Now You See It. Now You Dont.
Eventually that’s true of everything. Including your own reflection in a mirror.
Disappearance in the context of conjuring includes close-up magic, parlor magic, and stage magic. Close-up magicians, at a bar or table for example, are always vanishing coins, cards, cigarettes or handkerchiefs; in the bigger venue of the parlor (for example a magician performing in the family room at a child’s birthday party) they might be vanishing a glass of milk or a dove or rabbit; and, on a stage, they are famously able to vanish their traditionally female assistant, but now and then they vanish something even larger, like an elephant or the Statue of Liberty.
In any size or in any form, disappearance enacts a small mystery play about loss. The roots here go deep and predate our sparkly modern prestidigitators and conjurers, going back to the darker predecessor thaumaturgists and necromancers. Magic tricks involving a disappearance get their deeper energy by just tweaking the nose of loss. If the magician has just borrowed a hundred-dollar bill from you, you know you will get it back, even if he has just burned it up in front of your eyes. But the root of the nerve which is located near where this magical entertainer is operating… is loss. Jung said the deep psyche does not distinguish ritual from reality.
Until a child reaches the age where she understands the persistence of an object (when it is out of her sight) everything is magic and nothing is magic. Vanishing a coin for an infant is just another epiphenomenon amidst William James’s “buzzing, blooming confusion.” But when she is one, and she has crossed that threshold, it instantly elicits surprise and delight.
As we’ve seen in countless videos on the Internet in which a dog owner disappears behind a blanket in a doorway, the dog, now suddenly left behind, is not just surprised but deeply alarmed. These clips usually have soundtracks of laughter added, but the dog is often seen almost despairing. Although these videos are intended to be funny, they can be profoundly poignant.
The lighthearted disappearance of a coin from the palm of a magician’s hand or the life-altering sudden loss of a significant other, and all losses in between, are entangled, and the faery dust tossed over all disappearances is the mystery that anything was ever here at all. As the quantum physicist Niels Bohr is reputed to have said, “We will never penetrate to that point where matter haunts space.”