Tuesday, 7 August 2012

What is Visionary Fiction?

Guest post by Michael Sussman, author of Crashing Eden.

When I first heard the term visionary fiction, what came to mind were such literary giants of the past as Dante, Milton, Goethe, Blake, and Whitman. Each of these authors bends toward the future, envisioning a human race struggling to evolve toward a higher spiritual plane.

Two of my favorite twentieth century writers, Nikos Kazantzakis (Zorba the Greek, Saint Francis, The Last Temptation of Christ) and Hermann Hesse (Siddhartha, Narcissus and Goldmund, Steppenwolf, The Glass Bead Game) were firmly in this tradition. Their novels portray protagonists who are striving to reach a more enlightened state of being.

Only recently have I discovered that visionary fiction is resurfacing as a “new” literary genre. In collaboration with ten other authors, we’ve formed the Visionary Fiction Alliance, and invite other novelists to become involved.

So what exactly is visionary fiction?

Perhaps the most cogent answer I’ve come across is from author Michael Gurian, who defines the genre as “fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot.”

According to Gurian, what moves the story along in visionary novels are such things as visions, hallucinations, mystical experiences, paranormal abilities, channeling, precognitive dreams, eerie coincidences, profound insights, and a feeling of being “utterly at one with the world.”

Visionary fiction overlaps with several better established genres, such as science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and new age fiction. What seems to be unique about visionary fiction is its focus on the expansion and evolution of the human mind, imagining new frontiers for the human spirit.

Although I didn’t set out to write visionary fiction, my first novel—Crashing Eden—seems to meet all of the relevant criteria. Still, the story ultimately defies categorization in that it can also be read as a tongue-in-cheek send-up of both organized religion and new age mysticism.

The last word goes to that quirky comedian and philosopher, Steven Wright, who said: “I was a peripheral visionary. I could see the future, but only way off to the side.”

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Michael Sussman is the author of Crashing Eden, a YA fantasy/paranormal novel, and Otto Grows Down, a children’s picture book featuring illustrations by Scott Magoon.

Dr. Sussman is a clinical psychologist and has also published two books for mental health professionals. He’s the author of A Curious Calling: Unconscious Motivations for Practicing Psychotherapy and the editor of A Perilous Calling: The Hazards of Psychotherapy Practice.

He resides in the Boston area with his son, Ollie.

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