the magic of magic is that it’s not actually magic

Last night a lovely friend invited Brad and me to one of my absolute favorite Los Angeles treasures, The Magic Castle. Perhaps because it reminds me of The Haunted Mansion, perhaps because it feels like stepping back in time, or perhaps because at every turn you encounter someone who has dedicated their life to illusion. Whatever the reason, I simply adore The Magic Castle.
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Magic. What makes it awe-inspiring is knowing that it’s an illusion. Knowing that what appears before your eyes is impossible and yet despite exhaustive analyses, the magician in front of you has made it appear possible. The art and corresponding wonder lie in the excavation of the illusion, and the true beauty lies in not being able to explain: How did he do it? When your mind simply cannot come up with a reasonable or even unreasonable explanation, then this person has inspired wonder with no limits. But it must be illusion to be beautiful.

 If it were actually magic, meaning, a different set of scientific laws that actually occurred in the world, a la Harry Potter or Middle Earth, then it would not be as magnificent, because it would be science. If people flew, we would just live in a world where people flew. Somehow somewhere through some scientific analyses there would be an explanation. Just like there is an explanation for how birds fly. There is an explanation for everything, whether we ever uncover it or not.  BUT, when it only appears that someone flies, knowing that in truth he cannot, and we cannot for the life of us figure out how he did it, the magician has reached beyond the tangible world of science and to our eyes, against all common sense, made something impossible occur. Illusion. Theatre.

Here is where I get heady. And probably a little pretentious sounding. Forgive me, and bear with me. Art is all illusion. Art is not real, but a reflection of reality constructed by an artist to give an appearance of our world outside of the confines within which it actually exists, and through that reflection the artist allows beauty to emerge in a way that it has difficulty doing so outside of art’s comforting embrace. 

 This phenomenon is perfectly exemplified in good theatre, is it not? Our ability to be moved and to feel a sense of wonder lie in knowing that what we witness is an illusion. There is a safety in illusion; a buffer that gives us the ability to reflect. If in watching a production of Hamlet, the actor playing the Dane actually died onstage at the end of play, we would run in horror. We participate in the illusion and thus it sinks deeper in to our souls than the terrifying mystery of actual death. We leave the theatre perhaps a little less afraid of the unknown because, behaving as a life-preserver, our imagination has allowed us to navigate scary uncharted waters.   

 Thus is true of magic. Stripped of what the theatre gives us in the way of storytelling and precise commentary on various elements of the human condition; magic is illusion boiled down to its core. Illusion for illusion’s sake. Perhaps it is not necessarily a form of art but rather a depiction of the very definition of art. We know it’s not real, and we marvel at it all the more. Magic exercises our imagination.

 In a world choked of beauty with every news story of a school shooting or crooked politician, our imaginations need love and care to not get snuffed out by the fear surrounding us. The endless process of status updates and instantaneously seeking whatever information we want through the click of a mouse has almost voided the world of mystery. How much mystery can there be in the Great Pyramids when you can see them for yourself after taking 10 minutes to download Google Earth? I’m not knocking modern technology. I recognize that it’s amazing and I know there’s a difference between viewing an ancient pyramid on your computer screen and touching one; but will that always be the case depending on how good technology gets? It’s important to not have all the answers. We need to maintain some sense of mystery in the world or we’ll stop exploring and imagining.

I find it interesting that whenever I walk into an establishment that feels like the type of place you’re not supposed to have food or drinks, I also feel like I’m probably not supposed to take pictures. As if taking a picture would have the same damaging affect as spilling a soda. I’m so grateful they don’t allow you to take pictures inside The Magic Castle. It’s a relief to be in a place where you know that what you experience will happen in that moment alone, for you and you alone, and won’t be “shared” by 1,000 followers on Instagram. Like a play, only the audience of that particular night gets to see it. This makes it, what can I say, a magical place.

 At the Castle last night a magician from Kansas City performed an age-old illusion. He brought a girl from the audience up on stage, had her lay down on a table, removed the legs of the table and made her levitate before our very eyes. I was awe-struck. I could not figure it out. I still can’t. I know there are thousands of people out there who could explain to me how he did this trick. Magicians have been doing this since there have been magicians. It’s a very famous illusion and I know there is an explanation. Of course there is an explanation. But I don’t want to know. I want to keep wondering. I confess that in not knowing how it was done a little part of me will always wonder if perhaps it was real magic. And I want to believe in magic.

Brad and I in front of the castle for my birthday two years ago

Brad and I in front of the castle for my birthday two years ago

At The Magic Castle last night

At The Magic Castle last night

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