Visionary Fictions

Apocalyptic Writing from Blake to the Modern Age

Edward J. Ahearn

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September 25, 1996
208 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
ISBN: 9780300065367
Cloth

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"Visionary" writers, says Edward Ahearn in this original book, seek a personal way to explode the normal experience of the "real," using prophetic visions, fantastic tales, insane rantings, surrealistic dreams, and drug- or sex-induced dislocations in their work. Their fiction expresses rebellion against all the values of Western civilization—personal, sexual, familial, religious, moral, societal, and political. Yet even though they are anti-realistic, they do react to specific aspects of modern reality, such as the recurring promise and failure of social revolution. Ahearn, who finds this form at once exhilarating, immensely disturbing, vital, and subversive, explores the work of a wide variety of authors who have contributed to the genre from the late eighteenth century to the present day.

Beginning with the appearance of visionary writing in the work of William Blake, Ahearn traces the development of the form in texts by widely scattered authors writing in French, German, and English. He includes Novalis, Lautréamont, Breton, William Burroughs, and contemporary feminists Monique Wittig and Jamaica Kincaid, among others. Quoting liberally from these authors, Ahearn summarizes the works and places them in context. General readers, as well as those who have studied these authors, will find this book an extraordinarily interesting tour of this little recognized and frequently misunderstood genre.

Edward J. Ahearn, University Professor and professor of comparative literature and French studies at Brown University, is also author of Marx and Modern Fiction, published by Yale University Press.

"This is a compelling delineation and exploration of the genre of modern visionary fiction—intelligent, perceptive, sensitive, and above all thought-provoking."—Ross Chambers, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

"An excellent introduction to one of the most perplexing of all literary subjects. . . . A timely and relevant book."—Peter Ackroyd, The Times (London)

"An excellent study and reinterpretation of important texts in this particular literary tradition."—Choice

"This ambitious comparative overview continues the author's interest in studying those who 'think outside the box' either with subjective vision . . . or objective analysis."—Laurence M. Porter, Nineteenth-Century French Studies