The principles of true magic* are not to portray, but to evoke. Jerzy Kosinski
Lately I’ve been thinking how inexhaustible, rich and evoking the old Plots in magic are. Like “The general card (Metamorphosis)”, “Everywhere and Nowhere”, “Remember and Forget”, “The Miser’s Dream”, “The Sympathetic Cards”… these titles are in their own truly evoking and stimulating, imagination flies just by wondering what lies behind them.
I get the feeling that in general, magicians back in the 19th century and the early 20th century were more aware of how important is evoking, as opposed to portraying in magic:
“Thus is one who apparently accomplishes the impossible in an entertainer manner. It naturally follows that the performer who demonstrates a number of tricks without playing the imagination of his audience is not strictly speaking a conjurer at all, but a trickster.
… Where the imagination is not stimulated there is no real mystery.” S.H. Sharpe 1932
Note: S.H. Sharpe translated to English “Hofzinser’s Card Conjuring” and “Ponsin On Conjuring” books.
I think the way we magicians chose to name our routines says a lot about us, our process and what we want to tell through them. In the 20th century it’s easier to find more concrete and less evocative names for routines as “Cards across”, “Cards Up the Sleeve”, “Twisting the Aces”, “Coins and a glass”, “Cylinder and Coins”, “Any Card at Any Number”, “Cone and Ball”… (Today those names sound like Jason Statham’s next action movie, but that is another story).
Of course, there are very old classic routines (and great) with very little evocative titles like “The Cups and Balls”, “The Egg Bag” and “The Four Aces trick”. Also in the 20th century, we can find much more appealing titles like “The Homing Card”, “The Ambitious Card” or “The Time Machine”… However, I do think lately there is a general tendency to direct our routines’ focus towards the objects we use, their physical aspect.
And it‘s not only about naming. I don’t think plots like “Coins through the table”, “Cards across” or “Copper and Silver Transposition” are plots in the same sense or with the same evoking dimension as “Everywhere and nowhere”, “Remember and Forget” or “The Miser’s Dream”. If you take Hofzinser’s “Everywhere and nowhere” it’s funny to realize that even though the effects themselves are physical in nature (like transformations and productions and not conceptual like coincidences or predictions) the cards as objects have transcended, so the spectator’s imagination is not bound to them and can freely fly. I guess Hofzinser constructed his routines with that in mind, he had it so clear that you can feel it through their names.
I don’t mean routines like “Coins across” or “Twisting the aces” are bad or aren’t worth exploring, they’re great!! But I think the design built-in in them is much more portraying than evoking, if one wants to express an idea with them (it is OK not wanting to do that) we have to add it because it’s absent. (See Gabi Pareras’s take on Vernon’s “Twisting the aces”)
I wonder why most of us stopped looking for Plots like the Hofzinser’s ones. It’s hard to come up with a new effect, but for sure there are many Plots waiting to be discovered. Maybe we just don’t focus our energy on that kind of things anymore, perhaps in order to find them we need to look outside of magic (Ricardo Rodriguez dixit).
But there are people out there creating new Plots lately, Plots with great evoking power, with an idea built-in, a mystifying metaphor. Like Gabi Pareras’ “Coleridge’s Flower” (what a deeply beautiful routine), Luis Garcia’s “Initiation Rite”, Guy Hollingworth’s “Cassandra’s Dilemma”… Even in stage magic there is room for new plots, like Miguel Muñoz’s “Agua” silent stage act, possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of magic I’ll ever see on a theatre stage.
May be in order to find new plots we need to be aware that we want to find them in the first place (and later work hard as hell to do so). Well, I’ll try to fish a good plot for myself tonight.
Thanks for reading!
Recommend readings: Gabi Pareras, Ricardo Rodríguez and Luis García.