Thursday, June 21, 2007


.:The Sense Of Wonder: The Philosopher-Mentalist's Harmony:.

"We see the world, not the way it is, but in the way we are."

- Talmund

It's easy to get lost and jaded when you have nothing but angst to fill your waking moments. When you just feel like there's no cause for you to get up out of bed, and nothing is driving you any longer.

As a magician, I have learned that my ability to entertain lies in my ability to unlock a sense of wonder in my audience. There are times I achieve this, there are times I simply don't. While doing the best magic show I can could certainly unlock wonder in a lot of people, there will always be the skeptic or even the heckler who wants to prove he's better than me and act unimpressed, all the while figuring out whether quietly or otherwise how this or that effect works.

It's a very subtle dichotomy: how receptive your audience is to the concept of magic, and how good your execution and persona while performing happens to be. For the most part, you can rest assured that even the most skeptical of audiences would at least begrudgingly respect the most skilled prestidigitationist, but not everyone can channel Chow Yun Fat in "Lord Of Gamblers", so relying on pure skill and cheek would sometimes be insufficient.

Magic is viewed, as is any other thing, with varying degrees of acceptance or skepticism, not merely because of what you can do as a magician, but also because of how the audience thinks. While this is common sense to any performer, some people still overlook this, and end up getting into a one-upsmanship contest with a given spectator.

The moment you do this as a magician, you pretty much have conceded defeat already. No matter how good you are or how bad the offending spectator is, in trying to compete with them, you defeat the purpose of helping them unlock their sense of wonder. Instead, you're now just flat-out trying to show them up.

In knowing our motivations, our passions, and the things that drive us, we see that a sense of wonder does not necessarily rely on how old someone is. While it's true that children are in general more entertained by magic than adults, and women more than men, and drunk more than sober, this does not mean that performing magic for sober adult men will never pay off. Believe it or not, despite my personal preference of usually selecting a group which is predominantly female, the best reactions more often than not come from the few male spectators in the group.

As I am taking up Epistemology under Dr. Angeles in my Masters for Philosophy, she emphasizes that a sense of wonder is something that allows us to dwell, to linger, and to focus on something. In an age of fast food and fast cars and fast internet connections, there is much to be said about a deliberate and conscious effort to slow down and smell the proverbial roses from time to time. In having a sense of wonder, anything we do never ceases to be exciting. Even the most repetitive of routines can be made spectacular simply by finding the discipline to dwell, linger, and focus. This ability to dwell is precisely what Heidegger endorses in several of his writings.

The key to developing a sense of wonder is habituation. In allowing one's self to find the small miracles in the simplest of things, in allowing one's self to find elegance in the seemingly crude, then one embarks upon a path only the most serious of magicians genuinely take: that of learning to astound even themselves.

It’s easy to be jaded because of what we see in the world. It’s easy to take the worst in what we see and ignore that which is good or beautiful or worthy of praise. It’s not that a magician is a bad performer most of the time, it’s that the jaded magician does not see himself as the broker of wonder. He sees himself as an employee, or as an amateur, or sees magic merely as a means to an end, and the way he views his craft lends an impact and an aura to his performance that most of the audience catch on to. This is what sets apart any regular street magician from a David Blaine, or any regular stage magician from a David Copperfield. These two famous prestidigitationists have an intrinsic sense of wonder in the very things they do. In short, the audience’s sense of wonder is inextricably tied to that of the performer’s!

Yes, I am a magician, but even I must learn how to have a sense of wonder. It’s easy to brush off another version of, say, the ambitious card routine, as a trick “I’ve seen a thousand times before”. Yet why does such a simple yet elegant routine still persist to this day. There is a reason why the Ambitious Card is a classic, and there is a reason why the classics are still popular even now. To ignore the basics in favor of the so-called new and cutting edge is to bypass a seemingly tedious but genuinely rewarding aspect of the craft: mastering the fundamentals.

The sense of wonder for a magician is in finding the amazing and astounding even in the simplest of effects. Before even attempting to do Bill Goldman’s “Free Chance”, knowledge of a key fundamental move must be mastered first. Even I found myself guilty of bypassing learning this very basic move in favor of doing the effect right away, often taking away from the overall impact of the routine. While learning swivels, undercuts, and other seemingly mundane principles would appear boring to the eager magician, those who have a genuine sense of wonder learn to appreciate how the most effective effects are usually the ones with the simplest principles behind them.

Who here doesn’t appreciate the unbelievably simple yet elegant forces at work in Anthony Billan Co’s Mindbender? To those who find that upon “killing the fairy” they are disappointed, I feel dismay for them. Mindbender is one of my favorite effects not just because it is very impactful and happens right before the spectator’s eyes, but it’s also because what makes it work is just so brilliant that it’s a surprise nobody published the effect sooner!

It’s not just the spectators who need a sense of wonder. We as magicians do not have absolute control over that, to begin with.. We ourselves need to have a sense of wonder in our own routines, no matter how many times we’ve done it in front of a mirror before. We have to learn to believe our own hype and learn to view our effects with the same kind of enthusiasm we wish our spectators to meet us with. Unfortunate is the prestidigitationist who looks at the “correct” hand while doing a French drop. A pox on the elite who look down on the novice and destroy their confidence instead of helping them learn.

In having a sense of wonder, we learn to sell ourself. In believing in our own magic, we not only take the audience on a journey, but go with them with the same wide-eyed awe that we wish to imbibe in them.

The real world is full of jaded people who can’t see beyond what they tell themselves to see. There ought be no room for that for the prestidigitationist, lest he be no different from the hoi poloi that he hopes to uplift through his simple means.. Let the magician be the key to unlocking a sense of wonder in those whom they deal with, and be the advocates for those who wish to dwell, linger, and focus.

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