Before talking about the relevance of visionary fiction in today’s world, we need a working definition of the term. Fiction is easy: it’s writing that’s made up. It doesn’t refer to the real or empirical world. It’s imaginary. I think of writing fiction as the best way to tell the truth without getting sued. That’ why I started writing it.
Visionary Fiction Requires a Vision
Visionary is a little more difficult to define. It requires a vision, which runs the gamut from things like a corporation’s vision statement, to physical vision produced by the eyes, to the earth-shaking religious experiences had by some, in which new spiritual realities and ways of being are revealed.
Vision can be social, artistic, political, technological, religious or a zillion other things. Visionaries such as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak transformed our society with their forward thinking ideas about technology. Visionaries such as Jesus and the Buddha showed us states of being and gave us teachings to help attain them.
Visionary fiction is fiction that expresses the core of any of these areas verbally––it’s a very broad genre, which is sometimes not taken into account. Visionary fiction is sometimes associated with an unnecessarily “woo-woo” or ungrounded spiritual character. I.e., the writer has a worldview––that things will get better and better if we act and think and behave a certain way. He or she jams that worldview into a story that proves it correct. Some readers love that sort of thing. It leaves me cold.
Being branded a writer of visionary fiction can be dangerous. “Being labeled ‘visionary fiction’ and shelved in that area of the bookstore is the death knell of any title.” I read that in a trade magazine.
Pretty scary, since I write visionary fiction. I think this “death knell” aspect of the genre brings the need to point out its relevance in the modern world. Is visionary fiction verbal cotton candy, or does it have something to say to contemporary people?
Hearts & minds of clay, marching lockstep.
The modern world?
How do we describe the modern world? That’s a really big question. Any description is likely to be a conglomeration of stereotypes. “We all have our heads stuck in computers. Video games. Social media. Kids are game-addicted zombies who act out what happens in their vids. People don’t connect any more. We’re isolated. Crime is on the rise. The economy is rotten. We’re going to hell in a hand-basket.”
Except that I’m writing in Santa Fe NM, where almost all of my friends and half the city population seems to be some kind of artist. Environmental and social consciousnesses are required for admission to in the town. Most of my friends don’t watch television. Their computer skills are hard-pressed in writing emails.
Stereotypes don’t cut it. What does cut it is empirical research and informed observation. The key article of a recent Newsweek report outlined the findings of scientists of neuropathology and other fields regarding the effects of the internet, social media, and games on our brains. The finding was: they’re so addictive that by the time the scientists could measure whether or not a person was addicted, they were already addicts. It takes hours to become an on-line addict. And the condition is irreversible. It affects your brain.
I’m writing an article entitled “Judgment Day” for my blog Your Shelf Life. It’s about an overwhelming trend I see in our society, especially on the internet, where it is growing exponentially. That’s the tendency to judge each other. Thumbs up!, thumbs down!, “Like me!”, “I’ve got 1,297 five-star reviews!”, “My book had 120,000 downloads.” You can find reviews of everything from books to toilet paper. “Your Klout score rose this week!” “Here’s your Facebook report!” Am I doing better? Worse?
All of this is judgment: measuring oneself (or one’s toilet paper) against another and finding him/her/it adequate or inadequate. We live in a sea of judgment and bullying. Authors gang up on other authors on Amazon and flood their work with bad reviews. Our world is hierarchical: top dog, #2 dog, #3, etc. Down to the scapegoat bullied by everyone; the kid who eventually grabs an automatic weapon.
All this is very dangerous and extremely destructive to the soul. I was an adult during the 1960s. I cannot tell you how different the social environment and values of that era were compared to today. People back in the 1960s cared about what their actions did to the world. Now, the prevailing trend is to not care at all. Big banks and the insurance industry crippled our country, but show no remorse. Not only that, they yank us around worse than before the crash. The Presidential campaign is vicious beyond anything in the past. Social consciousness appears to be nonexistent.
Amor et Psyche
The world of visionary fiction is the world of the soul/psyche.
All of this is why we need visionary fiction. To me, the world of visionary fiction is the world of the soul. Visionary fiction has two aspects: It upholds a moral principle. Of some sort. Doesn’t mean the goody goody Good Guy overcomes all. It means the overall thrust of the work is toward dharma––righteousness. Goodness, morality. Action that contributes to life. In my book, this moral purpose can be as dark and muddled and lost and really messed up as the real world, but the moral aspect is there.
The other vital art of visionary fiction is the belief in the writer that things can change. That the world can become a better place. That if you try really hard, you’ll win. Something. An insight or learning. Maybe the whole world can’t be saved or uplifted, but a hunk of it can. Individuals can.
Writing produced by an author with such core beliefs has a sweetness that readers pick up. One of my readers said, “No matter how bad things get in your books, Sandy, I don’t have that terrible feeling of disaster. It seems like things will work out. I’ve read other authors, and that’s not so.”
Sweetness comes from spiritual practice. I would say that an effective writer of visionary fiction needs spiritual experiences to create the vision, and spiritual practice to uphold it and make it viable. You can have the biggest, most mind-bending vision possible, but if you don’t have the discipline to sit in front of a computer and write it down, you’ve gotten nothing but a whiz-bang for yourself.
It’s a long, hard journey . . .
and the only one there is.
Ultimately, I think that visionary fiction is relevant to the modern world because it can fix it. I’m a churchgoer, but many aren’t. Many have become disaffected with religion. But we need the contact with the other side, the Source of Being. Without that, we’ll become a bunch of monkeys fingering our video games and worrying about how we’ll get our next spandex body suit. We’ll do nothing but judge each other and spend out time figuring out how to increase out social position. Or Klout score.
I think that the responsibility of the author of visionary fiction is to do his or her work. I’m speaking of inner work, the work described by Jung and Assagioli and so many wonderful theorists of the soul. The world of the sacred is the world of the writer of visions. When our work comes from that fountain, as deeply and intensely as we can take it in, we create magic, not stereotype.
We create reality, not pulp. We create ourselves, and as we share our writings with the world, we create a world worth living in.
We’ve got a lot to do, authors. Look at everthing around us. But we can do it. Why? Because we came here to delve deeply into the core of reality. We are that work of the soul and doing it is why we we’re here.
Readers, take our hands. Come with us on the wonderful journeys we set out on our pages. Read our books and stories and tales and songs. Come with us and change with us.
It’s a wonderful journey. The only one there is.
The Dancing Shiva Underlies the World
© 2012 Sandy Nathan