, believe it or not - death.

Hard to believe that this can still happen in the 21st century, isn't it?

BELIEVE IT!

Lee Darrow, C.H.
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<BR>"Because NICE Matters!"
Patrick Differ
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If I understand this correctly, by "convention", we are discussing an "archetype." Additionally, it's the archetype set forth by Robert-Houdin.

Close?
Will you walk into my parlour? said the Spider to the Fly,
Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've a many curious things to show when you are there.

Oh no, no, said the little Fly, to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair
-can ne'er come down again.
Lee Darrow
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No. An archetype is something that is believed uniformly across all cultures, whereas a convention may not be. Consider the men in black who manipulate the puppets in a play in Japan. In Japan, these people are, quite literally NOT seen by the audience. This is a theatrical convention in Japan. In the west we look at these guys on stage and, if we have never seen a Japanese puppet play before, wonder what these guys in black are doing running around the stage in ninja suits.

However, the overall concept of the willing suspension of disbelief, which is the Greater Theatrical Convention, as opposed to the Specific Theatrical Convention, mentioned in the example above, would qualify as coming closer to an archetypic concept.

How's that for muddy? Smile

Lee Darrow, C.H.
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tommy
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Here in England I think the law protects members of the audience from conmen. There is a law which covers fraudulent mediums also obtaining money or goods by deception with the criminal intent is against the law. Misuse of trust therefore is not simply a matter of ethics but a matter of the law of the land. If for example you lend a watch to do a trick you can not simply decide not to give it back to them. Being a magician does not exempt you from the law. You can not call yourself a magician and call it entertainment and think that you can do whatever “you” decide is right or wrong. You guys some times talk as if you make all your own rules. Delusions of grandeur maybe!
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
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Tommy,
The laws also apply in the US. I've never been to the UK, do you have gravity?
POOF!
tommy
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LOL Smile
Yes I think we do have gravity, but of course it has no effect on magicians or the Queen here.
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
Jonathan Townsend
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How's the new Doctor Who over there?
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tommy
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I don't know now Jon, but in fact I used to live right next door to an old one, many years ago. He turned into a live scarcrow called Wersal Gumage as I recall.
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
Whit Haydn
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The archetype has been used many ways in many disciplines and has uses that are very particular. But in general, archetypes deal with entities or types of entities.

You could loosely say that the goateed man in the top hat and cape was an "archetype" of the magician. Merlin might be another "archetype." But in psychology, anthropology and other fields, the word has much more complicated meaning.

By "conventions" we are simply talking about the accepted way that things are done.

We expect to be treated within certain basic rules of behavior when we buy a ticket to a show, or when we give permission to a close-up magician to perform at our table.

Some artists will "test" these conventions, but there are limits to what an audience will allow.

Thought this post from the thread http://www.themagiccafe.com/forums/viewt......7&13 should go on this thread, so I am posting it here:

Quote:
We are really talking about agreement here.

Jon is right, I think--though I believe he is only talking about one artistic choice of several possible.

One can attempt to force agreement to a premise: "See? The knife is black on both sides." The use of the paddle move enables you to "prove" this to the spectator.

But in asking for direct "agreement" to the premise, the performer may awaken the spectator's desire to confirm the proposition: "Let me see the knife."

The more artistic work is creating compelling arguments "for" the conclusion. At least this is how I understood Jon, and he can correct me if I am wrong.

For example, instead of "asking for agreement," the performer forms the question in his own head, turns the knife up as if to check for himself that the knife is black on both sides.

The performer doesn't "show" the knife to the spectator at all, but the spectator "sees" and notes that the knife is black on both sides.

Since the performer does not ask for agreement to the proposition, the spectator is in a much more receptive and less critical mode as he "makes a mental note" that the knife is black on both sides.

This is very similar to the example Jon used of "flying through a window frame."

This does the proving without the role of the performer as "prover," and without directly asking the audience for "agreement."

The audience basically is forming the argument in their own heads from the information that is being presented to them, rather than being force-fed the syllogism from the performer.

I think there are times however, when the proof can be directed at the spectator in a challenging way--especially when you are "clean."



Posted: May 31, 2006 5:36pm
-------------------------------------------------------
This is also from the other thread, speaking of a post by Jonathon:

Quote:

I love that last sentence:

"If the argument (or proof if you use the word loosely) forms IN the minds of the audience, they are less likely to argue with YOU later about it when they find themselves on the horns of the dilemma."

Yes. I think we are in agreement here, Jon. But I would probably want to make a case that there are other valid approaches to getting agreement, and that the direct challenge is sometimes both an artistic and necessary choice.

This is like the difference between a "hook" and a "come-on" in a con game. A hook is something discovered by the sucker on his own (the corner is bent) whereas the come-on is an offer made by the operator: "Come on! I'll let you put your foot on the matchbox you want."

The hook is always stronger and produces greater "conviction" because the con man is not entered into the equation in the "argument" that the sucker is creating in his own head.

But sometimes the sucker isn't sharp enough to see the bait. He won't go for the hook on his own. Sometimes there are audiences too dim, or propositions too subtle, for the hook to work. In those situations, the come-on or challenge is better.

One can also "piggy back" agreement to one thing on the backs of another "I only pay on the red, not on the blacks"(these two are both black).

It is possible to "slur" the moment of agreement from the beginning of one condition to the arrival at another, as in "calling the card face down."

Jonathan Townsend
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A recent finding:

Quote:
An outline of Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty
Artaud had a pessimistic view of the world, but he believed that theatre could affect change.
Remove the audience from the everyday and use symbolic objects to work with the emotions and soul of the audience.
Attack the audience's senses through an array of technical methods and acting so that the audience would be brought out of their desensitisation and have to confront themselves.
Use the grotesque, the ugly and pain in order to confront an audience, thereby being cruel to them.


and a citation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonin_Artaud

Perhaps Magic lies in the mind of the audience as it must be lies otherwise it just be.
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David Parr
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See Robert Neale's complex definition of magic in The Magic Mirror (Hermetic Press, 2002). What I appreciate most about Bob's definition is that it is not a dead end. Study and contemplation of his definition can lead to some surprising insights about magic, what it is, where it comes from and what it does, which in turn can open new paths to how we present it.
Jonathan Townsend
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Quote:
On 2006-06-08 15:56, David Parr wrote:
See Robert Neale's complex definition of magic in The Magic Mirror (Hermetic Press, 2002). ...


See earlier in this discussion where we cut through the context (life/nature...) and advanced the discussion to include the meta-experience of changing internal states. The most simple example of this is finding out that what one expects to perceive is not what one perceives. Whit likened the sensation as finding oneself on the horns of a dilemma between what one expects and what one believes.
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David Parr
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Quote:
See earlier in this discussion where we cut through the context (life/nature...) and advanced the discussion


When I wrote that Bob Neale's definition of magic is complex, I didn't mean that it is vague or metaphysical. In fact, his definition is quite the opposite: so specific that it is best to break it into separate phrases to fully grasp its scope and how it applies specifically to what we do. Of the definitions I've encountered in magic literature, I think Bob's is the most USEFUL. That's the best I can explain it without typing out the text of the book, which would take a looong time because I'm not a good typist. Smile
Jonathan Townsend
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Jumping into a twenty six page discussion with a citation to a work which was explored earlier is ... less than exciting.

The current state of the art on this involves behaviorism versus a neurological question. Do we go with "behaves as if" or with the brain activity (lobes and nuclei) to proceed.

The book you and Bob did is nice and a refreshing break from sleight of hand with card and coins. The examples you guys offer also make a better introduction to magic than the antique books of quaint fussing many of us had to wade though.

What do you think of Whit's dilemma model for the magical experience?
...to all the coins I've dropped here
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