Charles Fort: Scientist or Humorist?

He coined the word ‘teleport’… the X-Files is a direct descendent, and where would Fortean Times be without him?


Originally published on disinfo.com
One measures a circle beginning anywhere. – Charles Fort

Charles Fort was a painstakingly erudite dissector of scientific texts and a ravenous predator of scientific dogma, who scrutinized how scientists formed their theories according to their own personal views, rather than the weight of evidence available. Fort gleefully trawled through the data that was suppressed, discarded or explained away in a less than satisfactory manner. He referred to this this data as ‘damned’.
It is probably safe to say there are more people familiar with the work of Fort’s work than actually know anything about him, in spite of the stalwart campaigns of various Fortean societies, organizations and institutes, not to mention ‘Fortean Times’, the London based ‘Journal of Strange Phenomena’.
Every time some character from ‘Star Trek’ or some other science fiction drama start warbling on about teleportation – that’s Fort, or rather the tongue-in-cheek ‘explanation’ that he conjured up to explain the alleged disappearance of objects from one place, and their apparent reappearance elsewhere.
Born in 1874 in Albany, New York, Fort lived most of his life in New York City, apart from eight years in London, England. He died in NYC in 1932.
Of his many works, there are really just four that are easily available today: ‘The Book of the Damned’ (1919), ‘New Lands’ (1923), ‘Lo!’ (1931) and ‘Wild Talents’ (1932). These works are complex lyrical, whimsical works of investigation, doubt and anti-dogma, and are not always the easiest of reading. As ‘The Book of the Damned’ begins:
“A procession of the damned. By the damned, I mean the excluded. We shall have a procession of data that Science has excluded.”
“Battalions of the accursed, captained by pallid data that I have exhumed, will march. You’ll read them – or they’ll march. Some of them livid and some of them fiery and some of them rotten.”
Many of the paranormal symbols that we accept today were injected into popular culture by proponents of Fort – fish falls, rains of blood, bleeding statues, and damn it, UFOs, as well as ghosts, astronomy, stigmata, the madness of crowds, panics and hysterias, anomalous animals.
Fort realized what he was doing – “I am a pioneer of a new kind of writing that instead of heroes and villains will have floods and bugs and stars and earthquakes for its characters and motifs.”
This isn’t to say that they didn’t happen before Fort – rather they were ignored by literate men of reason, those who, even in 1902, were still arguing “that meteorites do not fall from the sky; that they are masses of iron upon the ground in the first place, that attract lightning; that the lightning is seen, and is mistaken for a falling luminous object.”
Fort’s myriad wanderings through strange phenomena – including the likes of the Devil’s Hoofprints of Devonshire (1855) are endlessly quotable:
“Nothing, in religion or science, or philosophy . . .is more than the proper thing to wear, for a while.”
It shouldn’t be assumed, however, that ‘Forteans’ – those who practice a form of humorous agnostic skepticism – should be thought of as dogmatic – for the very nature of Forteanism demands the questioning of all doctrine, never mind how sacred. Fort illustrated how explaining something something away was much different to actually explaining it – “The fate of all explanation is to close one door only to have another fly wide open.”
“To this day no one can decide whether I am a scientist or a humorist.” – Charles Fort
The Books of Charles Fort > > on blather.net
LINKS
International Fortean Organization
The ‘International Fortean Organization’ (INFO) was set up in 1965 to continue and expand the original ‘Fortean Society’. INFO is dedicated to disseminating Fort’s work and continues his research into unexplained phenomena by holding an annual conference, ‘FortFest’, and by publishing the ‘INFO Journal’.
The Quotable Fort: Selected Quotes From The Collected Works Of Charles Fort
Extracts are taken from a work in progress, provisionally titled ‘The Shorter Fort’ (but maybe also the ‘Portable’, or ‘Quotable’, Fort), begun by Dennis Stacy and Bob Rickard (co-editor of ‘Fortean Times’).
The Quotable Fort: Part 2
More selected quotes from the ‘Collected Works’ of Charles Fort.
Fortean Times: The Journal Of Strange Phenomena
Published in one form or another since 1973, to promote the work of Charles Fort. ‘Fortean Times’ has gone from strength to strength, and can now be found on news-stands every month. Possibly the most enjoyable publication on the planet.
The Charles Fort Institute
The Charles Fort Institute was set up to become the world’s leading resource for scholarship and research in the understanding of strange experiences and anomalous phenomena. Includes a short bio on Fort.
The Fortean Web-site Of Mr. X: Consulting Resologist
This site, in three languages, includes hypertext editions of ‘The Book Of The Damned’; ‘New Lands; ‘Lo!’; and ‘Wild Talents’; as well as ‘The Outcast Manufacturers’; (a novel and its serial edition); ‘Many Parts’ (an autobiography); and other writings by Charles Hoy Fort.
The Outcast Manufacturers
Mr. X has published five chapters of Charles Hoy Fort’s book, The Outcast Manufacturers, on his Web site. These are the versions published in a revised serial version in the American edition of Pearson’s Magazine. Later in 2000, he hopes to post the remainder of the original edition; but, for the present, he hopes that this sample may provide us with a taste of Fort’s only published novel.
A visit to Charles Fort’s grave in Albany, New York »
Blather visit to Charles Fort’s house in London »

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Writer, photographer, environmental campaigner and “known troublemaker” Dave Walsh is the founder of Blather.net, described both as “possibly the most arrogant and depraved website to be found either side of the majestic Shannon River”, and “the nicest website circulating in Ireland”. Half Irishman, half-bicycle. He lives in southern Irish city of Barcelona.