Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ricky Jay and ancient humanity

Magic tricks and anthropology? There is currently a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC featuring drawings with miniature writing (micro-graphy): it takes a magnifying glass to tell that the curls of a drawing of a wig actually include words, sentences. Other documents have micrography featured differently. Most are by a man who ---didn't have arms. All of that man's ephemera in the exhibit is owned by sleight of hand artist Ricky Jay.

After Peter Samelson, whom the New York Times called "a soft spoken conceptualist of sorcery", it was "Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants" that taught me that what are too often trivially disrespected magic tricks can be performed with intellect, that my love of scholarship was not necessarily at odds with my love of fine sleight of hand and, in rare cases, love of stage illusion.

In "Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants" Mr. Jay performed the ancient feat of the "Cups and Balls" with a script that included Latin and comparative anthropology! You know the trick: a marble sized ball is placed under an upside down cup, and reappears under another upside down cup. It was known to Seneca (tutor of the man who became the ancient Roman emperor Nero), and was also exhibited in ancient China using cups the size of small bowls, in ancient India with miniature cups. Alluding to this, and the apparent fact that these were created without contact between the countries, Mr Jay quipped in the show that "Anthropologists love the concept of simultaneous invention."

Like the fact that before the invention of monotheism, proto religions (is that the right term?) highlighted women, and featured the symbol of the bull. In Africa, Asia, and Europe. "Anthropologists love the concept of simultaneous invention."

The script of Ricky Jay's opening number in "...52 Assistants" was, appropriately, a verbatim quote from a century old book, which seemed to me poetic. Thank you, Mr. Jay.

Cups and balls trick: see _Street Magic_ by Claflin and Sheridan
Women and the bull symbology: see _Ideas: A History..._ by Watson
On Peter Samelson, see Samelsonmagic dot com

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