Carl Jung and Visionary Fiction (Part 1)

Psychological Fiction versus Visionary Fiction

It may come as a shock, or at least a revelation, to Visionary Fiction readers and writers that Carl Jung, the eminent Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology, defined Visionary Fiction and described it in detail in a lecture delivered in 1929, “Psychology and Literature,” included in the volume Modern Man in Search of a Soul.

Rather than the narrow sub-genre it is often reduced to, Jung depicts Visionary Fiction as a super-genre that forms one of the two major divisions of artistic production: “I will call the one mode of artistic creation psychological, and the other visionary.”

To differentiate the two: “The psychological work of art always takes it materials from the vast realm of conscious human experience—from the vivid foreground of life, we might say.” What is generally called realism.

The latter [visionary] reverses all the conditions of the former [psychological]. The experience that furnishes the material for artistic expression is no longer familiar. It is a strange something that derives its existence from the hinterlands of man’s mind—that suggests the abyss of time separating us from pre-human ages, or evokes a superhuman world of contrasting light and darkness. It is a primordial experience which surpasses man’s understanding, and to which he is in danger therefore of succumbing. The value and the force of the experience are given by its enormity. It arises from timeless depths; it is foreign and cold. Many-sided, demonic and grotesque. […] The primordial experiences rend from top to bottom the curtain upon which is painted the picture of an ordered world. And allow a glimpse into the unfathomed abyss of what has not yet become. Is it a vision of other worlds, of the obscuration of the spirit, or of the beginning of things before the age of man, or of the unborn generations of the future?

Jung’s Process for Growth in Consciousness: Individuation

In discussing Jung’s essay, Flo Keyes, in her book, The Literature of Hope in the Middle Ages and Today, cites what Jung considered the key process for elevating human consciousness: “The process of a known and an unknown yielding a higher understanding, Jung called individuation, since it represents the unfolding of a particular personality out of a vast field of possibilities.” While the word individuate sometimes connotes more of a narrowing in perspective (separate, isolate), Jung’s individuation points to a more subtle and expansive process where what is known (conscious) merges with what is not immediately known (subconscious, superconscious) to yield a higher level of understanding. What was previously not conscious to the individual becomes so, with a resultant increase in the person’s consciousness. Keyes further remarks:

Ironically, the psychological mode of artistic creation, as Jung calls it, is not the medium by which this gap is bridged. In these works, the psychological components of the characters and their behavior have already been scrutinized by the author and little room has been left for interpretation by the reader. […] It is preoccupied with exploring why specific characters are the way they are and act the way they act, not the larger issues of why humans act this way and what it means for the world. Most mainstream fiction would fall into this category; these are the stories [according to Jung] of “love, the environment, the family, crime and society. Novels that remain in the realm of the known may entertain, distract, and even educate, but they do not grab hold of the reader and get him to think about and respond to possibilities that were previously foreign to him. This is the role of Visionary Fiction. “Jung places greater value on what he calls visionary novels,” Keyes writes, “novels in which fundamental human experiences are tapped and shaped and left to the individual to interpret. These visionary works are stories that break the bonds of everyday human experience.” Here we have the interactivity often cited as a key component of the visionary genre. Click to link to “Carl Jung and Visionary Fiction (Part 2)” 


Victor E. Smith (Vic) is a writer specializing in Visionary Fiction, a semi-retired computer trainer to the publishing industry (15 years as a consultant to The Wall Street Journal), and a spiritual/paranormal researcher currently residing in Tucson, Arizona. He is a member of the Editorial Team of the Visionary Fiction Alliance and author of The Anathemas, a Novel about Reincarnation and Restitution. His website and blog can be found at


22 thoughts on “Carl Jung and Visionary Fiction (Part 1)

  1. esdragon2Esme says:

    As a long-term fan of C G Jung, and having read Modern Man In Search of A Soul, way back in the 50s, it seems I failed to notice any reference to V F! As this book still has pride of place on my shelf, I must dip into it again.

    As you may remember, Vic, I featured C G J in my book, Dreaming Worlds Awake, contrasting his methods more than favourably with his colleague, our old friend Freud. A very different 'cup of tea' even in the way he practiced psychotherapy. Individuation, a term which he (Jung) coined, was dismissed by Freud who I think regarded Jung as a mystic, and as such not fit to practice the much more 'rigourous', to his mind, method, psychoanalysis. Ah well!

    • vicsmith0123 says:

      I too found the VF material in Jung in one of those serendipitous accidents. Was so excited to see how well it paralleled the VFA definition. Perfect proof that we are on the right track even if it means we have to admit Jung thought of most of it before we did. Not a bad mind to be aligned with, for sure.

  2. Admin - Eleni says:

    Great article. I always thought Jung was spot on with his archetypes but never knew about his mentioning of VF. Individuation sounds like a psychological zen. No wonder Freud and all the materialists dismissed him. Yet another reason for me to appreciate Jung!

    • vicsmith0123 says:

      Thanks, Eleni. His article goes a lot deeper into the role archetypes play in VF. They, he claims, are the visionary equivalent to individual characters in psychological (realistic) fiction. That has me thinking! So many combinations to play with. I don't see that fiction has to be purely one or the other. Why not mix it up some, as that's the way "life" is actually–all mixed up.

  3. esdragon2Esme says:

    Just a snippet from 'himself': "I will try to explain the term Individuation as simply as possible. By it I mean the psychological process that makes of a human being an indivisible — a unique, individual unit or 'whole man.' ……. I doubt whether the ego and its contents are really identical with the 'whole.' The ego is conscious, but … the whole includes the sub-conscious and the super-conscious."

  4. visionaryfictionauth says:

    A rich resource. I, too, was not aware Jung wrote about VF. But it makes sense, given his perspectives. And it is interesting and exciting that our VFA definition closely aligns with what Jung wrote. Hopefully, the VFA and VF authors are bringing to fruition something Jung saw many years ago.

    I particularly liked the phrase of how visionary works…"break the bonds of everyday human experience." Spot on!

  5. margaretduarte says:

    During my read of Jung's description of VF in his book Modern Man in Search of a Soul and while reading this excellent article, Rod Serling's Twilight Zone series came to mind. Like visionary fiction, The Twilight Zone episodes rend "…from top to bottom the curtain upon which is painted the picture of an ordered world."

    Jung's description of a "process where what is known merges with what is not immediately known to yield a higher level of understanding" closely matches VFA's definition of visionary fiction. The visionary fiction writer allows himself, as Jung puts it, " to be guided by the unexpressed desire of his times and shows the way, by word and deed, to the attainment of that which everyone blindly craves and expects — whether this attainment results in good or evil, the healing of an epoch or its destruction."

    Heavy stuff, I know. So heavy, in fact, that if I strictly adhere to Jung's description, I am only partially a visionary fiction writer. Jung's description of visionary fiction is a bit hard to live up to; but I CAN relate my writing to Jung's following words: "Through our feelings we experience the known, but our intuitions point to things that are unknown and hidden — that by their very nature are secret."

    Thanks for an important addition to our ever-growing discussion and understanding of visionary fiction.

    • vicsmith0123 says:

      "Hard to live up to" indeed. The second part of Jung's essay, not treated above, is "The Poet," which deals with the writer as opposed to the work. Just to tease: "Every creative person is a duality or a synthesis of contradictory aptitudes. On the one side he is a human being with a personal life, while on the other side he is an impersonal, creative process." I identified, and thus understood myself better, including my idiosyncrasies. Evidently, there is a material price to pay for those research trips to the "other" side.

      • esdragon2Esme says:

        All of this discussion is so very pertinent and interesting. One thing I'd like to take up with Jung however, is this statement quoted in Margaret's piece above, is '.. guided by the unexpressed desire of his times and shows the way, by word or deed, to the attainment of that which everyone blindly craves and expects – … the healing of an epoch or its destruction.'

        Jung, as I remember, differentiated his counselling mode from that of Freud, by calling it psycho-therapy, rather than psycho- analysis. Therapy pertains to the ART of healing. 1/ The art, not the science, and 2/ the very word, Healed as deriving from the same root an Whole. To be healed is to be whole, and Jung emphasised both these terms. Yet— and this is my quarrel with Jung, is his use of the word 'blindly'. If we blindly act on our desires we are coming from, or being driven by unconscious motives which are often self-destructive as well as destructive outwardly in general.

        Surely the art of the healer or counsellor therapist is to help us to bring into consciousness the hidden contents of our psyche of which we are currently unaware. And isn't this too one of the the jobs of the V F writer? By means of our fiction or through the story we tell, we take the reader on a journey of self-discovery and one which 'enlightens and expands awareness'.

        As you say, Victor, there is a price to pay. And to this, many clients would agree. The 'journey' is by no means all sweetness and light. It can be painful, embarrassing, to discover what lurks in the 'shadow' (another of Jung's coinages) and takes courage to allow these things to emerge into the light, and gradually come to understand ourselves, the dark and the light attaining wholeness.

      • Admin - Eleni says:

        There have been many uncomfortable moments in my stories where I had to take a break to meditate. I had to dwell into the darkest aspects of human nature with some of my characters, and I sometimes couldn't fathom people behaving so cruelly. A lot of my own writing deals with the understanding that no matter how "evil" someone's actions may be, evolution of consciousness is still possible. It's the act, not the person, that's evil. A lot of people will disagree, citing the Bin Ladens and Hitlers of the world. I won't debate that topic because people are set in their beliefs as to what "evil" means to them. I think that's why I prefer writing fiction.

  6. esdragon2Esme says:

    So true. It's not the person, but the act that is 'evil'. In one of my books, not mentioned here, in a chapter headed, 'The Devil You Know', my character, Clea, is taken back through many lifetimes and faces herself in some extremely difficult past-life circumstances. Writing them was difficult, and I wondered where on earth they had sprung from.

    • vicsmith0123 says:

      In defense of Jung, Esme, in your post above on the quote: ‘.. guided by the unexpressed desire of his times and shows the way, by word or deed, to the attainment of that which everyone blindly craves and expects – … the healing of an epoch or its destruction,’ it is not the writer or therapist who is acting blindly here; it is the general population, those who need to be healed who blindly crave, etc. The writer or therapist works to cure that blindness. In other words, Jung fully agrees with you!

      • esdragon2Esme says:

        At least it gave me the opportunity for some deeper thought! I think I was thrown by the word 'everyone'. If he'd said, e.g. the pollution in general…. ' I never doubted Jung's integrity and therapeutic powers — but I like to argue, sometimes! with our most revered figures. Even when I'm wrong.
        Thanks Victor.

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  10. panchowendy says:

    Very interesting. I recently wrote a fiction novel based on my life as a woman and my experiences in the Peace Corps. While I had learned about Carl Jung in college, I honestly had forgotten most (except for the electra complex). Anyway, ForeWord did a 5-star review of my book and Carl's Jung name appeared there: "An interplay of lightness and darkness derived from mythology—and apparently loosely based on the theories of Carl Jung—takes this well-edited book to a high level of sophistication, as it encompasses more than elementary principles extracted from religion." So I went to look up Carl Jung again and also this category of visionary fiction. I was calling my book a thriller, but was pleasantly surprised to see that it fit perfectly the category of visionary fiction. It's strange how other people's thoughts and feelings move through us without our knowing. As my story goes, we are all, even the divine, connected to each other in mysterious ways. My book is called Bridges: An Extraordinary Journey of the Heart and ForeWord's review is here:

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