Visionary Prose

Or you could call it mystical prose. Psychedelic prose. Extradimensional prose.

There are all kinds of not very good names for it.

And in fact that kind of writing usually works better in poetry, where the language is already specialized and can more seamlessly say bye-bye to the workaday quotidian sense of things we make in our prosaic lives.

But sometimes you may want to do some of it. Or feel that you have to.

And it may even feel easy to do, when you’re doing it. But getting it across to the reader—expressing the inexpressible, effing the ineffable—can be another matter entirely, and for a whole series of paradoxical reasons, the first of which is that, most paradoxically, when you have an experience that seems larger than yourself, even universal, even perhaps a universal Truth, the catch is that the particular revelation you’ve experienced, universality and all, is personal to you. As you’ll usually find out if you tell someone you’ve had this or that vision, and you’ll articulate the particulars of what you “saw”: it’s so personal to you, just as a dream is personal to you, that no one really wants to hear about it, even if they’re sympathetic to the general drift of what you’ve witnessed or have seen unveiled. “Tell a dream and lose a reader,” so runs the cliché.

But there have been visionary writers, and not all of them have been poets like Blake or Rimbaud or Rilke; and some of them have succeeded in getting something essential across, and some have not. I’ve produced both results, and it’s possible that I’ve learned something about what works and doesn’t, while on the other hand it is still, in the words of Yul Brynner, a puzzlement. But it’s an area I’ve explored, and if you’re into it and trying to figure it out, I might be some help to you.

For myself, I was certainly influenced by the ending of James Joyce’s last short story; by the early one-act plays of Sam Shepard, in which psychedelics may have played a part for the author; and by certain passages in Under the Volcano, which certainly had a fair amount of alcoholic delirium tremens—the old D.T.s—in them, but also achieved many mirrorings of Being and at least one major, extremely powerful evocation of high Transcendence. So did Borges, a lot more quietly, in stories like The Aleph and the Zahir; but those are only the beginning and the end of the alphabet, and there are other letters in between, still to be shone. Some of them may be yours.

As a sidebar to the subject, if you’re interested in it, I’d recommend a listen to the way the letters Aleph and Beth are sounded in Thomas Tallis’s vocal piece of the 1560s, The Lamentations of Jeremiah; but ah, the musicians are usually more fortunate than the scribes, in this department.

Still, if we feel it, if we’ve lived it, we have to try, and if our attempt is to be successful, we’ll have to work at it and learn it in a special way, unique to ourselves, as with everything else in our craft and art.