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RE-cap of Day 1, Trans-States Conference: The Art of Deception - Opening and 1st keynote

Day 1: Opening Presentation by Ferdinando Buscema, “Keeper of Secrets” and 1st Keynote by Erik Davis, “The Flickering Phantasm”

What does the phrase, ‘keeper of secrets’ mean? Every area has its own secrets, but the trick is the key. The trick is the device that creates wonder, astonishment, and mystery. The effect is the end goal; the trick is how to get there. The art of conjuring takes its origins from shamanism, and was not originally meant as entertainment, but was used to display the power of the shaman. Now we see a ‘hyperreal’ residue of the ritual. Not to mention that in many cases, people want the conjurer to provide something ‘practical’ such as lottery numbers. Ferdinando notes that the origins of ‘showbusiness’ could be found in musicians and artists recognizing these shamanic powers and embedding them in their own practices. (Additionally, the case could be made that witchcraft is actually magic tricks.) Conjuring was often a family tradition, where members tried to involve ‘spirit’ dimensions, arcane mediums, devils, and ‘mystic vibes.’ These people knew the secret knowledge. With the introduction of the Internet, these secrets are a click away, and the emergence of ‘leisure time’ has provided the amateur magician/conjurer what is known as ‘pocket magic.’ There is now a huge market that enables people to access the secrets by buying them; the secrets are now commodified. In this way, we could see the trivialization of conjuring, and the lowering of the status of the magician. However, contemporary magicians are aware of this, as well as the skeptical nature of their audiences, and are well prepared. Professionals such as Derren Brown, and Penn & Teller reveal a piece of the secret to us, but can still fool us all the same. This oscillation of disenchanting and reenchanting is something that exists together – we should be aware that these notions are not exclusive. Transitioning to Erik Davis’s keynote, in addition to the post I’ve already made about this talk, Erik referred back to Ferdinando’s points about the trick and the effect. To give some context, Erik noted that when explaining the power of the devil, the Malleus Maleficarum (or ‘Hammer of the Witches’, a medieval treatise on witchcraft) notes that the devil can’t perform miracles but only conjure illusions, or tricks; the devil must remain under the power of natural law. The servants of the devil, the demons, are ‘invisible’ metamorphic beings, that ‘flicker’ on the edge of our experiences, creating ‘glamour.’ The imagination of a person plays a large role in the belief in the illusion, as the ‘demonic appearance’ is devoid of true reality. From the perspective of the imagination, the illusory appearance seems real, but in materiality, it isn’t. Therefore, the agency of demons is limited – they can’t change matter, but they can manipulate phantasms. Trickery, in this sense, contains the idea of skepticism, but keeps the tricks in the hands of demonic agents, and they distort the senses in various ways. In this way, conjurers and demons are similar, as the manipulations suspend the relationship of cause and effect. This suspension creates a gap for the ‘flicker’ to happen. Taking this concept into the realm of entertainment, natural things are made to seem supernatural. On the one hand, we are totally jaded people, yet the phantasms (that many believe are ‘real’) are everywhere (for example, with conspiracy theories). However the sense of ‘consensus reality’ is eroded, and can cause feelings of frustration and hopelessness. Erik suggests that the way to move forward is in otherness. When we recognize the ‘other’, we obtain the ability to understand the ‘other’ in an open-ended encounter of transformation. In keeping that space open, something can actually happen.

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