Growing In The Art Of Magic by Eugene Burger

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii May, 1996)

In 1992, Eugene Burger produced a set of audiotapes under this title, now transcribed and published in manuscript form. The book consists of ten segments, beginning with Growing, The Way of the Magician, and Managing People Close-Up. The author considers a number of important but perhaps not always obvious questions. "As magicians, when are we growing in the art of magic! Are we for instance, growing when we're buying more tricks? Are we growing when we're reading more magic books?" The author provides some personal responses, but even they appear intended to stimulate the reader's own inquiry, rather than as absolute answers.

There is also a great deal of extremely pragmatic advice offered throughout the first half of the book, touching on many of Mr. Burger's favorite themes, such as the value of preparing a written script, attention to detail, and the importance of originality— concepts which cannot be presented frequently enough to magicians in need of such encouragement. As ever, Mr. Burger offers a call to action: "Thinking only gets us so far, and then a wall appears that thinking can never surmount. That wall is only surmounted by action, by doing, by regular and conscious practice and rehearsal."

"I think the path of growth toward becoming a better perfomer is a difficult way for most of us because it requires so much thought and work and more thought and more work. It demands that we try and fail and then try again and then probably fail again. And then keep on working and trying with absolutely no guarantee of success. You might wonder why any magician is crazy enough even to follow this way. And my answer is: They have to. It isn't so much a decision as an inward calling. Most magicians, I think, do look for the easy away, and that usually means imitating and stealing from the acts of other more successful performers. Imitating and stealing is the easy way. You look around and see something that you like, and then you take it. And this something that you like can be a particular effect, an entire routine, or a single line."—Eugene Burger, Growing in the Art of Magic

In Managing People Close-Up, the author addresses a common concern of magicians, namely how to handle difficult and challenging spectators. The excellent advice here is must reading for anyone seriously engaged in the process of trying to do close-up magic for living, breathing human beings. The discussion of the practical side of real-world performance continues in Mr. Burger's conversations with Danny Orleans about Before the Show and After the Show. These titles are far more limiting than the actual dialogues, which are far and free-ranging conversations about preparation, self- criticism, and the process of selecting one's material. Commenting on some of the differences between real-world close-up performance versus some of what we see in conventions and contests, the author notes, "There are very few venues for a performer who has an open attache case at his side on a chair. ...I work completely out of my pocket.... I like the image of walking into the party: the host ... comes up and says, 'What do you need?' And the first thing I say is 'Nothing. I don't need anything. It's all here.'"

In the second half of the book, Mr. Burger wanders into areas that have clearly been of more recent concern to him. Thus, in a discussion with Jack Gould, he explores the historical origins of magic, and its relation to religion. I find the latter subject both a conceptual reach and a rather uninteresting one at that, all the more so given the superficial treatment it receives here. But Mr. Burger does offer this notable comment: "I think magic is somebody else's religion." Which would seem to imply everybody's religion, a notion I certainly find hard to dispute. Should there be any connection between religion and contemporary conjuring? My answer would be no, at least regarding my own work. But Mr. Burger's comments on the potential use of symbolism in magic are hard to disagree with, and magicians should consider the issues he presents as opportunities to make their own performances more original and compelling.

In The Future of Magic, the author muses philosophically on whether or not there is such a thing as the future, following which, whether or not there is, he muses about that.

Seeking a Magical Vision is based on a talk the author presented in 1992 at the first year of Mystery School, for which Mr. Burger is officially listed as Dean. Here he addresses ways in which magicians might seek their own visions of magic. "I think the way is something like this: If I see, finally, the utter futility of imitating other magicians or stealing their original work; if I see this so deeply that the seeing is action, and I no longer want any part of that kind of imitating and stealing, well, how then can I find my own magical vision?" Mr. Burger then transitions, in his inimitable fashion, to the importance of a notebook, a mirror, and video and audio recording as tools in the conjuring student's vision quest. The penultimate section addresses the rather daunting subject of creativity, and does succeed in offering some useful advice to those who wish to develop their creative skills. The booklet concludes with a brief contemplation on the Tao Te Ching.

If you are already a Burger fan, you will recognize many of the themes in this little manuscript. Newcomers to Mr. Burger's ouevre will find this an effective introduction, all the more so considering the current scarcity of much of his earliest, now out-of-print titles. No one has ever written more explicitly about the unique qualities inherent in the performance of close-up magic as it differs from other forms of our art. The production quality here is minimal; some effort has been expended on the typography, but other than that, this seems like a bit of a rush job. Also, this material has been transcribed from audiotape, and probably punctuated more by the transcriber than by much further editorial effort. This is a case where you really are paying for the raw content, and for those who always wondered what was on those audiotapes, it's now available in that most convenient, accessible, and useful of packages: the written word.

8 - 1/2" X 5-1/2" saddle-stitched; 45 pages, 1996; not illustrated; Publisher: Eugene Burger