Summer 2014

The Tchaikovsky Dream Continuum

Arriving at an accidental destination

Dorion Sagan

For in everything there is a portion of everything.
—Anaxagoras of Clezomenae

It wasn’t a Center Deal, but the Riffle Faro was a difficult and beautiful move, not only for the lovely sound of its bridge as every card fell perfectly into place—strangely returning the pack back to its exact original order after the eighth shuffle—but also for the philosophical volumes it whispered. The Faro enacted a simulacrum of Anaxagoras’s theory of returning to the beginning, of recovering it through nous, mind, only it did it through a kind of blind mechanism. Once you got it going, it was Cartesian—it worked itself, each card falling into place automatically by a micro-domino-like action due to the spring-loaded tensility of each preceding card. My simple mind found meaning in the accident of the names, associating Descartes with the cards themselves, their capacity for automaticity in the wake of our initial decisions. The bridge of a Faro or Riffle Faro sounded like clean water due to the perfect interlacing of the two equal half-decks. My brilliant friend Shade Rolinov, whom I had to invent for the sake of a certain card-like, reversed-to-self symmetry, was doing a Riffle Faro. He had taught it to Ricky Jay, who quietly featured it in the recent documentary Deceptive Practices. I watched the smoke gather in acrid curls as Rolinov blew a smoke ring, hastening it my way with a languid One-Hand Fan of his blue Tally-Ho Circle playing cards.

Rolinov was a great fan of Stewart James, whose work he considered to be the holy grail between self-working magic and alchemy or the occult, although he did not like the latter term. He discoursed on James’s Presbyterian childhood, his sleightless rope trick of making a knot with his hands tied that seemed to violate three-dimensional space but was in fact possible due to a quirk of topology. I was working on a literary project with Rolinov, a book based on a deck of playing cards, where each chapter would be named after a different card.

Magicians are a lonely bunch and the times I spent with Shade Rolinov were well worth it, although I don’t regret our division either. Over a period of weeks, he attempted to convince me he was being spied upon by government agents, and grew impatient with my impatience that what seemed like ordinary plaster in fact contained inorganic cameras and that mini-drones, nano-engineered insects with chitin exoskeletons, were keeping tabs on him. (An entomologist, he knew the breeding seasons of bees and flies, and the impossibility of their being ambulatory at that time.) Evidence of both, along with money from his room (of which he was running out), kept on disappearing. He repeated his disappointment in my dismissal of his version of events, especially given his exemplary skills as logician and philosopher, not to mention his shadowy former role in government, or his exemplary skills at sleight of hand. He exhaled sharply, muttering “Ischemia,” as we watched the plumes separate in the low light cutting through the windows. Apparently he’d gotten a girl in trouble. He turned his hand over and completed a one-hand shuffle. It sounded like a perfect Faro, the hum of the exact interlacing. I had not known that was possible, but here he was—apparently doing it.

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