What is Visionary Literature?


PAGE UPDATE NOTICE, NOVEMBER 2016: For its historical value, this page is retained as it originally appeared when this site debuted in 2006. There has been considerable evolution in the definition and practice of Visionary Literature since then, especially with the Visionary Fiction genre. Vic Smith’s individual effort to promote the Visionary Literature movement has largely merged with that of the Visionary Fiction Alliance. For a more current summary of Vic’s viewpoint on Visionary Fiction, see the page, Visionary Fiction.

The Visionary Literature Forum

When planning the redesign of my website, victoresmith.com, I had the thought: rather than making it my author site alone, which it was previously, why not, for a few dollars more, branch out and include the work and ideas of other visionary literature writers? In June 2011 I posted my idea on the somewhat sputtering Visionary Literature Forum I’d been hosting on Yahoo; and now this page, with more to follow, is my first move to make good on that offer. If nothing more at this point, it proves that I remain dedicated to the cause of a viable and thriving Visionary Literature genre. I hope some of the old forum gang will hop back on the ride with many more joining as we go forward.

In short, this section is meant to be a continuation and major expansion of the work begun on the Visionary Literature forum. Just how this might happen is presented below.

Purpose Defined on the Visionary Literature Forum

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 the structure (permanent website, more sophisticated discussion groups, professional association, annual awards, conference representation, even a marketing/publishing collective), which 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.

Current Status of the Genre

As the assessment of the status of Visionary Literature as a genre, collectively made on the VL Forum, remains as relevant now as it did 4 years ago, I’ll repeat (with a tad of tweaking) those findings here:

Visionary Literature, non-fiction but more so fiction, is now in the “becoming” stage, emerging as a distinct genre from its various venerable ancestors (science fiction, fantasy, New Age and occult writings). Although strongly driven by the current human imperative to evolve mentally and spiritually, it lacks much of the structure required to identify it as a specific creative practice.

Coming to “Terms” with Visionary

The original forum wrestled with several identity-related issues:

Due to its ‘woo-woo’ connotations, I, for one, was uncomfortable with the term visionary. I preferred evolutionary fiction but found it already taken to describe Prehistoric authors like Jean Auel, or fiction with a Darwinian flavor, or evolutionism as contrasted to creationism. A disappointment as I find the evolutionary thrust of our works more descriptive and embracive than visionary connotes.

Speculative also had possibilities. I confess that in bookstores I go like a nail after a magnet for the few shelves at the very end of the Metaphysical section, after Witchcraft and Astrology, labeled Speculation. Usually in an obscure corner as if they want to hide such titles, it features authors like David Icke and Zechariah Sitchin and titles on conspiracy theory, alternate history, extraterrestrials, etc.

I expose my unorthodox tastes to demonstrate how a label (speculation is a perfectly benign word meaning  “the act of thinking about something or meditating; a thought or conjecture”) becomes what marketing makes it to mean. In fact, every book in every bookstore, fiction and non-fiction, qualifies, in some part as speculation.

Another possibility: metaphysical. (My publisher classified The Anathemas as both visionary and metaphysical.) An historical note: the word Metaphysics with its lofty definition as”the branch of philosophy that deals with first principles and seeks to explain the nature of being or reality and of the origin and structure of the universe” has nothing to do with philosophy being superior to physics, as I once thought. The word’s origin is more mundane: in the collection of Aristotle’s works, the chapters on philosophy were placed after (meta) the physics chapters in the volume, thus metaphysics.

Appropriateness aside, when it comes to marketing, it comes down to name recognition. And here visionary has traction. Not much; it doesn’t even have its own page on Wikipedia yet (we aim to remedy that soon), but Wikipedia attaches the term visionary literature to almost a thousand entries from the Book of Revelation and The Divine Comedy to the works of D. H. Lawrence.

But, we had to ask, is Visionary Literature well enough entrenched that, with repetition, it might do well enough to identify our work? In the end we concluded that the label was common enough that could not afford to lose its existing value and that it did indeed identify a distinctive quality proper to all works in our genre. With explanation, use and repetition, it could gain the popularity of other genres, once unheard of, like Science Fiction.


Defining the Genre from Content

In an interview found on visionaryfiction.org, author Michael Gurian states, “‘Visionary fiction’ is fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot.” (Mike’s analysis is focused on visionary fiction. The question of visionary non-fiction comes up below.) Mike’s descriptive definition is worth exploring further.

Is the expansion of the human mind key to any visionary work? Is that expansion, made permanent or more commonly manifest, what is meant by the “next stage of human evolution”? Is so, we can conclude that the achievement of the next stage of human evolution is the purpose that drives Visionary Literature.

Mike continues: “In visionary fiction, the following sorts of things not only happen, but drive the plot and its characters (i.e. without these experiences, there would be no plot or character):

-mystical experiences (sudden, loving experiences of mind that transform self)
-visions (seeing ‘God,’ ‘angels,’ ‘power’ in dreams or other waking images)
-conversations with God (dialogues with divine beings, hearing God’s voice)
-clairvoyance (seeing into someone else’s future or past)
-telekinesis (the ability to alter the composition or motion of physical objects using mental ability)
-telepathy (reading other people’s minds)
-meta-telepathy (controlling other people’s minds)
-hallucinations and meta-hallucinations (seeing what is ‘not there’ and seeing what is ‘not there’ many different times in similar patterns)
-precognitive dreams (dreams that come true later)
-clusters of eerie coincidence
-psychic and paranormal experience (not the dial a 900 number kind of stuff, but the kind that makes a reader stop and say, ‘I think I had a grandmother who was like this,’ or ‘I had an experience like this years ago.’)
-‘presences,’ like ghosts (not exaggerated horror movie ghosts, but the chill of a presence you can’t turn away from)
-after-death and after-life experiences
-visitations from ‘spirits’
-feeling safe and utterly one with the world (whether in a religious context or while out in nature or, suddenly, in any place at all)
-profound insight that transforms depression into joy
-remote viewing (seeing what is happening somewhere else in the world as its happening)
-past life realization (dreams or visions of oneself as another person long ago)
-uncanny accuracy of personal intuition.”

Mike goes on to make some clear distinctions between visionary fiction and religious, spiritual or New Age fiction which I suggest be studied at http://www.visionaryfiction.org/a_new_genre.html.

Non-fiction as well as Fiction

Originally, the Yahoo Forum was to encompass Visionary Fiction only. Then Jo Williams, one of the participants, remarked, “ We should also include non-fiction writers–as that is the primary thrust for many of us.”

She explained further, “I see including VNF [Visionary Non-Fiction] writers as a real boon because they’ve already established a sound reputation and the contacts to go with them that could potentially open doors for VF writers. Also, a lot of these guys are salivating to get their own fiction projects considered. What’s going to have to happen first, though, is to get some well-written fiction out there—by someone with a platform.

“You know the term? Publishers don’t care whether or not a book is good—or transformational. All they care about is numbers. How many copies can they sell (this from one of the top publishers at Penguin Putnam)—which equates to platform. An author with a platform may get his toe in the door. Others almost assuredly will not. Platform is access to potential buyers. In other words, they’re looking for authors who are out speaking to thousands of people a week, who belong to massive organizations, who have name recognition, etc.”

And thus, instead of the Visionary Fiction forum, we became the Visionary Literature Forum, and sothe trend continues here. All of the elements in Michael Gurian’s list above can be addressed in non-fiction as well as fiction. Compare Jon Ronson’s book Men who Stare at Goats and the movie of the same name. Fiction or non-fiction? There are many other examples—a fruitful discussion. Visionary fiction “should” be based on solid visionary non-fictional ideas, even though VNF is more akin to science writing with all the burden of attribution and proof, and VF to Science Fiction, where the vision, no matter how far out, can be imaged freely. Granted, like the best Sci Fi proved out in real science, the best visionary fiction would eventually manifest as visionary non-fiction.

A bonus: identifying the effort as Visionary Literature evokes the impression of and thus a call for higher quality in the creation of such works—which can’t hurt.

Next Stages: Visionary Voices

A few goals remain from original action plan on Visionary Literature Forum:

Write and post an entry for Visionary Literature on wikipedia.com.

Circulate the concept of Visionary Literature to other general information and writing-specific websites and publications to establish name and definition recognition for the genre.

Gather a core crew of passionate visionary writers who recognize that the establishment of our genre will give power to their own work, to the body of visionary literature as a whole and its quality authors, and to humanity as it prepares to take that next evolutionary leap.

Where from here? 

It does begin with me. Here I make good, although belatedly, on my self-imposed goal: become an initial impetus behind the organization, communication and promotion of the concept of Visionary Literature and its authors. And, as I hope the mere presence of this page on my site demonstrates, I will continue.

Launching this page Visionary Literature as a sub-site of victoresmith.com (10/1/11) is the beginning of a larger effort in the coming months. Before the end of the year, I plan to activate a section called “Other Visionary Voices” that will list and feature other authors, their words, and links to their sites. I will contact my current collection of interested parties, asking for their participation with, of course, proper acknowledgement of their support on the site. So, organically we will grown towards the goal of having this portion of the site incubate into a clearing house for Visionary Literature with reviews, redirects to other sites, practical tips, name-dropping, awards, etc.

This summary is barely a beginning. More discussions have to be held and then the words energized into action. Please post, comment, email me–contribute as much as you can. Become a architect of the Visionary Field of Dreams: if we build it, they (the readers) will come!