Before finding fame as the 20th century's greatest compiler and theorist of weird news, not to mention one of its most audacious and influential autodidacts, Charles Fort (1849-1932) was a journalist and pulp-story writer who amassed inventive ways to describe one thing in terms of something else. Among the few to glimpse these scraps was no less a literary titan than Theodore Dreiser, who was Fort's early magazine editor and steadfast champion. Bowled over, Dreiser offered to buy the odd collection from Fort. "They are better than any thesaurus," he raved, "a new help to letters."
. . . [S]ome of the 25,000 metaphors found their way into [Fort's] tenement-based pulp fiction and "The Outcast Manufacturers" (1909), his only novel. A sailor's forehead has "[e]xactly five wrinkles in it, as if it had been pressing upon banjo strings." One woman possesses a "nose like a tiny model of a subway entrance; nostrils almost perpendicular and shaped like the soles of tiny feet." Steinmeyer writes that Fort would often tinker with the metaphor as it was unfolding, as if "continually whispering into the reader's ear": "[S]he flushed a little -- flushes like goldfish in an aquarium, fluttering in her globe-like, colorless face -- goldfish in a globe of milk, perhaps -- or goldfish struggling in a globe of whitewash, have it."
Saturday, June 14, 2008
"The child grew up and became a policeman"
At the LA Times, Ed Park has a divinely appealing piece about Jim Steinmeyer's Charles Fort biography. I must get that biography, I must read Charles Fort: