In class I asked, “How does magic work? How do magicians make an audience suspend their disbelief and accept the “impossible?” How does David Blaine convince his audience that he’s levitating?



Magicians know how to make things seem as if they’re real. They create perceptions and diversions so the audience will see the illusion from a certain perspective and accept the performance as real–even if we know it’s impossible.


Penn & Teller explain some ways that magic works in this clip we watched in class …




As I’ve explained, this course attempts to change the way we think about communication and ask “What else can communication do?” beyond sending messages or transmiting ideas clearly and precisely. One way to approach that question is to think of communication as “magic:” an interactive encounter that makes reality seem as if it is a certain way and that helps us see things from certain perspectives. We regularly communicate in order to do some of the things that Penn describes in the video above.

  • “Simulation”: to “give the impression that something that hasn’t happened, has;” or to give the impression that it has happened in a certain way. How do we do this through communication? What are some examples where we try to change impressions or appearances?
  • “Misdirection”: to lead attention away from something. How do we use communication to direct our attention elsewhere? This may seem like a bad or manipulative feature … but is it necessarily a bad thing?
  • “Switch”: to secretly exchange one object for another; or to change the terms we use for something; or to change the perspective from which we view something. How do we change meaning and reality simply by using different words or symbols? What are some examples where we make a “switch” with communication?

These questions help us move closer to understanding the “rhetorical view of life” that Lanham describes in this week’s reading. You need to know how this way of thinking about communication and the world differs from the “serious” view of communication or the standard view of communication that treats communication as a tool that merely describes reality as it exists outside of communication. The debate between Plato and Isocrates over the role of communication is the same debate Lanham discusses. How is his “rhetorical view of life” similar to Isocrates’ praise of communication?


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