“The Art of the Impossible: The Aesthetics of Theatrical Magic”
Wednesday, 13 January 2016
16:00 Room 243, Senate House
Despite its enduring popularity, theatrical magic remains all but ignored by art critics, art historians, and philosophers. However, I argue that magic offers a unique and distinctively intellectual aesthetic experience, and that reflection on magic raises a host of interesting philosophical and psychological questions. The talk has five parts. Part one dispels two misconceptions about the nature of magic and discusses the special sort of depiction it requires. Parts two and three lay the groundwork for an account of the experience of magic in terms of Tamar Szabó Gendler’s notion of “belief-discordant alief.” On this basis, part four presents an account of the experience of magic and connects it to both the Kantian mathematical sublime and Socratic aporia. Finally, part five introduces two new aesthetic paradoxes and resolves them by appeal, first, to Alison Gopnik’s work on the psychology of explanation, and second, to parallels between magic and horror and humor. The result is a philosophically rich account of the experience of magic that opens new avenues for inquiry with direct relevance to core issues in contemporary aesthetics.