Chapter 3 - Unitity
In all probability, the quality to which the term "unity" is applied, is the most important factor in relation to every form of art. At any rate, we may safely say there is no quality of greater importance. As in other arts, so in magic, unity is a first essential to success; since, without it, artistic results are impossible. This has been understood and accepted since the earliest days of art. For example, centuries before the Christian Era, Aristotle wrote, concerning the Greek Drama:
"As, therefore, in other mimetic arts, one imitation is an imitation of one thing, so here the fable, being an imitation of an action, should be an imitation that is one and entire; the parts of it being so connected that, if any one of them be either transposed or taken away, the whole will be destroyed or changed. For whatever may be either retained or omitted, without making any sensible difference, is not properly a part.--Poetics, Part 11, Chap. V.
If, for the word "fable we substitute the words "magical feat" or other equivalent term, the foregoing paragraph will become as appropriate to the Art of Magic as it now is to Dramatic Art. But, since we are engaged upon an independent inquiry, we must not be content to accept, without proof, the mere pronouncement of any authority, however eminent. It is necessary to make sure of our ground as we proceed, and to obtain all reasonable proof that the conclusions we adopt are well founded. Let us, then, review the facts systematically; and, in the light of knowledge thus gained, form our own conclusions as to the characteristics and importance of unity.
At the outset, for very obvious reasons, we may discard the mass of proverbial nonsense which has crystallized around the idea of singleness of purpose and action. Such matters as the impossibility of doing properly two things at once-of being in two places at one time (with particular reference to Sir Boyle Roche's bird)--of facing both ways simultaneously, and so forth, such matters may be set aside entirely. Mere impossibility is a consideration which in magic has no weight whatever. The essence of the art consists in apparently accomplishing things which are impossible. What we are concerned with just now is the expediency of presenting each magical item in the form of a harmonious whole, and of avoiding everything in the nature of incompleteness or discontinuity. Therein lies the true conception of artistic unity.
"One imitation," as stated in the quotation given above, "is an imitation of one thing." That is obviously true. And one magical act, as presented to an audience, should constitute an imitation of one apparently supernormal feat, culminating in one apparently miraculous effect. We have only to reflect for a moment to realize the fact that, in order to obtain a perfect effect, the only possible course is to rivet the attention of the audience upon one continuous chain of events, which will lead up to one definite and impressive result.
In this connection, it is necessary to remember that an audience is not amenable to compulsion, and cannot be relied upon to make any serious mental effort. Spectators attending a magical performance have no idea of exerting themselves, either mentally or physically, for the performer's benefit. Why should they? They are there to be amused, and for no other purpose. The exertion of following and remembering details which involve any element of complexity, or of trying to understand any matter which exhibits a mere trace of obscurity, is a thing which no magician has a right to demand of his audience. His spectators very justly expect that everything connected with the entertainment will be so presented as to be readily understood. Hence, it is important that, as a matter of ordinary practice, each presentation shall consist in an unbroken sequence of events. I Here, for the moment, we may pause, to set down a valuable and well-understood rule:
(2) Always endeavor to form an accurate conception of the point of view most likely to be adopted by a disinterested spectator.
For a performer to put himself in the place of his audience requires the exercise of an amount of imagination and-may we say it?-of judgment, rarely met with among those who are otherwise qualified to entertain the public. Yet, the more completely a magician can obey this rule, the greater will be his chances of success. The task before him is gigantic-but he should attempt it nevertheless. He must try to forget the importance of things which appeal to him most strongly, because, for all the public knows or cares, those things might as well be nonexistent. The difficulty of his manipulations; the ingenuity and originality of his inventions; the refinements and improvements lie has introduced; and, above all, the distinctive merits personal to himself, should be disregarded. All such matters should be lost to sight, in order that the one supreme consideration may not become obscured, even for a moment. The effect to be made upon his audience is the one thing a magician should keep in view, as the Americans say, "first, last, and all the time."
The effect--and, bear in mind, the effect upon an audience-that is the sole issue at stake. At the moment of presentation, that is the only thing which matters. In all the wide world, so far as the audience is concerned, there is no other consideration worth so much as a passing thought. Consequently, as a general proposition, it may be said that the greatest possible error any magician can ever have laid to his charge is that of "conjuring for conjurers" at a public performance. Such conjuring may be entirely admirable when the audience is composed of conjurers. But, before the general public, it must be regarded as inartistic; for the simple reason that, in such circumstances, it is bound to fail in its effect. Between the point of view of a conjurer and that of an ordinary spectator there is a great gulf. Therefore, at a public performance, the production of an artistic effect may often demand the adoption of methods which, with an audience of conjurers, would be quite contrary to rational procedure.
Since the primary aim of a magician's art is to entertain the public, the importance of the following rule is self-evident:--
(3) Avoid complexity of Procedure, and never tax either the Patience or the memory of an audience.
The thing presented should appear to consist in a perfectly regular and natural series of operations; and, when the final effect is produced, it should be capable of instant appreciation. If its appreciation is made to depend upon any conscious mental activity or any effort of memory on the part of the audience, a proper effect can seldom be achieved. If, in order to understand precisely what has happened, the spectators have to reflect, even for a few moments, upon the various stages of procedure which led up to the denouement, it is certain that, from an artistic point of view, the presentation must be unsatisfactory. There must be a lack of unity, in some respect or other. By chance, the audience may happen to have retained an impression of the details relevant to the final issue; and if so the result may be fairly good. That, however, will be an accidental occurrence; and no true artist ever trusts to accident. The effect produced should be, as Pope says, "The result of Art, not Chance." In this connection, the following rule may be stated:--
(4) Never produce two simultaneous effects, and let no effect be obscured by any subsidiary distraction.
Suppose, for instance, a magician were presenting the familiar
"Four Ace Trick"; and, not being an artist, he thought to enhance the effect either by introducing irrelevant manipulations, or by arranging (say) that the disclosure of certain previously selected cards should occur simultaneously with, the discovery of the four aces. What would be the result? In either case, the preliminary operations would introduce an element of confusion, most detrimental to success; and in the second case the simultaneous production of two diverse effects would be absolutely fatal. Distracted by the effort to comprehend two problems at once, the audience would fail to appreciate the significance of either. There would be too much to remember, even if the spectators were prepared to exercise their memory.Back to Magic