The Anomalist

Charles Fort in Paris? Oui, oui!
by Patrick Huyghe

Let's measure Fort's "circle" beginning, say, in France. Few English readers are aware that perhaps the healthiest journal of fortean studies is not American, nor British, but French. La Gazette Fortéenne is a thoroughly illustrated, completely indexed volume of rich fortean research that runs nearly 400 double-column pages and has been published annually by L'Oeil Du Sphinx since 2002.

The Gazette is edited by Jean-Luc Rivera, who is well known in the UFO community, but who also has an abiding interest in cryptozoology, parapsychology, and all things fortean. As is often the case in such ventures, the Gazette exists almost solely thanks to Jean-Luc's extensive knowledge, worldwide connections, and total devotion to, and passion for, the subjects at hand, though Philippe Marlin, the publisher of L'Oeil Du Sphinx, deserves recognition as well for his unqualified support of the Gazette.

I mention this as preamble to an event that took place in Paris on October 14, 2006, the First French Fortean Congress, held to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the publication of La Gazette Fortéenne. Jean-Luc's well organized conference drew 50 or so people from across France--including two from Switzerland and one from the U.S. (me)--to its prestigious location at L'Atelier Z, Centre Culturel Christiane Peugeot (yes, that Peugeot). The day-long event featured a half dozen speakers who gave their presentations in a room adorned with bright and bold modern art.

First up was Francois de Sarre, a German zoologist whose specialty is fish and the evolution of vertebrates. De Sarre spoke about the place of unknown hominids within the highly unorthodox theory of initial bipedalism, which turns the common view that humans are the result of some rapid evolutionary changes from a rather recent quadrupedal ape-like ancestor on its head. Within this theoretical framework of initial bipedalism, de Sarre views the relic non-sapiens hominids as having descended from homo sapiens! De Sarre presented evidence that suggests that these unknown hominids are representatives of collateral lineages that have survived concurrently with Homo sapiens.

Next was Bertrand Méheust, a professor of philosophy, sociology and ethnology. Though Méheust 's initial fortean interest focused on UFOs and their relation to science fiction and folklore (a subject he plans to revisit), for the past couple of decades his interest has centered on the phenomenon of mesmerism. His major work on the subject is a book entitled Un Voyant Prodigieux: Alexis Didier 1826-1886 (An Extraordinary Seer). Méheust gave a brief history of parapsychology in France and noted that the subject is now for all intents and purposes banned from this country since the end of World War II, thanks to the domination of the Marxist and communist ideas in the post-war French intelligentsia; this is still true today, as the present objections to parapsychology are the reflection of the criticism forged in the 1950s and '60s.

After a lunch break, Fabrice Bonvin, the Swiss author of Ovni: Les agents du changement (UFOs: Agents of Change) outlined the many similarities between modern UFO abduction accounts and fairy lore and incubus and succubus accounts from the Middle Ages.

At Jean-Luc's insistence, I then gave a brief overview of the state of affairs for UFOlogy, cryptozoology, parapsychology and forteanism in the U.S. I noted the lack of financial support for these endeavors, the decline of the professional organizations in these areas, and the rise of the internet as the primary source of information on these subjects for the general public.

Unfortunately, the next scheduled speaker, Marie-Jeanne Koffmann, the 86-year-old doctor and expert on the Almas, was back in her old stomping grounds in the Caucasus Mountains of Asia, so Benoit Grison, a biologist and sociologist, gave a cryptozoological presentation in her stead. Grison spoke about the successes of the field, including the recent discovery in Vietnam of the species of wild steer the locals called linh duong. He argued for a narrow definition of cryptozoological discovery, one that involves not only an animal new to science that is known to locals, but that it must be controversial as well. These he called the "Big Cases"--such as the Bigfoot and Nessie accounts -- that define the field.

The final speaker was Michel Meurger, the French folklorist, whose work has covered alien abductions, lake monsters, dragons and more. Appropriately enough for the occasion, Meurger gave a concise history of forteanism and summarized the current state of the field. Overall, despite some disappointments, he views the situation as one of a glass half full (rather than half empty, as I did in my presentation) and even saw as encouraging the commercialization of forteanism in Great Britain, as illustrated by the newsstand magazine, Fortean Times. And what better example of the continued success of forteanism, he noted, than the very existence of this very first French fortean conference!

I couldn't agree more.

Thank you, Jean-Luc Rivera, and cheers to a conference
(and journal) well done.