Read an Excerpt
The Complete Books of Charles Fort
THE BOOK OF THE DAMNED / NEW LANDS / LO! / WILD TALENTS
By DAMON KNIGHT
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1974 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
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.
Some of them are corpses, skeletons, mummies, twitching, tottering, animated by companions that have been damned alive. There are giants that will walk by, though sound asleep. There are things that are theorems and things that are rags: they'll go by like Euclid arm in arm with the spirit of anarchy. Here and there will flit little harlots. Many are clowns. But many are of the highest respectability. Some are assassins. There are pale stenches and gaunt superstitions and mere shadows and lively malices: whims and amiabilities. The naïve and the pedantic and the bizarre and the grotesque and the sincere and the insincere, the profound and the puerile.
A stab and a laugh and the patiently folded hands of hopeless propriety.
The ultra-respectable, but the condemned, anyway.
The aggregate appearance is of dignity and dissoluteness: the aggregate voice is a defiant prayer: but the spirit of the whole is processional.
The power that has said to all these things that they are damned, is Dogmatic Science.
But they'll march.
The little harlots will caper, and freaks will distract attention, and the clowns will break the rhythm of the whole with their buffooneries—but the solidity of the procession as a whole: the impressiveness of things that pass and pass and pass, and keep on and keep on and keep on coming.
The irresistibleness of things that neither threaten nor jeer nor defy, but arrange themselves in mass-formations that pass and pass and keep on passing.
* * *
So, by the damned, I mean the excluded.
But by the excluded I mean that which will some day be the excluding.
Or everything that is, won't be.
And everything that isn't, will be—
But, of course, will be that which won't be—
It is our expression that the flux between that which isn't and that which won't be, or the state that is commonly and absurdly called "existence," is a rhythm of heavens and hells: that the damned won't stay damned; that salvation only precedes perdition. The inference is that some day our accursed tatterdemalions will be sleek angels, Then the sub-inference is that some later day, back they'll go whence they came.
* * *
It is our expression that nothing can attempt to be, except by attempting to exclude something else: that that which is commonly called "being" is a state that is wrought more or less definitely proportionately to the appearance of positive difference between that which is included and that which is excluded.
But it is our expression that there are no positive differences: that all things are like a mouse and a bug in the heart of a cheese. Mouse and a bug: no two things could seem more unlike. They're there a week, or they stay there a month: both are then only transmutations of cheese. I think we're all bugs and mice, and are only different expressions of an all-inclusive cheese.
Or that red is not positively different from yellow: is only another degree of whatever vibrancy yellow is a degree of: that red and yellow are continuous, or that they merge in orange.
So then that, if, upon the basis of yellowness and redness, Science should attempt to classify all phenomena, including all red things as veritable, and excluding all yellow things as false or illusory, the demarcation would have to be false and arbitrary, because things colored orange, constituting continuity, would belong on both sides of the attempted border-line.
As we go along, we shall be impressed with this:
That no basis for classification, or inclusion and exclusion, more reasonable than that of redness and yellowness has ever been conceived of.
Science has, by appeal to various bases, included a multitude of data. Had it not done so, there would be nothing with which to seem to be. Science has, by appeal to various bases, excluded a multitude of data. Then, if redness is continuous with yellowness: if every basis of admission is continuous with every basis of exclusion, Science must have excluded some things that are continuous with the accepted. In redness and yellowness, which merge in orangeness, we typify all tests, all standards, all means of forming an opinion—
Or that any positive opinion upon any subject is illusion built upon the fallacy that there are positive differences to judge by—
That the quest of all intellection has been for something—a fact, a basis, a generalization, law, formula, a major premise that is positive: that the best that has ever been done has been to say that some things are self-evident—whereas, by evidence we mean the support of something else—
That this is the quest; but that it has never been attained; but that Science has acted, ruled, pronounced, and condemned as if it had been attained.
What is a house?
It is not possible to say what anything is, as positively distinguished from anything else, if there are no positive differences.
A barn is a house, if one lives in it. If residence constitutes house-ness, because style of architecture does not, then a bird's nest is a house: and human occupancy is not the standard to judge by, because we speak of dogs' houses; nor material, because we speak of snow houses of Eskimos—or a shell is a house to a hermit crab—or was to the mollusk that made it—or things seemingly so positively different as the White House at Washington and a shell on the seashore are seen to be continuous.
So no one has ever been able to say what electricity is, for instance. It isn't anything, as positively distinguished from heat or magnetism or life. Metaphysicians and theologians and biologists have tried to define life. They have failed, because, in a positive sense, there is nothing to define: there is no phenomenon of life that is not, to some degree, manifest in chemism, magnetism, astronomic motions.
White coral islands in a dark blue sea.
Their seeming of distinctness: the seeming of individuality, or of positive difference one from another—but all are only projections from the same sea bottom. The difference between sea and land is not positive. In all water there is some earth: in all earth there is some water.
So then that all seeming things are not things at all, if all are inter-continuous, any more than is the leg of a table a thing in itself, if it is only a projection from something else: that not one of us is a real person, if, physically, we're continuous with environment; if, psychically, there is nothing to us but expression of relation to environment.
Our general expression has two aspects:
Conventional monism, or that all "things" that seem to have identity of their own are only islands that are projections from something underlying, and have no real outlines of their own.
But that all "things," though only projections, are projections that are striving to break away from the underlying that denies them identity of their own.
I conceive of one inter-continuous nexus, in which and of which all seeming things are only different expressions, but in which all things are localizations of one attempt to break away and become real things, or to establish entity or positive difference or final demarcation or unmodified independence—or personality or soul, as it is called in human phenomena—
That anything that tries to establish itself as a real, or positive, or absolute system, government, organization, self, soul, entity, individuality, can so attempt only by drawing a line about itself, or about the inclusions that constitute itself, and damning or excluding, or breaking away from, all other "things":
That, if it does not so act, it cannot seem to be;
That, if it does so act, it falsely and arbitrarily and futilely and disastrously acts, just as would one who draws a circle in the sea, including a few waves, saying that the other waves, with which the included are continuous, are positively different, and stakes his life upon maintaining that the admitted and the damned are positively different.
Our expression is that our whole existence is animation of the local by an ideal that is realizable only in the universal:
That, if all exclusions are false, because always are included and excluded continuous: that if all seeming of existence perceptible to us is the product of exclusion, there is nothing that is perceptible to us that really is: that only the universal can really be.
Our especial interest is in modern science as a manifestation of this one ideal or purpose or process:
That it has falsely excluded, because there are no positive standards to judge by: that it has excluded things that, by its own pseudo-standards, have as much right to come in as have the chosen.
* * *
Our general expression:
That the state that is commonly and absurdly called "existence," is a flow, or a current, or an attempt, from negativeness to positive-ness, and is intermediate to both.
By positiveness we mean:
Harmony, equilibrium, order, regularity, stability, consistency, unity, realness, system, government, organization, liberty, independence, soul, self, personality, entity, individuality, truth, beauty, justice, perfection, definiteness—
That all that is called development, progress, or evolution is movement toward, or attempt toward, this state for which, or for aspects of which, there are so many names, all of which are summed up in the one word "positiveness."
At first this summing up may not be very readily acceptable. At first it may seem that all these words are not synonyms: that "harmony" may mean "order," but that by "independence," for instance, we do not mean "truth," or that by "stability" we do not mean "beauty," or "system," or "justice."
I conceive of one inter-continuous nexus, which expresses itself in astronomic phenomena, and chemic, biologic, psychic, sociologic: that it is everywhere striving to localize positiveness: that to this attempt in various fields of phenomena—which are only quasi-different—we give different names. We speak of the "system" of the planets, and not of their "government": but in considering a store, for instance, and its management, we see that the words are interchangeable. It used to be customary to speak of chemic equilibrium, but not of social equilibrium: that false demarcation has been broken down. We shall see that by all these words we mean the same state. As every-day conveniences, or in terms of common illusions, of course, they are not synonyms. To a child an earth worm is not an animal. It is to the biologist.
By "beauty," I mean that which seems complete.
Obversely, that the incomplete, or the mutilated, is the ugly.
Venus de Milo.
To a child she is ugly.
When a mind adjusts to thinking of her as a completeness, even though, by physiologic standards, incomplete, she is beautiful.
A hand thought of only as a hand, may seem beautiful.
Found on a battlefield—obviously a part—not beautiful.
But everything in our experience is only a part of something else that in turn is only a part of still something else—or that there is nothing beautiful in our experience: only appearances that are intermediate to beauty and ugliness—that only universality is complete: that only the complete is the beautiful: that every attempt to achieve beauty is an attempt to give to the local the attribute of the universal.
By stability, we mean the immovable and the unaffected. But all seeming things are only reactions to something else. Stability, too, then, can be only the universal, or that besides which there is nothing else. Though some things seem to have—or have—higher approximations to stability than have others, there are, in our experience, only various degrees of intermediateness to stability and instability. Every man, then, who works for stability under its various names of "permanency," "survival," duration," is striving to localize in something the state that is realizable only in the universal.
By independence, entity, and individuality, I can mean only that besides which there is nothing else, if given only two things, they must be continuous and mutually affective, if everything is only a reaction to something else, and any two things would be destructive of each other's independence, entity, or individuality.
All attempted organizations and systems and consistencies, some approximating far higher than others, but all only intermediate to Order and Disorder, fail eventually because of their relations with outside forces. All are attempted completenesses. If to all local phenomena there are always outside forces, these attempts, too, are realizable only in the state of completeness, or that to which there are no outside forces.
Or that all these words are synonyms, all meaning the state that we call the positive state—
That our whole "existence" is a striving for the positive state.
The amazing paradox of it all:
That all things are trying to become the universal by excluding other things.
That there is only this one process, and that it does animate all expressions, in all fields of phenomena, of that which we think of as one inter-continuous nexus:
The religious and their idea or ideal of the soul. They mean distinct, stable entity, or a state that is independent, and not a mere flux of vibrations or complex of reactions to environment, continuous with environment, merging away with an infinitude of other interdependent complexes.
But the only thing that would not merge away into something else would be that besides which there is nothing else.
That Truth is only another name for the positive state, or that the quest for
Truth is the attempt to achieve positiveness:
Scientists who have thought that they were seeking Truth, but who were trying to find out astronomic, or chemic, or biologic truths. But Truth is that besides which there is nothing: nothing to modify it, nothing to question it, nothing to form an exception: the all-inclusive, the complete—
By Truth I mean the Universal.
So chemists have sought the true, or the real, and have always failed in their endeavors, because of the outside relations of chemical phenomena: have failed in the sense that never has a chemical law, without exceptions, been discovered: because chemistry is continuous with astronomy, physics, biology— For instance, if the sun should greatly change its distance from this earth, and if human life could survive, the familiar chemic formulas would no longer work out: a new science of chemistry would have to be learned—
Or that all attempts to find Truth in the special are attempts to find the universal in the local.
And artists and their striving for positiveness, under the name of "harmony"—but their pigments that are oxydizing, or are responding to a deranging environment—or the strings of musical instruments that are differently and disturbingly adjusting to outside chemic and thermal and gravitational forces—again and again this oneness of all ideals, and that it is the attempt to be, or to achieve, locally, that which is realizable only universally. In our experience there is only intermediateness to harmony and discord. Harmony is that besides which there are no outside forces.
And nations that have fought with only one motive: for individuality, or entity, or to be real, final nations, not subordinate to, or parts of, other nations. And that nothing but intermediateness has ever been attained, and that history is record of failures of this one attempt, because there always have been outside forces, or other nations contending for the same goal.
As to physical things, chemic, mineralogic, astronomic, it is not customary to say that they act to achieve Truth or Entity, but it is understood that all motions are toward Equilibrium: that there is no motion except toward Equilibrium, of course always away from some other approximation to Equilibrium.
All biologic phenomena act to adjust: there are no biologic actions other than adjustments.
Adjustment is another name for Equilibrium. Equilibrium is the Universal, or that which has nothing external to derange it.
Excerpted from The Complete Books of Charles Fort by DAMON KNIGHT. Copyright © 1974 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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