A few days ago, I left my hairdresser’s shop feeling happy. When a woman’s hair looks good, she feels good, too. Then I reached my car and discovered my keys were missing. Suddenly I felt as if I’d swallowed a live gerbil. Of course, my keys had to be near. I’d driven to the shop, hadn’t I? Thinking I’d locked them in the car, I peered through the window. Nothing. A little panicked, I hurried back to the beauty shop before someone absentmindedly picked them up. For several minutes, the entire establishment was engaged in a search for my keys. We found nothing.
Finally, my hairdresser asked if I might have left them in the car. I shook my head vehemently, saying I’d already looked. She decided to Ignore my reply and headed out the door with me in tow. A moment later, she spotted them abandoned on the passenger’s seat. Relieved, I called AAA and was soon on my way home.
As the author of Trompe l’Oeil, a novel about tricks of the eye, I should have been savvier. I know that one can look and yet not see. This time, my panic had gotten the better of me, created a blind spot that left me unable to discover the object I most wanted to find.
Magic, we know, depends on blind spots. A performer focuses our attention in one place so he can operate freely in another. The more we focus upon looking for the trick, the more easily we are fooled.
The U.S. Military has long studied the art of illusion. The Textbook of Political Military Counterdeception by Barton Whaley and Susan Stratton Akroyd, was written specifically for the Department of Defense, as was Sleights of Mind by Stephen Macknik, Susana Marinez-Conde and Sandra Blakeslee. (“You’ll never know it’s gone,” by Adam Green, excerpted from The New Yorker, The Week, December 31, 2013, pgs. 26-27.)
Dr, Afreet, the villainous psychiatrist in Trompe l’Oeil, talks about illusions throughout the novel. (See. Pg. 116 for an example.) He knows, as should I, his creator, that life seldom offers absolute truths. We live in a world of blind spots. Sometimes they cause us to “misplace” our car keys. Sometimes they create illusions that entertain. And sometimes, they drive us mad.
(First published 2/3/14)