From the Paranormal to Parapolitics

Charles Fort, we need you.

The writer Charles Fort, born in 1874, spent most of his professional life occupying a succession of dire apartments in New York‘s Hells Kitchen and the Bronx, with his wife, Anna. Constant poverty made it a threesome; at one point the Forts had to burn furniture for firewood.

Fort had a walrus mustache with a body to match, and wore little spectacles as thick as coke bottles. He spent his days plunging through library archives, searching out and collecting odd items from journals and newspapers, and taking thousands of notes which he filled hundreds of shoe boxes stacked at home.

The writer was fascinated by "the damned": anecdotal accounts and scientific reports that didn't fit the authorized version of reality. Whether it was tales of bizarre objects seen in the sky, or reports of atmospheric anomalies like "red rain," he made no attempt to minimize the strangeness of the material, or to explain it away.

I have a feeling that if he were around today, Fort would be less interested in oddities of the natural world than the unpleasant facts that mainstream media filters out on a weekly basis.

He would have had a good time with the US-led "the war on terrorism," which Colin Powell argues is commensurate with war on Iraq.

For starters, he would have pointed out lead suicide bomber Mohammed Atta's reality-defying passport. This incriminating item survived the jet impact into the World Trade Centre and was found miraculously intact in the debris in a matter of hours. The story of the Virgin birth is less fantastic than the passport’s immaculate collection, but the corporate media passed over the unliklihood of this pristine projectile. Perhaps this is because of the taboo inference it entailed: Atta’s passport was planted evidence.

Fort would have tracked the paranormal perambulations of Osama bin Laden, who, like "Schrodinger’s cat" of quantum physics fame, is neither alive nor dead until observed. Communications from the bearded one have appeared sporadically since the invasion of Afghanistan, the most significant being the video of him rapping about the success of 9-11with a group of robed colleagues at dinner.

In a recent CBC television interview, Toronto journalist Eric Margolis, who has interviewed Bin Laden face-to-face, flatly stated that the man identified in the video as the unholy warrior is an impostor. (When I first saw this video, I thought the same. My eye for faces is pretty sharp after twenty years of drawing caricatures.)

Another item. A recent full page photo in Maclean’s magazine shows soldiers on patrol, filing past a verdant poppy field. But wait: in their war on all things mind-altering — sex, music, drink and drugs — didn't the Taliban succeed in completely destroying the opium poppy crops, removing billions of dollars of revenue from the global drug trade? So why are the fields back up and running, according to reports in the European press?

Like a good forensic economist, Fort would have followed the money, suggesting that many western banks rely heavily on the liquidity of laundered drug money.

Start paying attention to facts that are "damned," and you will invariably start redrawing a few maps in your head. You may even find some inspiration for this process in the world of film and fiction.

In the Fortean-inflected film The Matrix, Keannu Reeves’ character is given a choice to take a red pill or a blue pill. The red pill, he is told, will take him back to the manufactured consent he is waking from. The blue pill will complete his journey, spitting him out of the officially-endorsed dreamworld and into the awful truth. He chooses the blue pill.

Perhaps Charles Fort felt like Keannu, like he’d been sucked down the rabbit hole, and having returned, discovered that no one particularly cared to hear about the crazy-ass tea party he had transcribed. At one point in his life, the rotund writer burned 40,000 of his notes, in a depression that they "weren't what he wanted."

He died in 1932 at the age of 58, leaving three memorable books of "Forteana" as his legacy.

Fort’s principle lesson was that the official map of the world — the reality endorsed by experts in many fields — is far from being a reliable guide. Some roads and landmarks are left off, some lands are exaggerated in scale. The map is not the territory -- even if the cartographer is Colin Powell.

Fort demonstrated it’s up to us reclaim the maps from the map-makers, and to redraw the territory accurately, with all its magic and horror intact. The results may bring to mind Tolkien more than Tom Clancy, but a good Fortean was never frightened by new lands.

Geoff Olson