Year

2019

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Humanities and Social Inquiry

Abstract

This research examines the work of four celebrity magicians, exploring the living quality of magic in their biographies and in their fiction (which is often semi-biographical). I engage in an immanent reading of these texts, striving to interpret them on their own terms. The subjects of these texts celebrate their apparent otherness, but in fact, they occupy a relatively privileged position within popular culture. The texts constitute a discourse between the authors’ various conceptual selves, in order to exalt a particular public self which attains the status of ‘celebrity.' Like the Lives Of The Saints, these texts provide an example for readers to follow. The magicians’ lives demonstrate for the ‘ordinary’ reader that another world is perfectly accessible, and the subject within the text can show us how to access that other-world.

Magical discourse persists in the modern world, and although scholarly consensus recognises that the practice of magic is commonplace, magic is also a subjective practice, and so it is not always easy to make sense of. Thus the magicians speak of walking between worlds, of entering a space apart from everyday life. This discursive space serves as a quarantine. In spite of its ubiquity, magic is taboo in modern public life, and ‘reasonable people’ are often obliged to denounce it. However, when we discover how to read magical discourse on its own terms, the other-space is revealed as the home of an irrational other-self, a subject whose existence seems to be independent of either the reader or the author. This figure is a conceptual persona (described by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari) who thinks on our behalf, and thus enables us to ‘think like a magician.’

The function of magic in a modern context is to ‘think differently,’ to initiate an encounter with the magical other world. Modern magicians practice a subtle hermeneutics of experience; the sorcerers interpret their own lives as texts, rich with secret meanings and ambiguities. The lives of my case studies are particularly striking because, as public figures, their biographical narratives are available to us. These bizarre narratives (about alien abductions, encounters with talking animals, visions from the Goddess, etc.) urgently demand to be interpreted.

This thesis is unavailable until Friday, September 03, 2021

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.