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Defining Metaphysical Literature. Tell Us If You Read Or Write it!

John Donne 1572- 1631

The term, Metaphysical literature, originally referred to poetic works from the 17th century and defined intellectually challenging poetry.

Striving to incorporate the incorporeal, the transcendent, the noumenal, the subject matter itself posed a problem and poses it still. According to philosophers such as Nietzsche and Kant, nothing can be known about noumenal reality, not even that it exists. Yet, throughout the ages, humankind has striven to express the notion of soul, the fervour and truth accompanying vision and revelation, the divinity that speaks from within.

Early metaphysical poets such as John Donne extended metaphors that compared very dissimilar things. This was to make us think, to try to express the paradoxical nature of all things metaphysical. After all, in the search for truth and meaning, a truth is only considered a truth if it expresses both opposites and everything in between. Such is the struggle of the writer of metaphysics who attempts to clothe philosophical ideas plucked from the ethers of universal thought.

T.S. Eliot is a fine example of a more modern metaphysical poet. He wrestles with noumenal experiences using extended metaphor, as the ‘Things of God’s cannot be known in any other way.

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962

In terms of modern metaphysical literature, writers such as Paolo Coelho, Herman Hesse, and Jean Paul Sartre weave philosophical concepts into simple stories to which most can relate. These stories make us think. They make us question the meaning of life. They ask us to reach beyond the world of tangible reality and allow soul into life.

These days, modern metaphysical/visionary literature often crosses genres and enters into the little celebrated field of magic realism. In this genre, the supernatural is part of tangible reality; spirit and nature are interwoven, inseparable, and unquestioned, and the extraordinary is made ordinary. Metaphysical literature tells tales of the inner life. Usually these tales are told simply, in prose that reaches to express the beauty inherent in us and in the world about us. Its task is to give voice to soul and its yearning to transcend the suffering of everyday reality.



11 comments on “Defining Metaphysical Literature. Tell Us If You Read Or Write it!

  1. Tahlia Newland
    November 28, 2012

    Here’s a list of contemporary metaphysical fiction. My favourite is Krisi Keley’s ‘On the Soul of a Vampire’ series. http://awesomeindies.net/metaphysical-fiction/


  2. Andrew Toynbee
    December 23, 2012

    I think I am able to hold up my hand and be counted as an author of metaphysical literature – albeit fictional.
    In my debut novel ‘A Construct of Angels’, I attempt to explain the presence of angels and their choir hierarchy by using using a combination of already-documented religious literature and modern cosmology, proposing that the angels we have read about have existed since the very first Universe and are ultimately responsible for creating all subsequent universes and therefore all life within them. They do this as a survival necessity, for they need the energy that living beings generate to maintain their existence. So once a universe is finally exhausted of all energy and life they must create a new one by folding the dead universe back upon itself and instigating a catastrophic explosion which then condesnses as a new universe (the Ekpyrotic method of creation).
    Angels created us, and we will ulitmately expire to become one with them. Unless we harbour evil intent, in which case our essences will not rise, but will be trapped by the Earth to perish along with our sun.

    Does that qualify? 🙂



    • ontheplumtree
      December 23, 2012

      Lovely Andy! I prefer to weave metaphysical concepts into fiction. I think it stimulates the imagination and is less preachy. After all, Kant said we could not know anything about noumenal reality, not even that it exists. All we are left with; therefore, is metaphysical conjecture. Nice response. Thank you.


  3. missmin
    January 8, 2013

    I’ve never been quite sure how to label my writings. Eclectic would probably describe it best but I think that the metaphysical/spiritual/soul is such an inherent part of my life that it generally makes its way into my stories and poetry at some point. If you have a moment, you might like to read one of mine, called ‘Illusions’. I hope it’s okay to provide the web address here. I’m still learning about the protocols of blogging. But here it is: http://soulandspiritmusings.wordpress.com/short-stories/
    I have no idea how to turn that into an actual link. I’m on holidays and my IT daughter is far away. Sorry. Love and light.


    • ontheplumtree
      January 8, 2013

      I would LOVE to read this story and shall do shortly. Don’t worry about the technicalities. And like you, I often rely on my daughter for such help. I will be back to you soon when I have read your piece.


  4. Karen M. Rider
    January 9, 2013

    Please also see Visionary Fiction Alliance — I have a post going up there in the next day that discerns between visionary fiction and metaphysical fiction, while also placing both genres within the larger literary genre of speculative fiction. The post also highlights the reasons why we are seeing so much cross-genre blending and the emergence of new genres. My early attempts at defining metaphysical works can be found at the links below. The new post going on the VFA blog is much more thorough– but not at all the “final word” I’m sure. There are many aspects to metaphysics, if the writing leans more toward philosophical and spiritual then that work is more akin to visionary fiction. If the writing leans more toward the “popular” notion of metaphysics (energy medicine, mind over matter, existence of dimensions between and within worlds, things that science has yet to measure or explain but which may be subjectively known, sensed or felt) that, to me, is metaphysical fiction.



    • ontheplumtree
      January 9, 2013

      Thank you, Karen. It seems we are constantly discovering new genres and finding new terms to describe them.


  5. ellisnelson
    October 9, 2013

    Count me in. I’ve written a metaphysical novel for young adults based on my own spiritual journey. Very hard to get this kind of thing published. Finally found a small publisher for one novel (Into the Land of Snows) but the others are still floating out there looking for a home.


    • ontheplumtree
      October 9, 2013

      Ellis. Thank you for your comments and your visit. I hope you do find a home. It is difficult these days. I run a feature called Opening Lines on this blog. Send me in your opening paragraph via a private message on facebook. More details then. Best!


  6. Suzanne McMillen-Fallon
    January 22, 2015

    Metaphysical is a word used by humankind, in attempting to understand whom one is: in having to accept mankind is material and spiritual, in life’s present equation. Desiring to grasp the unreality of materiality, at the same time, in the same plane of existence. As if looking into the mind of his creator, something bigger than themselves. Infinite Mind.

    Thank you, Dr. Clune, for an excellent post: Defining Metaphysical Literature.


  7. isobelblackthorn
    August 19, 2016

    I’m at work on a novel that sits firmly in the visionary/metaphysical genre. I’ve joined the Visionary Fiction Alliance and listed there is A Perfect Square, due for release next week. The novel at it’s depths concerns ways of approaching esoteric thought and the consequences emerging from those approaches. I’d be delighted if you would consider taking a look. This is the link to my website. https://isobelblackthorn.com/the-drago-tree/


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