Thursday, October 6

In praise of illusionism

My classmate and friend Ramón Mayrata has dedicated a good part of his life to the study of magic in its most playful sense, that is, a magic belonging to the orbit of the show, understood as a game of skills that displays its seductive capacity before an audience delivered with weapons and baggage to Illusion, his beloved goddess. The word ‘illusion’ comes from the Latin ‘illusio’, which in turn derives from ‘illusus’, participle of the verb ‘illudere’, ‘to deceive’. So every illusion is a delusion, but if it is an ‘illusion’ related to that friendly magic that is incapable of doing harm that is illusionism, the deception turns into joyous stupefaction, into joyous amazement for the spectator, who

He has paid a ticket to be deceived, and that only if the magician or illusionist succeeds will he feel that this ‘paideia’ of continuous deceit that has rude him will have a happy ending.

I clearly remember the title and even the format of the first book that Ramón Mayrata devoted to the subject: ‘By magic art’ it was called: a true delight for the reader. Later came others, some written in collaboration with magicians as television and famous as Juan Tamariz. The books that refer their content to the history of illusionism are usually very entertaining and never reveal any of the secrets, major or minor, contained in this fantastic world, based on deception, which is salon magic. There is – yes, apart, inserted in more or less hidden and reserved distribution lines – an ‘ad hoc’ bibliography for professionals who do instruct and report on the procedures to deceive with greater skill and with the usual impunity.

We must not forget that the aforementioned verb ‘illudere’ is nothing more than a compound of the prefix ‘in’ and the verb ‘ludere’, and that ‘ludere’ is equivalent to our ‘play’, which is clear, at least from an etymological point of view, that in illusionism it is about playing. And to play is to carry out one of the activities that best defines and characterizes our species, as everyone who has read ‘Homo ludens’ knows, the formidable essay by the Dutch Huizinga published in 1938, just one year before the game. it became death without ceasing to be a game – board and tokens – as a result of the beginning of the Second World War.

In recent times I have made friends with a wonderful magician, Joe Monty, whom I have seen perform ten or twelve times without any of them giving me reason to keep my mouth shut, which I kept open permanently from beginning to end. every show. There are many types of magic, always sticking to the type of illusionist magic we are talking about: ‘stricto sensu’ hall magic, with its strings, its rings and its handkerchiefs; close-up magic or micro magic, with your cards, coins, bills or other small things; scene magic, where the stabbing and disappearances take place; magic that draws pigeons and rabbits out of Fred Astaire-worthy hats; what has been called mentalism and can overcome any limit, since the mind never rests; the mythical stuff of escapism, where the great Houdini shone so much (active debtor, by the way, of all those who avoided calling illusionism a deceptive game and preferred to resort to preternatural reasons when explaining what seemed inexplicable to them). In any of these subtypes my friend Joe Monty excels.

And I always talk to him about ‘Mandrake the Magician’, the wonderful comic book character that began to be published in 1934 and drew Phil Davis with scripts from its creator, the great Lee Falk, also father of ‘The Masked Man’, called in the United States. States ‘The Phantom’. And I bitter his life telling him ‘ad nauseam’ my favorite Mandrake adventures, and how Fellini was going to film a Mandrake on the big screen with Marcello Mastroianni as the protagonist, and how beautiful and sexy Princess Narda was, and what nobility and Power exuded Lothar, a character who by his invulnerabilities looked more like an ‘avant la lettre’ superhero than he really was: the Prince of the Seven Nations, a flourishing federation of African jungle tribes. Illusionism and comic strips from the prewar and postwar American newspapers: unforgettable consortium for those of us who love the respective magics of illusionism and old comics.

I believe that it was the assiduous reading of ‘Mandrake’ that led me to think that the Magi were, before kings, magicians who came from a Persia where there was an excess of magicians, which led to their exile to more or less neighboring countries. With this, the good old Zoroaster contributed his immense Avestan wealth to the kind and fun foundational concepts of recreational and theatrical illusionism of the last centuries, to whom I owe this page. However, that contribution of Persian magicians (with Phrygian cap included) to the illusionism ‘light’ of my interlinings made me wonder if behind all the magicians, those who came from the East and those who were born in New York or Paris and they had adopted unpronounceable exotic names, of all, there will not be a Wizard, a single Wizard with a capital M, an all-powerful Wizard who presides over the other wizards and, incidentally, all of us. A Magician who with his wand points to the heart of the world so that the game that begins on the day of our arrival becomes more comfortable. A Magician who with a single gesture, with a single Word flowered in a miracle, comforts the afflicted and welcomes the just in his lap. A Magician who transfers his Word to the last end of heaven, where the shadows no longer exist and a warm light reigns that bathes the universe, and that there reveals to us all the possible secrets. Faced with the peremptory need for this Magician to exist, I dreamed of a prayer in Alexandrians that another day I sing or tell them.


Luis Alberto de Cuenca is a member of the Royal Academy of History

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