Juggler's World: Vol. 43, No. 1

Academic Juggler

by Arthur Lewbel

"I always thought storytelling was like juggling," ... you keep a lot of different tales in the air, and juggle them up and down, and if you're good you don't drop any. So maybe juggling is a kind of storytelling, too."

The usual math that fills this column will be replaced today by an essay on juggling in literature. Before that, I'd like to note that it was only about a year ago that the idea that jugglers might like to get together via electronic mail was first suggested in this column. The response has been overwhelming. As I write this (December 1990), there are already over 150 jugglers on a computer network. More about the juggler's electronic mail network appears elsewhere in this issue.

I also want to thank Barrett Dorko, Scot Morris, and Morgan Adams for writing to me. Morgan wrote to describe how juggling animations can be easily made on Amiga computers. Discussions of juggling computer programs, notations, props and records are also appearing on the computer network.

On to literature. Salmon Rushdie's book, "The Satanic Verses," incurred the wrath of an entire nation. When an author of fiction this powerful writes about juggling, what does he say? The following is an excerpt from Rushdie's latest book.

"And at that exact moment, without a word, Blabbermouth took three soft balls made of golden silk from one of her pockets, tossed them in the air so that they caught the sunlight, and began to juggle.

She juggled behind her back, over and under her leg, with her eyes closed, and lying down, until Haroun was speechless with admiration; and every so often she'd throw all the balls high into the air, reach into her pockets, and produce more of the soft golden spheres, until she was juggling nine balls, then ten, then eleven. And every time Haroun thought, 'she can't possibly keep them all up', she'd add even more balls to her whirling galaxy of soft, silken suns.

It occurred to Haroun that Blabbermouth's juggling reminded him of the greatest performances given by his father, Rashid Khalifa, the Shah of Blah. 'I always thought storytelling was like juggling,' he finally found the voice to say. You keep a lot of different tales in the air, and juggle them up and down, and if you're good you don't drop any. So maybe juggling is a kind of storytelling, too.'

Blabbermouth shrugged, caught up all her golden balls, and tucked them away in her pockets. 'I don't know anything about that,' she said. I just wanted you to know who you were dealing with here.'" (From "Haroun and the Seas of Stories," by Salmon Rushdie, Granta books, London, in association with Viking Penguin, 1990.)

Despite her demeaning name, Blabbermouth later proves to be a very important person in the story, and her skill saves Haroun and his companions from death. In "Lord Valentines Castle," by Robert Silverberg (Bantam books, 1979) the hero begins with little except an unusual aptitude for juggling. In "The Clown of God," a children's book by Tomie de Paola (Harcourt Brace, 1978), an apparently simple juggler becomes part of a miracle.

These three books are fantasies, or modern fairy tales, and they provide some insight into how ordinary people think of jugglers. In all these books, juggling ability is a sign, or omen, of hidden power and strength. In her last sentence above, Blabbermouth says as much, in italics. Unlike magicians, who hide their skill, the juggler reveals all, yet still performs feats that, to the crowd, are incomprehensible. It is magic without deceit, and in the stories individuals with such rare power (directly over objects and indirectly over minds) are capable of greatness.

Given this potential power, it is a pity that so many jugglers use juggling mainly as a vehicle for comedy, as something to tell jokes about. Really funny jugglers are a joy, but are also quite rare. Jugglers don't have to be clowns.

The above books present juggling in a way that feels right. Unlike the fictional jugglers Blabbermouth, Valentine, and Giovanni, too few living jugglers get past the clown image to convey the mysterious hypnotic power of juggling. Michael Moschen is one. When more jugglers develop performances that embody the skill and passion of the fictional accounts, the clown image will fade and jugglers will be accorded more of the respect their skill deserves.

"The Academic Juggler" is an occasional feature of Juggler's World, and is devoted to all kinds of analyses of juggling. Anybody who has suggestions, comments, or potential contributions for this feature is encouraged to write to me: Arthur Lewbel, 3 Audubon Road, Lexington, MA 02173, or phone 617-862-3089, or E-mail: Lewbel@Brandeis.Bitnet. Please include a phone number if you write me.

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