In 1912 Marcel Duchamp attended Raymond Roussel's play Impressions d'Afrique in Paris. He described the spectacle and therefore Roussel as being responsible for his later work The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even, having inspired him with contraptions and illusions. And Roussel was "mad about magic"*, describing in his fiction illusory devices and mechanisms. Furthermore, Simon During comments that "he (Roussel) generated his best texts using a secret set of homophonic procedures that arbitrarily determined which phrases could complete particular sections of prose"* and William Clark describes how "one of the most remarkable peculiarities of Locus Solus and Impressions d'Afrique is that nearly all the scenes are described twice. First, we witness them as if they were a ceremony or a theatrical event; and then they are explained to us, by their history being recounted. This is particularly the case in Impressions; the author went to the trouble, after publication, of inserting a slip of green paper on which he suggested that 'those readers not initiated in the art of Raymond Roussel are advised to begin this book at p. 212 and go on to p.455, and then turn back to p. 1 and read to p. 211'",** which is interesting in the light of my writing about Carousel Narratives in a previous post. During goes on to claim that art and magic must be considered as bound together, given that both result from "the same trick"* that "the effect is consecrated as more than it is"*, and the same "deception of not revealing quite how the trick was pulled off"*, and the same "logic that enables something to be invented from nothing much."*
The idea of magic is helpful when considering the presentation of the Ghost Box. As Marina Warner writes, "magic embeds desires in things. Once imbued with power, they acquire different names: relic, icon, talisman, amulet"***, and it seems reasonable to say that the (mostly) rather ordinary items inside the Box have taken on this quality of embedded desire, for me at least, as a result of the context in which I found them and the significance they seem to have when considered together.
Warner also references Derrida's meditations on writing, in which it is claimed that writing is a pharmakon, suggesting that writing is to be considered as detrimental to the potential to think in dialogue with others. It seems to me that a similar conclusion could be drawn about the Ghost Box's contents and their resistance to representation. Despite the vastness of its contents, the box seems to lose its magic when expanded, as if concealment and secrecy is the crux. Which, looking back on that sentence, describes magic pretty well too. The box seems to want an audience (feedback from various methods of presentation is often that people like to hear me tell the story of finding it and to experience the revealing of the contents), like magic does, an audience who are willing to be transported. "To be true conjuring, the scene must be there in the theatre of the cabaret or the room... The characters must, at least in some sense, include the magician, the audience, the stagehands, ideally the security guard. Here and now is all part of the grammar of this art form."****
With thanks to Chris Cook for sparking the idea.
* - During, S., (2009). Magic Show. Hayward Touring, 29th November 2009 - 18th December 2010. [Exhibition Catalogue]. London: Hayward Publishing
** - http://www.variant.org.uk/15texts/Roussel.html
*** - Warner, M., (2009). Magic Show. Hayward Touring, 29th November 2009 - 18th December 2010. [Exhibition Catalogue]. London: Hayward Publishing
**** - Teller in Conversation. Quoted in Brown, D., (2003). Absolute Magic. USA: H&R Magic Books