The notion of what constitutes the role of the trick in magic performance raises a number of questions, two of which have become central to my writing and have also required more general consideration when co-ordinating The Magic Research Group.
Is it possible to have a meaningful discussion of performance magic without revealing the method of the trick?
.. and …
Is it possible to conduct a meaningful investigation into performance magic without the writer knowing how the tricks are done, that is, without them being a magician?
I believe so, and The Journal of Performance Magic has functioned well with its policy of non-exposure and has published several articles by non-magicians. There is, however, an underlying suspicion from magicians towards academic works on performance magic that are written by non-magicians. With many magicians arguing against this, for example, in Genii, a monthly magazine for magicians, Jamy Ian Swiss, when reviewing the During and Mangan monographs, opened the piece with the attention-grabbing phase:
‘The academics are coming! The academics are coming! Shall we prepare to do battle or should we simply run for our lives?’(Swiss, 2007, p. 97)
I have had a number of exchanges with magicians, both amateur and professional, all of whom were arguing against the impending publication of The Journal of Performance Magic. Much of this negativity coming from a suspicion of the layperson and a fear that the non-magician might learn, and subsequently reveal, the tricks of the trade.
Magicians are very protective of their work, carefully guarding the fragility of their art and secrets, and rightly so. As Steinmeyer states;
‘Magicians guard an empty safe […] when an audience learns how it’s done, they quickly dismiss the art, concluding “Is that all it is?”’ (2003, p. 16).(Steinmeyer, 2003, p. 16)
I tend to agree with Steinmeyer’s assertion, as occasionally the most spectacular trick may employ the simplest and often disappointing modus operandi.
There is simply much more to the performance of magic than the secrets or the method.
Steinmeyer, J. (2003). Hiding the Elephant. How Magicians Invented the Impossible. Arrow.
Swiss, J. I. (2007). Books—Review. Genii, 70(11), 97