On the Concept of Time in Magic

Karussell

“We must use time as a tool, not as a couch.”
– John F. Kennedy

The concept of time is a wonderful invention (or discovery?). In short, time is both momentary and eternal, flying and stretching, a constant blending of then, now and soon, irretrievable and virtually inescapable. Except for magicians, of course, be they on stage, in books or in movies.

Incidentally, I believe that time traveling is one of the most fascinating phenomena for people, besides resurrection and floating, as they know bloody well from daily experience that time cannot be stopped, replayed or altered in retrospect. Time wasted is time lost forever. That’s why it’s a strong premise for any trick if it seemingly allows people or objects to travel through time and space.

This got me thinking about various concepts of time in magic, beyond the time-traveling theme. Here are a dozen other aspects:

  • the time and age of magic, way back when and today, with fashions always shifting and sometimes coming back in circles (and magicians sometimes “falling out of time” with their props, patter, or demeanor)
  • tricks with clocks, watches, etc. or about time as an overarching theme
  • the right time (and place) you choose to perform (or not)
  • the specific, measurable time and duration of a trick or performance
  • time wasted during tricks or endless patter (see JFK quote above!)
  • the perception of time passing quickly or slowly during a show from a magician’s perspective vs. the audience’s (and boy, that gap may be huge!)
  • time as a benchmark tool as in Silly Billy‘s laughs-per-minute ratio
  • the right “timing” of doing something, secret or not
  • time as in time misdirection
  • time used as a dramatic countdown towards the climax of a trick (cf. David Copperfield‘s death saw illusion)
  • time as a presentational choice to do tricks either in slow motion or in high speed/fast forward mode, or part of a trick as a replay
  • time as the crucial factor between trigger and effect that determines whether a transposition is actually perceived as a trick in the mind of the audience – a slow sub trunk illusion would not qualify as magic, neither a slow quick change.
  • …?

That’s my list so far, but I guess there’s at least another dozen more out there.

Time will tell…


Addendum:

There is a nice discussion on this topic over at the Genii Forum now!


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