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Trade of the Tricks

Trade of the Tricks: Inside the Magician's Craft

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 308
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  • Book Info
    Trade of the Tricks
    Book Description:

    From risqué cabaret performances to engrossing after-hours shop talk,Trade of the Tricksoffers an unprecedented look inside the secretive subculture of modern magicians. Entering the flourishing Paris magic scene as an apprentice, Graham M. Jones gives a firsthand account of how magicians learn to perform their astonishing deceptions. He follows the day-to-day lives of some of France's most renowned performers, revealing not only how secrets are created and shared, but also how they are stolen and destroyed. In a book brimming with humor and surprise, Jones shows how today's magicians marshal creativity and passion in striving to elevate their amazing skill into high art. The book's lively cast of characters includes female and queer performers whose work is changing the face of a historically masculine genre.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95052-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Men of a Thousand Hands
    (pp. 1-33)

    Stroll down the Boulevard St. Germain in the chic sixth arrondissement of Paris on a summer eve ning, and you′re liable to encounter an extraordinary character of the crossroads. Amid the polyglot throng of barhopping students, lovers hand in hand, and tourists enjoying gelato, he sits at a card table under a streetlight′s glow, wearing a bowler hat and a puckish smile. ″Come closer,″ he coaxes in a creaky voice. ″You can see betterherethanthere!″ As you join a circle of passersby cautiously edging in, he holds up three acorn-sized white balls and, with the wave of a...

  6. ONE An Apprenticeship in Cunning
    (pp. 34-76)

    There are many ways to describe how magicians are made. One would be to trace the acquisition of embodied skills, the meticulous ″techniques of the body″² that allow innocent-looking gestures to dissemble covert manipulations. While magicians strive to make their body language naturalistic, their every move is codified according to tradition, methodically adapted to suit individual needs, rehearsed thousands of times (often in front of a mirror or video camera), and fine-tuned over the course of a career. But while many spectators believe that hand-is-quicker-than-the-eye dexterity accounts for the magicians′ deceptive abilities, in fact, an enormous amount of mental strategizing...

  7. TWO The Social Life of Secret Knowledge
    (pp. 77-117)

    Entertainment magic′s first ethnographer was not a modern anthropologist but a freethinking sixteenth-century English lawyer. Appalled by witch hunts sweeping across Europe, Reginald Scot set out to prove that witchcraft was not a diabolical conspiracy against Christendom but a mass delusion. To document public credulity about apparently supernatural phenomena, Scot conducted fieldwork in London fairgrounds and markets among illusionists (or ″jugglers,″ as he called them) and peddlers of magic tricks. In the process, he claimed to have acquired conjuring skill sufficient to make witch hunters ″sweare [he] were a witch, and had a familiar divell at commandement.″¹ Instead, in 1584...

  8. THREE Potency and Performance
    (pp. 118-159)

    One evening at a meeting of the Illegal Magic Club, I was chatting with several male regulars when someone introduced us to a female newcomer in her late teens. She had piercing eyes, tomboyish baggy jeans, and, like most everyone else, a deck of cards, which she casually manipulated. Someone asked her to do a trick. She promptly had a card selected and returned to the deck, then exhibited her dexterity with a series of impressive, acrobatic ″cuts,″ splaying the cards in small packets between her outstretched fingers in a kaleidoscope of abstract geometric configurations that would make the location...

  9. FOUR Business as Un-Usual
    (pp. 160-198)

    Early on a brisk Saturday in December, while most of Paris slept, Nemo and I wheeled a big wooden box that looked like a medieval torture device (which would soon prove very close to its actual function) from the storage room at a nonprofit organization where he taught kite making into the back of an idling van. In the driver′s seat, his bleary-eyed assistant Jeanne rolled a morning cigarette. After stopping to pick up lighter fluid for a flaming magic wand and a big bag of Nemo′s favorite pastries (chouquettes, irresistible sugar-rolled puffs of fried dough), we set off for...

  10. FIVE Conjuring Culture
    (pp. 199-236)

    Around the beginning of the twentieth century, a small pamphlet began to circulate among Parisian magicians. It was entitled ″Eulogy to the Sublime Art of Prestidigitation″ and signed ″Ferraris Folletto, A Fanatic of Prestidigitation, the Queen of the Arts.″ The author proclaimed, ″As beauty, nothing … compares [to prestidigitation], and as art, it is everything that is truly superior. … No other art … could rival prestidigitation. … It alone merits the appellation Queen of the Arts.″¹ An Italian immigrant with a thick accent and an expansive personality, Folletto performed for several years at the Théâtre Robert-Houdin, and was a...

  11. EPILOGUE: “Giving People a Gift”
    (pp. 237-244)

    From an anthropological perspective, the vibrancy of magic as a subculture attests to the unique importance of imaginative play in human life, and the richness of magic as a form of expertise (whose depth and variety I have only just hinted at) illustrates amazing human capacities for the cultivation of skill. Of course, we encounter countless systems of expert knowledge during the course of an average day, whether they are objectified in technologies or embodied in people. While expertise is often associated with seriousness and predictability, in magic it takes a decidedly mischievous form that serves to generate surprise and...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 245-262)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-282)
  14. Index
    (pp. 283-289)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 290-290)