|M U H L E N B E R G M A G A
Z I N E
||S U M M E R 2 0 0
New Liberal Art
B Y D R.
L A W R E N C E H A S S
The word is out,
the tickets are on sale: Magic is coming back to Muhlenberg this fall!
Indeed, the College is producing a second series of its nationally recognized,
award-winning program, "The Theory and Art of Magic." Being
an amateur magician and author of several articles about the philosophy
of magic, I created this program to share my passion for this extraordinary
art form with the College community.
My basic idea was to bring to the College a group of brilliant, professional
magicians who were also renowned as the leading thinkers and innovators
of the art. These "magicians-in-residence" would, of course,
perform their unique forms of magic, but they would also teach classes
and give lectures about the nature of performance magic and its important
place in our lives and cultures.
During the fall of 1999, through the strong support of President Arthur
R. Taylor, Dean Curtis Dretsch and many other people at the College,
I was able to take this unusual idea and turn it into an extremely successful
series of events. So successful, in fact, that I could not resist the
invitation to try it again, even bigger than before. To this end, we
have arranged visits for the fall of 2002 with some of the most celebrated
magicians of our times: Max Maven, Jeff McBride, Eugene Burger, Rene
Lavand, Marc DeSouza and Robert E. Neale. Indeed, these are the magicians
that magicians enjoy. These are the experts that magicians travel long
distances to study with.
Magic is an incredibly ancient art, with images of magicians engraved
in the pyramids and tombs of Egypt, with clear references to the art
in the Book of Exodus and other ancient texts, with evidence of its
practice reaching back to pre-ancient Shamanism. Also, magic is a remarkably
universal art. Every human culture we know has a place for performance
magic, from the fakirs of India, from the great stages and television
screens on six continents, from the mammoth showrooms in Las Vegas,
to street corner entertainers the whole world over.
And so the questions emerge: Why do we humans apparently crave magic?
Why do we embrace this "art of deception?" Why do we need
magic in our lives and cultures? Why do we hold "The Magician"
as one of the great archetypes of human possibility?
To me, these are fascinating questions - wonderful, important questions
- that interweave with issues in psychology, history, religion, sociology,
philosophy, anthropology, communication studies and the theatrical arts.
But they are also questions that don't really have a place within the
traditional academy. Rest assured that our magicians-in-residence will
have a great deal to say about these questions and the issues they raise
from a rich variety of perspectives. However in this brief space, as
"the last word," let me say one thing to pique your interest:
I myself don't think magic is "the art of deception" at all!
I realize this might sound strange. I realize that people talk about
magic as "tricks," and it would seem that such things must
aim to deceive and fool people. However, I would like to suggest that
these notions really "mis-direct" our attention from a deeper
secret of magic: that excellent magic of any kind has the power to re-awaken
the experience of wonder.
Indeed, I would say that magic, more deeply and richly understood, is
the art of wonder, not deception. Illusion plays a role, of course (as
it does in all the arts), but that is not its point, not its raison
d'etre. Rather, magic is an art of creating and cultivating experiences
where our mundane, habituated thoughts about ourselves and the world
are shattered, where we find ourselves astonished that the world can
be so surprising, where we find deep pleasure in the impossible-made-real.
And in these moments of mystery we can find ourselves transformed.
These experiences of astonishing transformation don't merely happen
in the magical theater. They happen throughout our human lives in experiences
where we wake up from "the everyday" and see the world anew.
This happens, for instance, with the birth of a new child. It can occur
in the classroom when fresh perspectives or paradigms burst through
old habits of thinking. It can happen when experiencing art - great
novels, paintings, theatre and poems. However, one thing to say about
the art of magic is that it self-consciously works to attain this extraordinary
effect. Those moments when our jaw hangs open, when "it makes no
sense," when our experience slips off its hinges and we come alive!
Wonder and transformation: in my view these vitally important human
experiences are the lifeblood of great performance magic, and they begin
to explain why we humans are, and have always been, so deeply and sometimes
secretly fascinated by this art. This fall, for your enjoyment and reflection,
we will bring this secret art into the open at Muhlenberg. Won't you
join us? (For series details and ticket information, visit www.muhlenberg.edu/cultural/magic.)
Dr. Lawrence Hass is an associate professor of philosophy. Along
with magic, he teaches and specializes in phenomenology, aesthetic,
and post-modern philosophy.