Today’s topics are: Terminology in magic – let’s define our terms; Dictionaries in magic; Remembering Borra Sr.; Your help is required
These are The Magic Memories 86, gone online Sunday, August 21st, 2022, at 0:07h sharp.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Define Your Terms!
Gladstone (1909 – 1998), a former Prime Minister of the UK, to whom the utterance is attributed (without the “Ladies”, as government at that time was exclusively male) blew into the same horn as Voltaire (1694 – 1778), who opined, “Define your terms, you will permit me again to say, or we shall never understand one another.”
I wish this was more often quoted and lived by than Robert-Houdin’s quote, which he never meant the way it was later interpreted – I know, because he told me through his reincarnation in Juan Tamariz 🙂 (See my short take on the subject in Sharing Secrets, “Be Yourself; Magician and Actor – Two Professions”, p. 27.)
Atsushi Takizawa, who is translating and publishing some of my books in Japanese, asked about the definition of the terms “effect”, “trick”, “routine”, “act”, and “performance”.
Considering that magic is still far from being treated as an academic discipline, this question is not as trite as it might look at first sight. I therefore thought it would be of interest to most who are following these Magic Memories to briefly discuss this important issue.
Fact is that these terms – and others for that matter (!) – are used very loosely in the literature. Any attempts through history to establish a unified terminology have miserably failed, as we know. In my opinion this has two major reasons.
First, magic is not treated as a science and art. In the sciences, once a discovery is made and named, everyone refers to it by this name. And every science is based on an established taxonomy with a generally binding terminology that is taught in a formal training with a final exam and graduation and title (BA, MBA, PhD, etc.). Not so in magic. “Magician” is neither a recognized profession nor is there a protected title, anyone can call her- or himself “magicienne” or “magician” and practice the discipline.
Second, most authors refuse to accept another’s terminology. In Card College I have tried to establish a sophisticated and detailed terminology, based on some already established terms, but if I look at today’s magical writings, few have taken notice, and still keep writing, e.g., “left long side of the deck”, which is a tautology, as a “side” is “long”, and it suffices to write “left side”. Or many still insist on using “Biddle Grip” crediting Mr. Biddle for seizing a deck in the manner it was already seized in 1370, when cards are first documented; “End Grip” is a logical and intuitive term, but few have accepted this.
Furthermore, in other disciplines (mathematics, music, medicine, etc.) publications (magazines, books, etc.) are supervised by experts in the field and edited for unified terminology, whereas in magic most texts are just checked for grammar, style and credits 8if at all); every author (most of them not professionals) then uses what she or he knows and likes.
A big subject, I know, that deserves a closer look, so consider these just a few thoughts to start the discussion (that won’t happen as few care…).
Back to Atsushis’s terms and his question. Here are my definitions I submit for your approval:
1. What the spectator experiences when a trick is performed, what he would tell someone else (“The card vanished and appeared in his wallet.”). 2. Often used in written instructions of a trick to convey to the reader what the audience will see (“A card is selected, lost in the deck, and then shown to have vanished. The card is then revealed in the perform’s wallet.”). 3. Names the category of the phenomenon, i.e., the basic theme of the trick (“Travel”, “Levitation”, “Restoration”, “Divination & Location”). 4. Often (wrongly) used as a synonym for “trick”, with the intention of upgrading its image (“I’ve been using the following effect with great success for a children’s audience.”).
Technical term used among magicians to denominate a specific piece of magic (Dai Vernon’s “Slow Motion Aces – 2nd Version”; Robert-Houdin’s “Card to Wallet”). I advocate its use in the technical literature, in lectures etc., as it has become an established term over centuries and it would be hard to replace it. However, when speaking to a lay audience, I prefer synonyms. In Secret Agenda, entry for November 24, I dealt with the issue (for your convenience you can read or download the one-page-PDF, CLICK HERE).
Any performance piece that is made up of several effects with the same instrument and with the same theme, such as “Follow the Leader”, “Ambitious Card”, “Linking Rings” (“What’s your routine for the Linking Rings?”).
1. Loosely used for the complete program of a performer (“This was a lovely act”). 2. Dictionary.com defines “act” as: “A short performance by one or more entertainers, usually part of a variety show or radio or television program.” 3. A sequence of tricks with a dramatic unity, usually ca. 6 to 10 minutes (Norm Nielsen, The Great Tomsoni, Cardini etc. did acts).
The act of presenting a trick in front of an audience (“Her performance of the Card in Wallet was remarkable.”).
Of course, magic not being an exact science as mathematics, the application of terms might occasionally be stretched. As an example, if you combined various quick tricks, such as in a “Multiple Card Location”, you could refer to this as a “routine”, but also as an “act”, especially if it extends for a certain duration of time. Also, if someone does a series of rope tricks, and only those, such as Edernac or Tabary used to do, then you would refer to it as an “act” (Edernac’s Rope Act), but if someone did the same piece as part of a let’s say 40-minute program, then it would be a “routine”.
This little excursion into a subject that is much neglected in our circles wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that there are, in spite of all things said, various dictionaries that have attempted to organize and define the concepts used in magic, to name and define them. Actually, most languages have at least one dictionary (see photo above).
In English Im aware of Bart Whaley’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of Magic (Jeff Busby Inc., USA 1989). The fact that this has been long out of print shows how little interest it has found. Fortunately, it is still available as an e-book from lybrary.com. The other one is T. A. Waters’ The Encyclopedia of Magic and Magicians (Facts On File Publications, USA 1988). This one is still available from Amazon. Whaley’s work costs quite a bit more than Waters’, but is clearly superior and recommended.
BTW: To compare the quality of two dictionaries simply take one term, e.g., “effect”, and then compare them. So, if at school or college you need to buy a dictionary for your son or daughter, the more expensive will usually be the better investment.
In the photos below you will see that Whaley’s definition is more detailed and complete than Waters’:
In the Asian cultures the number eight is considered a lucky number: It is symmetrical, looks the same if mirrored, if turned horizontally symbolizes the infinite – what a beautiful number (and idea for a Prologue to a trick using the number eight).
Since my collection of quotes from my own books in The Magic Memories 78 seemed to please quite a few among my readership, here are another eight “quotes” I’ve extracted for your edification and entertainment pleasure, all from Card College 3&4 – Personal Instruction, except otherwise stated:
“This will fly by perfectly, if it is correctly understood and capably executed.”“As always when practicing a sleight, exaggerate it and slow down. Then, after a while, do it a little faster, until you get real speed, and also bring the exaggeration down. ” (“Hofzinser” Top Change)“This might not be your cup of tea. The important thing is that you identify the problem, and now find a solution that fits you: Not too short, not too long, but just right.” (“All’s Well That Ends Well” in Card College 3&4 – Personal Instruction)“Of course this needs a reason. With any kind of movement you do or text you say, you always need a reason, implicit or explicit.”That’s the concept of naturalness: Avoid that the spectators wonder, “Why is he doing that?” If you can accomplish that you’ve attained naturalness.“There are things that cannot be simplified, or else they become trivial.” (The Magic Memories 65)The three “S” – Sophistication, Simplicity, Safety: As sophisticated as I can, but as simple and safe as possible. (The Magic Memories 65)This is the path to perfection: You’ll never reach perfection, but having it as a vision will lead to excellence. (The Magic Memories 65)
Borra Sr. (Borislav Milojkovic, 1921 – 1998), not to be confused with his son Charly Borra, was one of the best and popular pickpocket entertainers (as opposed to real ones…) of his time.
I had the immense pleasure and honor to be booked together with him at the same event in Frankfurt, many years ago, when I was just about twenty or so, still a student at the University of Basel. My good friend Wolff von Keyserlingk, a bona fide German Baron, whom I will remember in a future Magic Memories, had received a very lucrative engagement for a prestigious corporation to organize and lead through the entertainment part of a customer event.
I forget many details, but one thing I remember was that the event location was the Intercontinental Hotel in Frankfurt, at that time the number one hotel in town. Since I had to come from Switzerland, a 3-hour trip by train, I was offered to stay at the same hotel. Well, never before had I been in a larger and more luxurious hotel room! I had no idea that in my future professional career I would be lodged in many similar hotels around the world…
Anyway, Wolff had received a generous budget that allowed him to book three other magicians: Camilo Vazquez from Spain (1st prize Close-up in 1973 FISM Paris), Piet Forton (a three-time FISM winner in Card Magic), and myself (a nobody at that time, but Wolff apparently had a high opinion of me). And then there was the star of the show, Mr. Borra Sr. himself!
The four magicians of us were each assigned a table in a corner of a large room – a “Magic Show Corner” – but I remember only little of that. Very probably we each did several shows during cocktail time for different groups of people. How much better this “Show Corner” idea is than the “Walkaround Magic”, or worse, “Table Hopping Magic”. That idea stuck with me, and I’ve used it many times later during my own professional work.
The neat thing about this engagement, besides being hired in the context of such a high-profile event, was that after we did our “Show Corner” thing, the three of us were free to enjoy the rt of the evening together with the customers, while Wolff and Borra would do their stage show after dinner.
Wolff did his stage act as usual to great success, and then introduced Borra, who would do at least half an hour, maybe more. I had seen Borra before as a child when he worked in the Swiss national Zirkus Knie in Basel. My memory of his performance in Frankfurt was just that he git a long standing ovation, of course.
However, the reason I’m telling all this, is another memory that far outweights everything else, a minor thing to an outsider, maybe, but to me as the young chap it was sensational: All the artists, the five of us, shared the same dressing room that had a large table in the middle. I was practicing my card sleights on a close-up mat at the table when suddenly Borra, already dressed up, sat next to me, to my left (I remember that!), and asked if he could have my cards. Imagine my surprise when he then started to show me card sleights. I can recall him doing a second Deal and a Push-through Shuffle!
He wouldn’t have survived at a card table with it, but one could see that he knew and that he had put quite bit of practice into it. He went on for a while, and was highly amused to show me all this and telling me how much he liked magic. He then graciously asked me to do a few tricks for him and was very complimentary about my little performance. I was deeply impressed by his sincere humanity, a star who still was a child at heart, humble and modest, and still fully aware of who he was. I often think of him and find him to be a role model on and off stage.
What a pity that we did not live closer to each other, as I’m sure we could have become good friends, the benevolent world-famous “grandpa” and his *grandson” 🙂
Lots of things to be said about his act, which I won’t. Watch it for yourself on YouTube. Especially his opening with the cigarettes – world class magic.
An interesting question to ponder is why a pickpocket would open with a magic sequence that had nothing to do with the rest of the act. We find a similar ploy used by Al Koran: When working as a mentalist in a night club, he would open with a purely visual Linking Ring Routine with three rings.
I’ve never found anything written about this, but my assumption is that he had three reasons. First, it was an Overture that would introduce his stage persona. Second, it would establish his competence: Here was someone who really knew what he was doing. Third, it was a quick and visual opener.
The problem of pickpocketing, similar to the performance of card tricks or mentalism, is that it takes time and procedure to get to the first “effect”: at least two spectators – Borra used to call them “patients” – needed to be brought up, seated, and only then could the “stealing” part start. The visual opener with the Cigarette Catch would provide a first series of baffling miracles that would get immediate attention from everyone in the audience. But most of all, besides establishing his stage persona, it would clearly show his competence and endear him to his audience through a charming and completely magical gambit. To be understood and lived by.
A Little Help
An occasional look at the statistics of my webpage tells me that there are more or less 500 people reading these Magic Memories, at least that’s how many log in. I would like to reach a few more, and for this I need your help. If each one of you who is reading this would send just one email with the link to these The Magic Memories to one friend, we could double our community. So, if you want to say Thank you in a tangible way (yes, Gee, I know, I’ve used the expression before 🙂 let your friends know, and while you’re at it, tell them to get Card College 3&4 – Personal Instruction (also available as a USB Card), because it will be more useful to them than the money to me, although the latter is a necessary side-effect to keep bringing these Magic Memories and other information for free to you. THANK YOU, VIELEN DANK, GRAZIE MILLE, MUCHAS GRACIAS, MERCI BEAUCOUP, ERG BEDANKT, DOMO ARIGATO ETC.
As always, I wish you a good week!
All the very best,