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Lee Harvey Oswald, Fortean Man

by Colin Bennett

Lee Harvey Oswald had what Charles Fort called a “wild talent.” He was designed and built for escapes of all kinds, not only from fixed determined background and psychology, but from the very space and time that contained him. He could not help violating such things any more than Saint Joseph of Copertino (1603-1663) could not help levitating on communal occasions when such a violation of Nature was both embarrassing and uncalled for.

Fort pointed out that rationalism was as much thought control as anything else. He deconstructed science by showing its systems of “explanations” to be rather like the actions of a set of wall-papering clowns. We are always absorbed in some kind of advertising culture, of which science is but one. As history shows, societies are “run” by massively engineered fantasies involving glamour, images and dreams; linear streams of carefully processed “facts” play little or no part in historical causation.

Oswald was a threat to mankind long before he took the path he did. His performance as a gun-toting assassin is not nearly of as much interest as was his demonstration that the goalposts are far less stable than we ever thought. He was dangerous because he utterly violated the rules of the world of appearances. Long before his arrest, most people who knew Oswald suspected that there was something unusual about him.

At home and at school he changed the rules. Later in life he changed the laws of relationships and ambitions. Oswald deceived far more clever men with ease, and he ran rings around the most dangerous and powerful organisations in the world. For a hat-trick he challenged our entire explanatory system of time and personality, body, mind and spirit. Not a bad performance for a zero person who had not much at all going for him.

As soon as the microphone appears, his eyes light up, and he becomes star-stuff like a Chinese flower dropped into a glass of water. He almost smiles as if he is a rock star being interviewed after a concert. Though death is near he has no inkling of it. All that matters to him is that he is on air to the nation. If you are not on television you are nobody. At this very moment, Oswald knows that he is now a Star for all time, and he is going to get far more than fifteen minutes of fame.

Photographs like this are rare. This depiction is of someone just hours away from becoming immortal, a pure piece of media structure to which corporeal death and decay belong to the very lowest levels of corporeal perception. In becoming a Star, Oswald has changed the rules behind all explanations.

If the world of appearances was to mean anything at all, by all common expectation, there should be hardly anything behind this rather doll-like face, the face of a short order cook from a gay salad bar, although Oswald was nothing of the kind. It is the face that these days would be in need of “support” from counsellors of all kinds; yet, Oswald’s mask now sits permanently in the modern unconscious, like strontium 90 in every piece of flesh and bone of the post-nuclear world.

Oswald’s face always had a certain suspicious bland perfection. There is not much wear and tear in it, no weathering of lines and creases, no wrinkles of the habits of thought, no estuaries of puzzlement, curiosity, or etched character. Like the murdered six-year-old mannequin Jonbenet Ramsey, he looks like some consumer product, but on a second look there is something of the robot-doll or golem about this face. It arouses a specialised form of fear, more intellectual than physical.

Certainly there is something in the sallow features that does not add up. Like a manic researcher suddenly discovering a manufactured series of phony explanations, we realise that the face is intended to make us go away, lest we discover the veritable furnace of networking plots, agendas and conspiracies behind it.

Perhaps we fear that if we penetrated this reassuring blandness we would see almost inconceivable creatures scurrying around under a lifted garden stone. Because we do not want the roof of our universe torn off in such a manner, we would prefer to leave Oswald strictly alone, with his hint of a Gioconda smile, older perhaps than the rocks upon which he sits. Certainly as a nondescript loser, he left behind him a trail of devastation great than that of Attila the Hun. After he had gone from us, we could not fit the world together again. He left behind ruins, each piece of which did not appear to belong to any other piece.

Certainly Oswald won’t be defined by atoms and molecules or applied rationale of facts and figures, dates and places. Like Marilyn Monroe and Adolf Hitler, we have to deal with Oswald in terms of images. Being (for better or for worse) three of the greatest performers of all time, as human beings plus something else, all three defeated factual makeup. They stepped out of shorn snakeskin and onto a world stage to become pure media: a matrix of advertisements, suggestions, rehearsals, image displays and performances of many kinds. The use of the past tense here is significant, for all three still stalk the midnight battle of Elsinore, so to speak.

Each ghost tells us that the borders of life and death are obscure. Certainly offstage of the world or studio (in our own Entertainment State the two are now virtually the same), neither Oswald nor Monroe had a strong physical presence. They lacked all cerebral substance, they had no educational dimension, and, factually speaking, they were such waifs and strays as to be almost of no substance to speak of. But once they were lit and produced, they became powerful management systems for mounting and processing endless series of performance-states, leaving the much-vaunted intellectual faculty far behind in the Darwinian culture dish of evolving images.

Like Michael Jackson, both Oswald and Monroe were shaman-figures. When such figures leave the stage lights and cameras, only courts, prisons, disaster, corruption and death await them. They fall and die like mayflies, fluttering their wings as darkness comes. But once on stage again, once reborn within the cycles of shamanistic regeneration, Dionysus returns, transcendental stuff gets into action, and anything can happen.

In vein do we try to scale such figures down, make into them into ordinary folk who happened merely to undertake pathways which ended in evil or good. Such psychic scaling, like endemic scepticism, is of course concept-control. Like Hitler, we try to make Oswald into an ordinary dolt, but he won’t be contained by our attempts to reduce him to mundane proportions.

In the sense meant by Charles Fort, such concept-control architecture is built of explanations. This structure evolves according to prevailing conditions. Human beings have to reduce and simplify these explanations for control purposes. We navigate mentally and construct what we call the “real” by reducing states of information to abstractions. This means that we are required to strip situations of all rich complexity, ambiguity and paradox until we reach the stage where our mundane equations become operational. Then, we have a theory that “works.” We can equate this system to what we term the “real.”

In this sense we reduce a right-angled triangle of fried sausages, say, to abstract lines in order to get the theorem of Pythagoras to “work.” Such are the roots of sceptical objectivity. Fried sausages, of course, are, like the UFO, far too complicated things for mathematics to deal with. The stripped-down “real” continues to satisfy until it grows old and dies, shot-through with anomalies. It is then put on the shelf in the museum of all historical curiosities, along with the horn of a unicorn, a bottled mermaid, and a two-headed penis.

But star-stuff cannot be put on a shelf. It is not made of railway time tables, Baedekers full of facts, conserved momentum, pushes and pulls, or the nail-biting input-output equalisations of Mechanical Person. The more noise in a star-system the better the signal. Star-stuff forms in the area where finite flesh and blood transform themselves into pure information. This is a border area where human beings become signalling systems, image clusters, dialogues networked between symbols and metaphors.

Perhaps we should place more trust in metaphors than facts. Facts will not tell us that the Oswald region and the Kennedy region (both made of our star-stuff) were two politico-Camelot systems approaching one another like battle fleets.

Impossible Journey

In the Marines, our cartoon figure Oswald began his impossible cartoon journey. He became a hands-on radar operator with scores of lives and millions of dollars of aircraft weaponry in his hands, and nuclear weaponry at that. Again, despite his loud pro-Communist views, he was given a top secret job guiding in equally top secret U-2 reconnaissance aircraft. Anyone who has seen the two-inch-thick manuals of intensive military electronics courses, which have to be absorbed before they become qualified radar operators, looks again at Oswald’s wan milk-bar waiter face.

In vain would our simple minds like an Agatha Christie/Sherlock Holmes “solution,” but our times are very different: the butlers have gone, and the potting sheds are now infinite in extent, full of fast-breeder media events which do not belong to finite or enclosed systems. We inhabit a very different cosmos where the more information we gather, the more complex the situation becomes. Unlike the Victorian railway station, we catch a Matrix train and we are likely to finish up anywhere. Neither Agatha Christie nor Sherlock Holmes would have liked this situation. They would perhaps like to stay with the predictable courses of the pre-Relativistic billiard-ball atoms, a fixed social structure, and the idea of a Nature which lay still whilst being examined.

Oswald worries us, not because he might have attempted to kill Kennedy, but because he denies that which is fundamental to our preconceived ideas about the “correct” operation of modern consciousness. If, after Newton, Darwin, Einstein and Freud, it turns out that the cosmos “works” by rules which have absolutely nothing to do with the work of any of these men, we have a problem with the very forward motion of our consciousness as regards technical advance, moral improvement, and just about everything else.

From the point of view of core cultural politics, we would like to “explain” Oswald as a confused early 1960s young man, a victim of home, circumstance and various aspects of American society, a kind of James Dean wannabee. Once so explained we have him pinioned, a struggling fly, dying on the very small tabletop of our superficial satisfactions. In this sense “explanations” are pure war, and far more important than guns, tanks or bombs. They are part of a struggle to change the software of the great Imagination, this being the main objective of the kind of Dark Rider agendas encountered in Ufology.

It is astonishing that after nearly a half-century of the most intensive research ever undertaken, humanity still cannot put the hours of a single week in Dallas in 1963 together in a coherent framework. No matter how we try, as in David Lynch’s film Eraserhead, the perspectives blur and flicker, splinter and disintegrate. Proud of our sophisticated rational faculties, we are disturbed by the idea that the extraordinary character and life of Oswald still refuse to be brought into rational focus. His life and his actions consisted of a stream of anomalies in which paradoxes, inconsistencies and contradictions follow one another in an endless stream.

According to the most sober and meticulous researchers, Oswald, like the Scarlet Pimpernel of Baroness Orczy, is here, there and everywhere at once, involved in inexplicable behaviour involving doubles, intercontinental travels, and every single aspect of techno-military industrial political and scientific intrigue. He crosses political, language and cultural lines with ease, and often, it appears, by default. For a show-piece he then reverses his journeys as easily as he could swing from left to right in his political opinions and affiliations; risking torture, imprisonment, death, and much worse as he walks through twentieth century walls at will. He defeats American military and civilian intelligence, defeats American civilian officialdom and defeats with aplomb the officialdom of the Soviet Union, a thousand times more fierce.

Oswald enters and leaves the Soviet Union as if it were a holiday camp, waving a “tourist visa” of all things, a method of entry almost unheard of in those days. He brings back to the USA a pregnant Russian wife. He then tops this by obtaining a “no interest flag” from the FBI. Moreover, he is not debriefed, interrogated, or even interviewed. The paperwork, the monstrous bureaucracy, the intelligence systems of both the Soviet Union and the United States he eats for breakfast. He passes through their combined nets of informers, turning aerials, filing systems, and their agents on the ground, with the same ease as he slit his wrists in a Moscow hotel a few days after his arrival. The Soviet authorities (not known for liberal charity) reward him by giving him a well-paid job in Minsk.

To anyone who is at all familiar with the state of relations between the Soviet Union and the United States at this time, the appearance of a green-tentacled alien from a flying saucer would be a less astonishing wonder compared to this utterly fantastic progress. Oswald’s travels between continents and Western cities with wife and baby, or alone, or with some of the most dangerous characters around at the time, are a modern mythological journey in which he encountered perils and initiations worthy of the Grail legends or the fourteenth-century  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Oswald’s tax and social security records make no sense, and neither does his erratic behaviour in Dallas, Mexico City, New Orleans, or Moscow. There is no timeline which connects the myriad sighting reports of what appear to be duplicate Oswalds. As a hat-trick, Oswald acquired that unique thing essential to a proper twentieth-century identity: a TV and radio interview. True, his fame didn’t last long in mundane time, but stardom and media time are not part of this perceptual dimension. Like some forms of the most powerful kind of radiation, the half-life of stardom is very long. Death in such a context becomes a mere self-healing break in a fabric infinite in extent.

Perhaps never has there been a human being quite like Lee Harvey Oswald. Perhaps he was a kind of Darwinian spin-off, some experiment in symbiosis. Certainly in this respect, every single part and parcel of his entire dimension of existence has been investigated in depth for over forty years and still hardly a single piece of it fits together. Even a theory of deliberate confusion would never account for such a mess. We still have no explanatory apparatus to account for the orbit-wobbles of the constellated ranges of questions and answers concerning Oswald and his life.

Oswald certainly gives conventional psychology some problems. Rather than having well-understood motivations and conditioning, he appears to be made up of pure media and dramatic rehearsals of pieces of plays of pieces of other plays, with no repeated whole performances available. Without thinking, he could produce coincidences, echoes, synchronicities, salted with his own confusions and muddled thinking, to create a primal dust in which not even the stubs of his library tickets quite add up. There is no end to this. His entire social security record appears to have been falsified, and as for his job applications, visas and photographs, are now in doubt.

Yet there appears to be design, if only in that there is maximum obscuration at each and every intersection of the structure of the complex body of the Oswald experience. With detectible precision, a tailor-made mass of confusions is put exactly in the right place at the right time, and does what it is designed to do; that is, provide skunk-smoke for processes and agendas that are using Oswald as a catalyst.

Oswald’s actions are always at the seam where the explicit conspiracy meets the implicit: where the doings of men meet the networking image-plots in symbiosis. This is not entirely new to us as a thought. In any play of Shakespeare, whenever there is a character talking alone onstage, there is always present a second invisible persona: the system. Thus, human beings are always accompanied by a shadow play of forces of destiny. We have to remember that Desdemona lost her handkerchief at the only time it mattered, and von Stauffenberg’s briefcase full of explosives just happened to be moved behind the leg of the map table in the Wolf’s Lair bunker, otherwise Hitler would have been killed, not just injured.

This leads us to the thought that we may not be dealing just with Oswald. We may be dealing with a group mind that got him over and under the torpedo nets, so to speak. Though none of them knew one another, every single one of the major American assassins belonged to a well-defined group, and were subject to the same kind of disturbance and were probably unconsciously networking.

In this sense, there is always the question of whether Oswald had unconsciously discovered how to receive and process information in a way that we have forgotten, in a manner that science has dismissed. On many an occasion he appears to be half-consciously reading the chatter of countless sub-texts that protected him, that took him by the hand and led him through twentieth century walls. He had the knack of letting the images within him talk to one another. He connected them up, gave them a common language. He networked in a manner that is, at the present time, almost inconceivable to us.

Of course, the acceptance that we are far from being the sum of our finite parts breaks all the rules of 150 years of modern social psychiatry and classical psychology from Freud onwards. But little Oswald would have cared about that, even if he had understood what it meant.

Oswald lived more in dimensions of performance and suggestibility than in the physical world. Lee Harvey Oswald was truly Fortean Man. He lives (and he still lives for us) in a permanently unstable cosmos. Charles Fort postulated that our perception always operates on a sliding scale of fictions, some being strong, others being so weak that we identify them with “objective reality.” Of course, we know that such ground will slip eventually from our brief shelter in history and time, and, like the idea of the average man, we exist always either side of some theoretical line corresponding to the real.

©2006 Colin Bennett. Colin Bennett was born in Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, within arrow-shot of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s castle. He is the author of Politics of the Imagination: The Life, Work and Ideas of Charles Fort, which won the Anomalist Award for Best Biography in 2002, and Looking for Orthon: The Story of George Adamski (2001). His newest work, An American Demonology: Flying Saucers Over the White House (2005), is the story of Captain Edward Ruppelt, head of Project Blue Book in the early 1950s. His website, Combat Diaries, is: www.combat-diaries.co.uk.