August 6, 2015
In four books published between 1919 and 1932 — The Book of the Damned, New Lands, Lo!, and Wild Talents — CHARLES FORT (1874–1932) established himself as the anomalist nonpareil. Living on a modest inheritance in a Manhattan apartment, he filled shoeboxes with thousands of cross-referenced clippings from US and UK newspapers — unlikely, often unsourced and unverifiable accounts of teleportation, spontaneous combustion, wounds inflicted by invisible assailants, luminous apparitions over major cities, torrents of blood, meat, frogs, fish, and rocks. His delight in the inexplicable was quite different from a superstitious belief in the corporeal reality of elves or angels, and his ceaseless sifting of newsprint kept many nuggets of possibility from vanishing down the sluice of time: “I have collected 294 records of showers of living things. Have I? Well, there’s no accounting for the freaks of industry.”
The Fortean style is a mocking, mincing burlesque of academic prose, witty and grave even (especially) when admitting ignorance or contradiction. The Fortean angle persists in our ongoing fascination with the genuinely or only apparently unexplained; in the endlessly entertaining Fortean Times, now in its fourth decade of publication; and in the shot from P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia of a Wild Talents paperback — not to mention that movie’s climactic rain of toads. Though nothing Fort wrote was meant to be taken seriously as deductive inquiry, his refutation of an all-encompassing scientific rationalism is hard to withstand. Simply, he was a champion of magic, mystery, and (to steal a scientific usage) the “confounds” of the natural world in an age that was unhospitable to any of them; and an opponent of the dogma — dominant in his day, happily or unhappily decrescent in ours — that all phenomena can, or even should, be explained.
READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Anarcho-Symbolist (1864–73) and Psychonaut (1874–1883) Generations.