Penn Jillette: Card Trick as Rhetorical Tool

Inside Magic Image of Magician and Author  Penn Jillette is a gifted and entertaining writer of things magic and otherwise.  We have reviewed his written work on this unworthy magic web site in the past and we’ll have a review of his newest book, God, No! Signs You May Already be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales next week.

Mr. Jillette could probably write a pretty decent Magic for Beginners book and teach basic sleights effectively.  But that’s not how he chooses to use his remarkable talent.  Like his silent partner, Teller, Mr. Jillette uses magic as a device or tool to offer his unique and usually correct perspective (from our point o’ view) of the topic or issue he has chosen to explain.

His writing seems effortless and spontaneous.  We would like to think that style is a result of thousands of drafts, re-writes, third-party editing, and gut-wrenching revisions.

We presume, however, his writing style reflects his true persona.  We don’t have that gift.  In fact, the sentence, “We don’t have that gift” took two and a half hours to craft.  We began with “we not as good as he is at writing that way,” worked our way towards “he is better at writing than speaking and he is very good at speaking too,” and finally “We don’t have that same ability that he, Penn Jillette has.”

Our point?  We like Penn Jillette’s writing.

In fact, we are not ashamed to say we would marry his writing if such a thing were possible.  We don’t know if that makes us gay for wanting to marry the writing style of a man, but if it does, we’ll take those slings and arrows and make lemonade served in slings with arrows for stirrers.

Mr. Jillette has a great piece in the ’s weekend edition.  True to form, he uses magic to explain the dark secrets of politics.

What gives him the cred to write an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal about politics (and economics)?

He addresses that issue at the start:

I’m a Las Vegas magician. One thing you learn doing magic tricks for a living is how close every performance of every magic trick is to disaster. There are no robust magic tricks. They’re all hanging from a thread—sometimes literally.

Now, I don’t know jack about politics or economics. But what’s starting to worry me is just how much what I do resembles American politics and maybe all government. Let me teach you a bit about magic here, and see if you can’t see some similarities.

That’s how he sucks you in. Easy going, soft touch, self-deprecating and ostensibly helpful. We promise that if you read past these first two paragraphs, you’ll be trapped.

You will lose your ability to turn back. You will have to ignore the persistent and increasingly more frantic knocks at the bathroom door begging you to vacate.

If you are driving as you read the opening stanza, you might as well turn the wheel hard to the right and slam on the accelerator. You’re going to crash anyway, why not take your own destiny into your hands and possibly spare the life of some poor soul driving with focus and proper hand placement.

Check him out at The Journal here.

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