By Victor E. Smith
This series first appeared on the no longer available Fiction for a New Age website in 2013 and is republished here in its original form. The author has included some of this material in other later posts on this site; and, indeed, several of them have already developed into reality. But a look back as nostalgia or review seems in order.
Click this link to read or review Part One: The Bucket.
The Original Vision
Around the turn of the millennium, several of us authors-without-a-genre had a vision that we framed into words on the then-Yahoo Visionary Literature Forum. I later summarized that effort thus on a page on my website entitled What is Visionary Literature:
“The Visionary Literature Forum was to be the launch pad for an electronic gathering place for writers, publishers, agents, booksellers and supporters of the emerging Visionary genre. Its purpose was to hold enlightened and mutually beneficial discussions on the definition of the visionary genre, its history and authors, effective writing practices, marketing methods, and industry trends. From such discussions we projected to create a structure (permanent website, more sophisticated discussion groups, professional association, annual awards, conference representation, even a marketing/publishing collective) that would advance the dream of a thriving body of visionary literature that contributed significantly to humanity making the leap to that next level of spiritual and practical evolution without which our future prospects as a race seem bleak indeed.”
Even though that first effort only sputtered, its mission statement bears repeating here because it remains a practical blueprint for what is now catching fire in several hearths in the literary castle.
The Genre for This Age
Regarding the primary characteristic of Visionary Fiction given in Part Two— Expansion of the mind or growth in consciousness is the hallmarkof Visionary Fiction—we can rightly claim that expansion of the mind is on the mind of everyone in their right minds today. And such expansion posits elements beyond the bounds of the average TV-conditioned apparatus atop too many heads, thus making VF quite indispensable.
The Visionary Fiction Alliance Home Page states: “As the world evolves away from the Newtonian model of the five senses to the more evolved quantum model that includes the sense of spirit so resurgent today, Visionary Fiction is rapidly becoming the genre of choice to express that evolution and predict the breath-taking future that might follow the anticipated leaps. Under its broader umbrella are now gathering works previously classified as spiritual, metaphysical, or science fiction.”
In 1967 the arch-philosopher of communication theory, Marshall McLuhan, put out a provocative little picture book entitled The Medium is the Massage, which illustrates how new media forms stimulate the human ability to sense in radically different ways. Think what a field day McLuhan, who died in 1980, would have had with the digital world of the 21st Century. We have only just begun, and yet we can leap from continent to continent with a single click, access information about anything by typing a few letters, and communicate with a speed and volume that was science fiction in his day. Modern technology offers the visionary writer opportunities, if only by eliminating the tedium of research and composition, to explore human consciousness in ways previously unimaginable.
Also in Part Two is the point: Visionary Fiction renders the reading experience interactive. Digital media enables and enhances interactivity. To the visionary mind, this is electrifying stuff, and electrifying stuff is what fuels us to sit for hours composing our works. Even marketing, a bête noir for most writers, can be more opportunity than challenge to the VF author advertising in the digital arena. So far, eBook publication and online promotion has largely been an electronic imitation of the printed publication process with the addition of niceties like hyperlinks and instant dictionaries. Full implementation remains wide open for experimentation. Following the visionary paradigm that encourages cooperation, we can imagine a form of electronic marketing that is more about sharing graciously than shouting louder than the rest of the crowd.
Establishing Visionary Fiction’s Pedigree
Rather than the narrow sub-genre to which it is often relegated, Visionary Fiction is, according to the eminent psychologist, Carl Jung, a super-genre that forms a major slice of the literary pie. In the lecture, “Psychology and Literature,” in Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Jung divides all works of art into two distinct forms. “I will call the one mode of artistic creation psychological, and the other visionary.” He then differentiates the two. “The psychological work of art always takes it materials from the vast real 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.” (For more details see “Carl Jung and Visionary Fiction.”)*
In Jung’s paradigm the bulk of classical literature (the poems of Homer and Virgil, Beowulf and even the Bible) is Visionary Fiction. A few scholars besides Jung have made specific studies of the visionary form (Edward Ahearn, Flo Keyes); and fragments exploring the concept are scattered through much literary criticism. But, to my knowledge, Visionary Fiction has been an elephant in the room with blind scholars examining its appendages, mistaking the part for the whole. Jung explains this myopia with an observation that explains why Visionary Fiction has been slow to catch on: “The reading public for the most part repudiates this kind of writing—unless indeed it is coarsely sensational—and even the literary critic seems embarrassed by it.”
One would think, given the importance Jung attributes to the Visionary mode, that scholars would stampede—and it is the intent of this series to stir up such activity—to expound on this vital cultural phenomenon. And yet even Wikipedia still relegates VF to a sub-category of Inspirational Fiction, an oversight the Visionary Fiction Alliance is now scheduled to correct. [This was done in 2014 with the Visionary fiction entry on Wikipedia.]
Proper study, recognition, and development of VF might require the emergence of a competent field general, someone akin to John W. Campbell who in the 1940’s promoted Science Fiction into the robust genre it has been ever since, and a few deep-pocketed patrons to stimulate the proper surge of interest. Many pioneers, whose efforts deserve to be documented in an appropriate history, have already plotted out the rough trail; it remains to lay down some smooth tracks to carry the product to the public in volume.
However much time it takes before VF conventions draw thousands and glitzy award ceremonies are held for the VF Book of the Year, we can take practical steps, some already initiated and others suggested here, to increase VF’s hold in the public consciousness—it is, after all, the art form designed to raise consciousness.
Once again, it is the internet that provides an inexpensive avenue for education and promotion, but its effectiveness requires a sustained effort, dedicated repetition, by those who aim to see VF go viral, often on a shoestring. Insert #VisionaryFiction in every tweet possible. Visit VF sites (some are listed by the Visionary Fiction Alliance) and generously contribute posts and comments. Read other VF authors and review their works on Amazon, GoodReads, IndieReader, Smashwords and other venues where numbers count. On your own website, cross-post with other favorites VF sites or list them in your blogroll. Like/share worthy VF material on Facebook and Twitter. Volume activity raises search engine ratings and may eventually attract the attention of traditional agents and publishers. Support the current effort to encourage the various online book vendors to properly and prominently categorize VF works (having VF properly defined in Wikipedia will facilitate this).
The Cooperative Model
This concept is introduced here, not because it has been tried (it hasn’t) and is true (I, an optimist, believe it is), but because it is ideally suited to VF writers (also optimists by definition) who are producing works pertinent to society’s most urgent needs (demand) at a time when the ideal delivery system (the Internet) is in place. It is a radical opportunity because the old system, which assumes the 99% are born to contribute to the top 1% and individual celebrity trumps communal well being, is still the way to do things, fancy rhetoric invoking “the people” aside. Even the most prolific writer acknowledges that readers consume books faster than he/she can write them. Thus author Paul promoting author Peter does not rob Paul. John W. Campbell, with only the primitive pulp magazine model to work with, promoted a constellation of SF writers (van Vogt, Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon, to name a few), most of whom benefited from the others’ popularity.
While the Visionary Fiction Alliance site is not the only game in town or yet an optimum model, it is a working installation operated by active VF writers, regularly updated with new posts and pages exclusive to Visionary Fiction. Its members acknowledge that it is just the beginning for what is intended to be a “home base and central clearing house for readers, writers, and researchers dedicated to or interested in the emerging Visionary Fiction genre.” While formed originally as a safe haven for VF writers exhausted by the excruciating going-solo stage, it is rapidly becoming a laboratory for the cooperative model, an experiment in best methods to effectively pool knowledge, effort, and even funds to move Visionary Fiction forward.
This article and the earlier two in this series are intended as seed material rather than complete treatments. Please jump in below with comments, suggestions and critiques that will further this important conversation.
[The photos are my own, put in the post just because I can. ]