The (im)possibility of magic

A flash fiction about the impossibility of magic and the possible transgression of trying to make magic work in reality.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Fêtes des Vignerons, Vevey, 2019

“Magic is the eruption of the impossible in the domain of the possible,” the old professor said, leaning forward and lowering his voice as if he were part of a conspiracy. An unnecessary precaution as there was nobody else in the deserted pub to overhear them.

“Hold on a sec. Surely such a statement is more than flimsy.” The former student had no qualms about anyone overhearing his opinions. Spotting a weakness in the professor’s argument, he pressed home his advantage with vigour. He had a child-like habit of counting points off on his fingers. He did so now. “First of all, where do you draw the line between what’s possible, and what’s not? What’s more, so many things that seemed impossible have become possible with time, invention and the evolution of expectations.” He’d reached three fingers in his count. “As for magic – not the stage, sleight-of-hand variety – it is certainly not impossible in people’s heads. They can dream up and feed on all manner of credible tales about it and authors have portrayed such magic for years.”

He’d raised a fourth finger and would no doubt have continued had the aging professor not interrupted, making an abrupt gesture with trembling hands that was intended to depict the explosion of a volcano. The young man took it as a sign of impatience and was about to object.  “Of course,” the professor said. “That’s why I talk of ‘eruption’. What interests me most is the passage from imagination to reality.”

The younger man was clearly disappointed. He seemed eager to do battle over the impossibility of magic, not get sidetracked into philosophical discussions about reality. “Let’s not get distracted. You maintained that the very essence of magic was its impossibility.”

“That’s where you misunderstood me,” the professor countered. His expression could have been condescending but it was more one of professorial concern for a student who erred in his thinking. “Magic causes problems not by its existence, but by misguided attempts to make it reality.”

The switch in perspective must have caught the young man on the wrong foot because his argument stumbled. “I don’t follow.”

“We frequently dream up courses of action that provide pleasure or satisfaction. As someone who has never played a note in your life, have you never imagined astounding onlookers with suddenly acquired virtuosity as you sit down at the piano? Such a fantasy is harmless enough. But what if you imagined taking out you anger on all those immigrants you blame for your lack of paid work? The passage into reality of that nightmare is frequent enough with dire consequences. Or think of the powerful man who takes his desires for a young boy or girl as a sign of their willing complicity. The resulting abuse is another case of confusing imagination with reality.”

“But none of that is magic,” the young man objected, cling to what he saw as essential. “Except possibly the sudden ability to play piano.”

“As I said, the importance is not the magic itself but the violence perpetrated by those misguidedly trying to play out their fantasies in reality.”

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