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Chapter 16. Persuasive Prestigitation: Exploring the Rhetorical Power of Magical Performances in a Popular Magazine Article

Joseph P. Zompetti

Joseph P. Zompetti earned his PhD in Communication from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He is Associate Professor in the School of Communication at Illinois State University. He is author and editor of three books: The Rhetoric of Pope John Paul II (Lexington, 2008, with Joseph Blaney), Discovering the World Through Debate: A Practical Guide to Educational Debate for Debaters, Coaches and Judges (International Debate Education Association, 2008, with Jurate Motiejunaite, William Driscoll, Judith K. Bowker, and Robert Trapp), and The International Criminal Court: Global Politics and the Quest for Justice (International Debate Education Association, 2004, with William Driscoll and Suzette W. Zompetti).

The Metternich Stela, the now-famous inscribed stone slab from ancient Egypt, portrays the magic and persuasion of Isis as, “I am Isis the goddess, the possessor of magic, who performs magic, effective of speech, excellent of words” (Ritner, 2008, p. 34). Seneca the Younger, the controversial Roman philosopher, wrote during the first year of the Common Era that a conjurer’s sleight-of-hand was ipsa delectate—the deception pleases (Seneca, 1917). He described his fascination with magic in relationship to his fondness for oratorical skill, or persuasion. It should not surprise us, a couple of thousand years later, that there is a connection between persuasion and magic, for both can be pleasing to an audience precisely due to the magic in persuasion, and the persuasion in magic.

Except for Covino (1992), who argues about the magical-ness in rhetoric, the fields of rhetoric and persuasion have overlooked the art of magic. Scholarly interest in magic has typically occurred in the disciplines of psychology, philosophy, anthropology, and performance studies. Even then, scholars rarely share their research with anyone other than fellow academic colleagues. My interest in magic, however, not only offers a unique perspective regarding persuasion, but it also seeks to bridge different audiences.

Through my research I explore the scholarship on magic, which is intended for two different audiences: magicians and scholars. While magicians benefit from understanding how to improve their art, non-magician members of the public may find the research interesting (as recent movies and books on magic suggest), and scholars may benefit from additional research in the area of rhetoric and persuasion. This chapter describes how I presented my research to a non-academic public through a magazine article. In what follows I reflect on the process of publishing in that area and in that medium and genre, and on how some magicians are incorporating my scholarship, as well as on ways in which this particular type of scholarship (i.e., popular culture, entertainment, etc.) is relevant and interesting for non-academics. In so doing, this chapter also seeks to enrich the conversation about how to identify with and ultimately connect with both audiences. On the website for this book you will find the magazine article, which was published in the periodical Magic in May 2010.

Further Resources:

Crymble, A. (2010, March 8). How to submit an article to a non-academic publication. University Affairs. Available online:

Duin, A. H., and Hansen, C. J. (Eds.) (1996). Nonacademic writing: Social theory and technology. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Jacobi, P. P. (1997). The magazine article: How to think it, plan it, write it. Bloomington, IN:Indiana University Press.

Odell, L., and Goswami, D. (Eds.) (1986). Writing in nonacademic settings. NY: Guilford Publications.

Schwartz, M. X. (1966). Non-academic writing: Requirements and evaluation. The English Journal, 55(4), 468-471.

Various Authors (no date). How to write a quality magazine article. Helium. Available online.

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