THE FLEURY COLON BIOGRAPHY
Bringing the enigmatic French architect’s visionary work into the periphery of global awareness has not been an easy task. From the mid-1990s heading into the new millennium, only a few committed scholars labored to bring the work of Fleury Colon to the attention of the general public. I am proud to have played a part in this historical recovery project, which has likewise been a project of discovery for me. However, measuring and re-evaluating the work of this relatively unknown and misunderstood architect—who far exceeded the limits of traditional architecture—is a task that is far from complete. The story of Fleury Colon’s life is still emerging. The historical layers of Colon scholarship thus far have yielded great insights regarding Fleury Colon’s work, but at the same, this tangled weft of scholarship has delayed these potentially emergent insights.
It is my ultimate intention to write the first true Fleury Colon Biography. While I hope to secure what is known of the past (for future assessment and use), my goal of a real biography is unfortunately shackled to the necessity of finding the essential time to conduct further research. As details for the biography continue to congeal, I will continue to relate to you what we do know—now, at this point in time. Thus, what follows (below) is a somewhat chronological documentation of Fleury Colon Scholarship to date. Note: There are links, images, and video documentation (below). It is my sincere hope that the details of this visionary’s lifework might more profoundly enter the greater sense of our potential, socio-cultural vision for the future. Paradoxically, it is a future that could be aimed for if put into service by the historical vectors of the past, specifically Colon’s past.
1.) Initial Groundwork for Colon Scholarship
The following two links are perhaps the two most visible attempts to revive the work of Fleury Colon since the late 1960s and early 1970s.
- French Canadian Colon scholar Philip Rigg’s questionable, but no less valuable 1996 Web site that covers the breadth of Fleury Colon’s life in somewhat over-dramatized terms:
- My rudimentary entry on Fleury Colon that appeared in The Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes (Routledge, 2000):
The Fleury Colon Entry in the DAG
- Here too is a PDF Version of that same Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes (DAG) Entry:
The Fleury Colon DAG entry PDF
I must say that between these two points—my DAG entry and Rigg’s website—recent Colon scholarship begins. Nothing in the way of “scholarship” existed before this, other than the original texts listed in the DAG. I was made aware of Colon’s work for the first time through an email correspondence with a contemporary of DAG editor, independent scholar, and polyartist Richard Kostelanetz: Namely, the writer Jean-Jacques Cory. [See the Kostelanetz-edited anthology Breakthrough Fictioneers (Something Else Press, 1973) for a sampling of Jean-Jacques Cory’s work.] Cory not only provided crucial information and anecdotal details on Colon’s life, but gave me brief access to rare archival material. [See the DAG entry and image of one of Colon’s finial rocket designs, and needless to say, the texts mentioned in the DAG are long out of print and next-to-impossible to find.] Cory’s information was thus the foundation of my initial Colon research and my subsequent entry for the DAG. In retrospect, it was Cory who first turned my attention to Rigg’s 1996 website, which became an affirmation as much as a source for my summary entry on Fleury Colon. Without Cory’s initial guidance, I doubt I could have ever approached the work of Fleury Colon. To Kostelanetz and Cory both, I owe a great debt.
At that point I had yet to begin entertaining notions of writing a Colon Biography. Again, it was Kostelanetz’s scant knowledge of Colon’s work, via his colleague Jean-Jacques Cory, that piqued my initial interest. Thus, the ethical need for a revival of Colon scholarship, let alone an official DAG entry, seemed all the more essential when Kostelanetz began work on an expanded edition of the DAG in the late 1990s. [Note: the first edition of the DAG on Schirmer Books does not include a Fleury Colon entry.] It was then jointly decided that I would be in touch with Cory to begin a Fleury Colon entry for the DAG (in addition to five other DAG entries). The driving force here was simple: My nascent interest in Colon as an “avant-garde” figure, which was brought-on and inculcated by Cory’s enchanting indexical references to his work.
Over a period of fomenting time following my DAG entry, a slow near-reverent commitment to take on the writing of Fleury Colon’s Biography began to resonate within me. Not long after writing the DAG enry, I lost touch with Cory, and then too, sometime after losing contact with Cory, Rigg’s website—hosted originally by Geocities, a free website provider in the last two decades—also disappeared. Luckily, Rigg’s Geocities site re-surfaced at the beginning of this decade by an archival initiative to save what has appeared on the web in the past. I am grateful for this thankless act of archiving. And strangely, all of this was occurring exactly at the same moment that my deeper interests and involvement with Colon scholarship becomes a bit more uncertain and no-less strange. Proverbial case in point: When Rigg’s 1996 website re-surfaced, it included prefatory material that accusingly called me a revisionist Colon scholar—strangely, it would seem, almost three years in advance of my having learned of Colon’s existence. I wonder now, who Cory is? And who is Rigg? And I cannot help but wonder about this relationship, for it seems in retrospect that they are akin to two sides of a Janusian coin pressing in on me, between which I am the coin being flipped. All attempts to contact either figure have failed.
And yet, this strangeness is only the surface of the origins and anomalies surrounding Colon scholarship.
2.) Intrigue and Uncertainty Amidst More Recent Developments in Fleury Colon Scholarship
Despite the fact that a clearer image of Colon is now possible (Q.E.D. below and above), I eventually made a near-reverent commitment during the time following my DAG entry to become the author of Fleury Colon’s Biography. However, I knew that the only surviving works and artifacts of Colon’s work were possessed by the estate of the publisher and collector of literary ephemera—the Canadian Thomas Knowlton. I knew that his archive was inaccessible due to the proceedings of law surrounding the will and value of his estate at the time of his death. In so many words, despite the intensities of my growing scholarly interest, I was helpless to conduct any further research. I would soon discover, however, that intrigue and uncertainty are nearly always deeply embedded in the act of Colon scholarship.
Despite the abeyance of the Knowlton Estate, a number of unexpected events would alter the future by which access to the past could be granted, allowing my scholarship to continue via the archival proof as the two—both the physical proof and the scholarship—simultaneously began to emerge. The main developments are as follows:
- Post DAG, several references to Colon’s work began to emerge in print and on the web. Frederick Young’s essay on the concept of “animality” for the Julian Wolfrey’s edited Glossalalia; An Alphabet of Critical Keywords (Routledge, 2003) is likely the best example of the increasing awareness of Fleury Colon’s life and work. Young’s essay includes a brief but interesting footnote (see page 20) citing my Colon entry for the DAG wherein he calls Colon a “humanist utopian visionary,” invoking his brutal death by impalement on the finial-shaped dog house in the context of “animality,” an emergent critical keyword for contemporary literary theory. Young’s interest in Colon’s work was extended in his 2004 dissertation, “Towards an Ethics of the Political,” which makes mention of Fleury Colon, particularly Colon’s construction of “The Animal Spaceship.” This was a new development. See Young’s Glossalalia entry here:
- However, the most recent development in Fleury Colon scholarship via the growth of archival proof is the Fleury Colon Press Conference, which was held under the auspices of The 2010 Avant Writing Symposium in Columbus, Ohio at the Ohio State University Library. At the Press Conference, priceless archival material from the Knowlton Estate—material held in abeyance by courts of law for almost 10 years—was scheduled for donation to the Avant Writing Collection at The Ohio State University. These materials would be shipped directly from the Knowlton estate to the OSU library. This was groundbreaking news, and I was insatiably curious to see exactly what would be donated. Then during the week prior to this event, I too received a box in the mail. It was not post-marked. It was totally unexpected, and I can only guess that it was the work of the Gemini Defense League (GDL), an underground political-art organization that during its infancy included members directly linked to activities in Colon’s finial commune. Ruling out the strange Janusian mysteries of either Rigg or Cory, I can think of no other explanation, given what I do know, because this box contained nothing less than actual personal materials belonging to Colon himself. [Note: I have finally uploaded video footage of the press conference that addresses the unexpected archival contents of both boxes. This dramatic footage includes the startling full-documentation of the archival materials—both boxes—and the moment they were donated to the OSU Library as well as the detailed, shocking proceedings of the material’s unexpected discovery by both the presenter and those in attendance. See the video documentation of this event below.]
- While I was completing my PhD in the four years following the Fleury Colon Press Conference in 2010, I played a small part in disseminating Colon’s “poetry.” Allegedly translated by Rigg, Colon’s “poetry”—more or less typed in by Rigg himself—appeared with my gently urging in journals like BPM, Apogee, and most recently No Infinite. Perhaps it was premature to facilitate the dissemination of Rigg’s translations, a figure I cannot help but call into question now in relation to Cory, but I had only hoped that a wider audience of those interested in Colon as an avant-garde architect might also be captivated by his writings—and in this case, what Rigg calls his “poetry.” Yes, it looks like “poetry,” but it is much more; and the process of its making begs inquiries that I can only mention here, for it is too deep a subject to broach at this point. However, it is my deepest and most sincere hope I might continue this work more fully in the future. I hope one day soon to re-assess Colon’s writings. In the meantime, I remain shackled to the desperate need for time to more fully re-examine the donated materials now housed in the Ohio State University Special Collections/Avant-Garde Library (donated during the 2010 Press Conference)—let alone establish investigative contact with any of the surviving underground members of the GDL and Colon’s finial commune. I have not returned to the OSU Library since that time for a number of personal reasons, but I plan to do so in the more immediate future. Meanwhile, at the mercy of both time and the forces of a very uncertain scholarship of a rich but largely undocumented history, it is my hope—once again—that I might gain further access to Colon’s work and the story of its making, for it possesses both a dramatic urgency and an ethics that still speaks to our current moment in time.
3.) Revisiting The Colon Press Conference
Since The 2010 Avant Writing Symposium, I have had time in stolen moments to begin thinking-through what has found manifestation in the above text: Namely, my attempt to put the sundry list of details of Colon’s lifework—and the scholarship of that lifework—into a flexible syntax of both importance and relation, whereupon the fact is not as solid as one would think, and the uncertainty, perhaps more factual and more important than one could knowingly dream. Let it be known, this has been no easy task, for there is a something like an element of torment to all of this. What do I mean by torment? I can only describe it briefly as the uncertainty of Colon scholarship. Imagine a tantalizing, delicious, and most intriguing figure of history that is only visible in fragmentary glimpses, and you want to know more, because there is more, but the materials of history are controlled by hands that remain outside the periphery of this want of knowing. It is an epistemological nightmare. Torment.
When you watch the video of The Fleury Colon Press Conference (just below), please keep in mind that I was only made familiar with the contents of the two boxes in the span of the week prior to the event. It was one of the most exciting weeks I have experienced as a scholar, and although I would express my celebration of the materials differently now, I cannot help but think of how naive I was then. I wonder now: Who was in the audience by secret proxy? Was it my guardian or my tormentor? Jean-Jacques Cory; or, Philip Rigg? Members of the GDL, or lawyers for the Knowlton Estate? Was my tormentor really my guardian? Or was my guardian actually my tormentor? Or am I only now, perhaps ultimately, tormenting myself? Neurosis can create a powerful sense of something when there is actually nothing behind it, however, one cannot help but wonder, yet again, why someone during the press conference would suggest that the alleged bag of dirt might be Colon’s ashes? [The sound of the video misses some of these delicious details.] And why did someone else after the event also approach me yet again, to suggest that the dirt was actually the remains of Colon’s body? Why would someone tell me after the event that the event itself reminded them of Nabokov’s Pale Fire? Why? And then, why too did someone else describe my retrieval of the photograph from this questionable plastic bag of earth as if I were some sort of shamanic assistant, some midwife in the process of giving this story its berth? Why these comparisons and not the basic primal act of scholarship itself? I was simply examining what was actually there, all of which is documented in the video below.
Full Video Documentation of The Press Conference Celebrating the Donation of Archival Fleury Colon Materials to the OSU Special Collections/Avant-Garde Library
More Details Regarding The Fleury Colon Press Conference
Ultimately, the materials were slightly disappointing in that they did not fully deliver what had been promised by the lawyers of the Knowlton Estate. [See the PDF of the list below.] And yet, wildly unexpected materials took the place of the expected materials—unexpected materials rich with the nuances of possible interpretation. Case in dramatic point, at the very end of the proceedings (after the camera had been turned off and just before the materials were whisked away on a rolling metal cart into the cavernous stacks of the limited-access special collections library at OSU), a member of the Post-NeoAbsurdistist Anti-Collective—Tomislav Butkovic—noticed that there was a small metal key in the bag of dirt or what some presumed to be Colon’s ashes. I had found the photograph immediately, and that is documented on the video, but not the key! A key to what? Was it a literal key? Or was it some act of barbaric symbolism meant to send me a path of hopeless interpretation? Is “the key,” the earthen ashes themselves? The physical and the symbolic enjoined?
Perhaps what is ultimately needed is a soil sample, which might help unlock the mysteries of just where in the Canadian wilderness Fleury Colon’s finial commune actually stood. And if it is soil, perhaps it is not from Colon’s finial commune? Perhaps it is a ploy by Rigg? By the GDL? As things currently stand, these archival materials lie in a perpetual state of either/or potential—like some Erwin Schrödinger thought experiment. Time will not tell, nor will it speak directly, but like the narratives within each one of us do have a way of writing themselves, so too does Colon’s. Thus, in the effort of providing the scholarly and creative community access to arguably one of the best kept secrets of the 20thC, I have provided full video documentation of the event (just above) in the hopes that it might lead to further understandings and discoveries of this enigmatic visionary’s life work.
- Here is the list of archival materials that were both donated and were to be donated. Note: the first box was donated, but was a surprise. The promised, second archival box did not contain any of what is listed in the PDF. It was instead, as described above (and as evidenced in the video of the event), ultimately a bag of dirt. Disappointing? Or even more profoundly than a box of materials, is it something that is both symbolic as much as some sort of physical evidence of a yet-to-be determined value? And if by some slim chance, ashes? Disturbing. Either way, the stochastic glass is always half empty as much as the archive is half full, and there are still many questions that remain to be answered. Among these remaining questions, we can only wonder about the whereabouts of the material for which the scholars of this incomplete archive are, like myself, still waiting.
List of Fleury Colon archival materials donated to the OSU collection
As mentioned above, it is my hope that I can find the time and the funding to return to the OSU Special Collections/Avant-Garde Library to re-examine, with some hindsight and retrospection, the breathtaking materials that for one week consumed my very being. With the permission of the library, I hope to maybe post a few of Fleury Colon’s materials—maybe some photographs and a PDF or two of the archival materials?—as I push onward toward a more complete and consummate re-telling of Colon’s life. It’s what I hope will be a credible narrative of this most incredible biography, this most incredible work, and this most incredible life.