What is magic? Where do we find magic? We as humans always look for magic in our lives, something that will awe and astound us. Maybe magic is in first loves, or hoping despite a broken heart. Maybe it is in the miracle of birth, the miracle of life or maybe in something as mundane as a few lines of a favourite song.
We tend to romanticise magic, in fact often equating magic to something as unique as stardust. Every time we hear the term magic we imagine sparkles and pixie dust and fairy lights and generally all things pretty. However to understand the concept of magic better, and its place in our lives and real world, it is perhaps wise to attempt a literal more serious analysis of magic as a term. Magic very literally is something fantastic. Now what we must understand here is fantastic as a word. It does not entail brilliance in this case, but is used in the textual sense of being related to fantasy. So what is fantastic or magical? It is something that transgresses reality as we know it. It defies the laws of nature and our understanding of the universe. Thus if we believe in magic we are automatically, willingly suspending our belief of known reality as the absolute truth. The fantastic or magical can be defined with the help of the theories propagated by structuralist Tzvetan Todorov. Todorov defines fantastic as ideally the moment of hesitation between the natural and supernatural. The fantastic cannot exist in a set dimension. It is the hesitation that is the perfect condition for existence of fantasy. If we experience something strange or unreal we can analyse it in two different ways- we might try to rationally analyse it and see if a rational explanation exists. If there is a rational explanation for a seemingly unnatural event it becomes something defined as an uncanny event. If on the other hand we find no logical or rational explanation of that event, it becomes a marvellous event or a supernatural event. However, for an event to be supernatural it has to defy all possible rational explanations. Merely suspending the rationale to justify something as supernatural or magical cannot be the correct way to juxtapose the existence of magic in real life.
Therefore according to Todorov there are three closely related realms – the uncanny, the fantastic and the marvellous. The uncanny is the rational belief of reality denying the existence of supernatural elements in our lives, the marvellous is the definite conclusion that supernatural elements do exist in our lives. Finally the fantastic is perhaps what magic as a term means to us – the belief that whatever unnatural has happened might be something supernatural, it is this hesitation that makes this fantastic, a single moment where the human mind totters on the edge between falling outward into the belief of supernatural, or inward into the belief of rational. Let us take an example to actually see the juxtaposition of reality and magic and the complementing nature of the two. Say a person has been buried in the ground. The person rises from the grave on the second day. Now this is an unnatural event. If faced with such an event the human mind can go two ways – it might suspend rationality absolutely and consider this a marvellous event of supernatural occurrence of the dead awakening. Or it can consider rationally that the person might have been wrongly presumed dead and buried and the person having regained consciousness dug their way out of their own grave. Premature burials might be an element of Gothic horror but even today medical practitioners might make a mistake and wrongly declare a person dead. Thus this train of thought would make the event uncanny, an unnatural event but having a rational explanation. Lastly the moment of hesitation that occurs when the mind goes through all rational avenues looking for an explanation but in absence of which it will term the event supernatural is what fantastic is. Therefore magic and reality are two sides of the same coin – a lack of rationale and the presence of one. Supernatural does not probably exist, thus magic probably does not exist. But the possibility of existence of supernatural or rationale defying occurrences is what allows us to thoroughly question reality in a rational manner in search of answers. Thus the possibility of existence of supernatural improves our understanding of the natural which is the best capacity in which the possibility of existence of magic complements the established existing reality.
Photography By: Karan Zakkas