March 14, 2008


A wonderful article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker (sadly not online, but you can hear an interview with Gopnik about the piece here). In the article, Jamy Ian Swiss, one of the magicians Gopnik profiles, explains something fundamental about magic. He used to entertain a favorite cousin of his when he was a boy:

I would show her the Color Vision box, over and over, and she loved me for doing it. She couldn't get enough of it. But she kept begging me and begging me to show her how I did it, and at last I did. And she was furious -- absolutely furious! The trick was so simple, even stupid. I learned a huge lesson that day, and not just not to tell civilians the secrets. It was more complicated and ambiguous than that, and it's taken me years to work out all of its meanings. It was" -- he paused -- "it was that the trick was not the trick, and that it was the interchange between us that was the source of the effect."

A couple months ago, I decided to start learning magic tricks. I can do five card tricks reasonably well (although I've only tried four of them in front of people), and two others are becoming more comfortable. The one I do best (I think), largely because part of the effect depends upon making the audience (so far, just my wife and son) believe that I'm going to mess up the trick -- something not hard for them to believe -- depends on nothing more than my being able to remember a single card. (It doesn't sound hard, but when combined with the patter, the gestures and the rest of the routine, I'm always afraid I've forgotten it -- was it the eight of clubs or spades?)

The real problem I have is a lack of dexterity in my fingers, and a tendency to move my hands too quickly when I should be confident enough to go slowly (that is, rushing only draws attention, while a natural movement would not be noticed). The only way to improve is to practice, practice, practice--the trick I feel I do reasonably well I probably did 100 times before I tried it out on my little audience. I wonder if one can develop a basic proficiency in simple card tricks, starting at the advanced age of 43...

Posted by Ideofact at March 14, 2008 11:18 PM