What is Visionary Fiction?

I’ve been working on my MFA thesis, which falls into the visionary fiction genre, and I’ve had many people ‌I talk to ask me what visionary fiction is.

I like Michael Gurian’s definition: 

Visionary fiction is fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot.

Michael Gurian

This isn’t the only way to define visionary fiction. Carl Jung is ‌responsible for the creation of the genre through his work. In Modern Man in Search of a Soul, he sets out a loose boundary by saying that visionary fiction “is a strange something that derives its existence from the hinterlands of man’s mind” to distinguish it from what he considers psychological fiction, or the creation of the conscious mind.

My current work aligns with both those definitions. Other definitions are shaped by Jung, but take more of a New Age approach. For example, they would ‌agree with Campbell’s thesis that states that the purpose of the hero’s journey is to find the divine within the self.

The novel I’m working on follows the Jungian tradition, but I’m less optimistic than the New Age people. My guiding principle is ‌the inverse of Campbell’s: what the hero finds is not the glory of the divine, but Jung’s archetypal shadow. This has dangers and blessings—if they are unworthy they have created for themselves a personal pathway to hell, but they also have found the road to rebirth. The shadow is the unconscious self and understanding it opens a world of strength and overcoming weakness.

By using Jung’s definition alongside Gurian’s, I broaden the canon of visionary fiction to include more works; epic myth and deep explorations of the liminal spaces of the mind both fall under my definition. For this reason I would include the likes of Beowulf and Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant as meeting my definition, though it is not clear that either was written as a visionary work.

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