Vision pertains to scope. The wise person can see for a long distance, metaphorically. Usually the ideal is stated in reference to time but it may also be stated in spatial scope, as when a person can visualize national political strategies in a complex electorate.
Marshall McLuhan foretold the future, not by clairvoyance but by paying careful attention to what was unfolding. Famously, he said “the medium is the message” but more significantly he predicted the dehumanizing effects that emerging communications media would have.
- Douglas Coupland, Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! (Atlas & Company, 2011).
- Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger (Ticknor & Fields, 1989).
Here is the vision in McLuhan’s words:
- Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964).
- Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, The Medium Is the Message (Random House, 1967).
Videos of McLuhan:
- The medium is the message, in 4 parts
- Address at authors' luncheon, in 4 parts
- At Johns Hopkins, in 5 parts
- Speaking with Edwin Newman, in 6 parts
James Madison "is deservedly remembered as 'the Father of the Constitution" . . . the principal . . . author of what would become our Bill of Rights and the prime organizer of the Jeffersonian Republican party". The "Father of Politics" "lived in his head, but his head was always concerned with making his cherished thoughts real."
- Noah Feldman, The Three Lives of James Madison (Random House, 2017): “Feldman explores Madison’s reactive and improvisational thinking as it played out in the three uniquely consequential roles, or ‘lives,’ he had — as constitutional architect and co-author with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay of the ‘Federalist Papers,’ political partisan and wartime president. The new nation, an idea still in progress, would inevitably call for reassessment, flexibility and innovation . . . ”
- Richard Brookhiser, James Madison (Basic Books, 2011).
- Ralph Lewis Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (American Political Biography Press, 2003).
- Garry Wills, James Madison (Times Books, 2002).
- The James Madison Papers (Library of Congress).
Non-fiction works by Norman Mailer (see Fiction section on this page).
- Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night: History As a Novel, The Novel As History (1968) (Pulitzer and National Book Award prize winner).
- Norman Mailer, A Fire on the Moon (1970).
- Norman Mailer, The Fight (1975).
- Norman Mailer, Some Honorable Men: Political Conventions, 1960-1972 (1976).
- Norman Mailer, Pieces and Pontifications (1982).
- Norman Mailer, Portrait of Picasso As a Young Man (1996).
- Norman Mailer, Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery Tale (1996).
- Norman Mailer, The Time of Our Time (1998).
James Joyce had extraordinary literary vision for his time.
- Gordon Bowker, James Joyce: A New Biography (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012): this biography “records his struggles against censors and literary snobs.”
- Richard Ellman, James Joyce (Oxford University Press, 1983).
- Stanislaus Joyce, My Brother’s Keeper: James Joyce’s Early Years (The Viking Press, 1958).
- Herbert Sherman Gorman, James Joyce: A Literary Life (1941).
Visionary views about our past and future:
- Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (Spiegel & Grau, 2018): an assessment of our problems and challenges in an “increasingly complex world”.
- Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (Viking, 2018): “Much of the book is taken up with evidence-based philosophizing, with charts showing a worldwide increase in life expectancy, a decline in life-shattering diseases, ever better education and access to information, greater recognition of female equality and L.G.B.T. rights, and so on . . . ”
People with exceptional vision can pay a heavy emotional price for their gift.
- Paddy Chayefsky is a case in point. His 1976 film “Network” predicted the transformation of news into entertainment, with its attendant consequences. [Dave Itzkoff, Mad as Hell: The Making of “Network” and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in the Movies (Times Books, 2014).]
- Robert E. Lerner, Ernst Kantorowicz: A Life (Princeton University Press, 2017). Kantorowicz was a visionary historian, who saw the dynamic processes of history, and identified the pivotal moments at which historical tides shifted, turned and became unstoppable. He made this statement about loyalty oaths in 1949: “Both history and experience have taught us that every oath or oath formula, once introduced or enforced, has the tendency to develop its own autonomous life. At the time of its introduction an oath formula may appear harmless, as harmless as the one proposed by the Regents of this University.1 But nowhere and never has there been a guaranty that an oath formula imposed on, or extorted from, the subjects of an all‑powerful state will, or must, remain unchanged. The contrary is true. All oaths in history that I know of, have undergone changes. A new word will be added. A short phrase, seemingly insignificant, will be smuggled in. The next step may be an inconspicuous change in the tense, from present to past, or from past to future. The consequences of a new oath are unpredictable. It will not be in the hands of those imposing the oath to control its effects, nor of those taking it, ever to step back again.”
- Jeffrey C. Stewart, The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke (Oxford University Press, 2018): “Locke, a trailblazer of the Harlem Renaissance, believed that art and the Great Migrartion, not political protest, were the keys to black progress.”
- Margaret Daum, The Problem with Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars (Gallery, 2019): “It’s a critique of feminism’s “fourth wave,” a social media-driven movement articulating not just the rights of women, along with microaggression concepts like 'mansplaining,' but also the fuzzier tenets of 'intersectionality,' a hitherto hidden matrix of privilege and oppression.”
- Claire Tomalin, The Young H.G. Wells: Changing the World (Penguin Press, 2021): “How H.G. Wells Predicted the 20th Century”.
- Joe Moshenska, Making Darkness Light: A Life of John Milton (Basic Books, 2021): “The Blind Poet Who Saw Visions of Religious and Political Freedom”.
- Michael Gorra, The Saddest Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War (Liveright, 2020): “'Few historians and fewer novelists of his day saw the hobbling vainglorious past so clearly . . . and few of them made slavery so central to their accounts of the war.'”
From the dark side, on what happens when nations fail to plan:
- Richard Overy, The Twilight Years: The Paradox of Britain Between the Wars (Viking, 2009): despite a lack of national vision, Britain remained ready to survive.
- Madeline Albright, Fascism: A Warning (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 2018): “Madeline Albright examines fascism in the past and present – and possibly the future.”
From the dark side, myopia:
- Edward H. Miller, Nut Country: Right-Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy (University of Chicago Press (2015): “Each new insurrection feels spontaneous even as it revives antique crusades to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, ‘get rid’ of the Supreme Court or — most persistent of all — rejuvenate the Old South. Half a century before Rick Perry indicated secession might be an option for Texas, John Tower, the state’s first Republican senator since Reconstruction, accepted the warm greeting of his new colleague, Senator Richard Russell, the Georgia segregationist, who reportedly said, ‘I want to welcome Texas back into the Confederacy.’”
- Kethryn S. Olmsted, Right Out of California: The 1930s and the Big Business Roots of Modern Conservatism (The New Press, 2015): “California’s epic labor battles, Olmsted argues, created modern conservatism ‘in its fullest form,’ the ‘anti-labor, anti-statist movement that dominates American politics today,’ its tendrils sunk deep in the soil of the field-factories, ‘where racial conflict shaped political attitudes.’ But as her strong research shows, race and gender prejudice informed, or deformed, almost the whole of American social and cultural life in the 1930s and was as common on the left as on the right.”
- John Keay, Midnight’s Descendants: A History of South Asia (Basic Books, 2014): “The 1947 partition of British India, which led to the creation of India and Pakistan as independent countries, was undertaken with nobler motives. But ‘Midnight’s Descendants,’ John Keay’s solid new history of the subcontinent over the past 67 years, leaves the reader with the same depressing thought: No alternative could possibly have been more calamitous.”
- Kurt Andersen, Evil Geniuses: The Unmasking of America: A Recent History (Random House, 2020): “. . . in political economy, America was hijacked by capital supremacists, who preached and enacted, as Andersen details with wallets-full of receipts, a return to a pre-New Deal order: 'everybody for themselves, everything’s for sale, greed is good, the rich get richer, buyer beware, unfairness can’t be helped, nothing but thoughts and prayers for the losers.'”
- Nicole Perlroth, This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race (Bloombury, 2021): “. . . the way that Washington, in its careless rush to dominate the field, has created and hypercharged a wildly lucrative, entirely unregulated gray market for insanely dangerous digital weapons that private hackers develop and then sell to the highest bidder.”
- Samuel Moyn, Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2021): “. . . Moyn suggests that making war less cruel amounts to a centrist compromise that diverts Americans from pursuing the more radical goal of genuine peace.”
Documentary and Educational Films
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Adam Gopnik, A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism (Basic Books, 2019): “ . . . what commands Gopnik’s attention is a challenge to his convictions more formidable and more intimate: the resurgence of the illiberal left from the post-Communist wreckage.”
- Daniel Susskind, A World Without Work: Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond (Metropolican/Holt, 2020): “Susskind declares that machines are getting so smart that they’ll soon replace humans at a growing list of jobs, potentially including doctors, bricklayers and insurance adjusters, thus ending what he calls the 'Age of Labor.'”
- Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam Writing (1523)
Norman Mailer wrote with a visionary zeal for the society and culture in which he would like to live, as though he could build it through his fiction.
- Norman Mailer, The Naked and the Dead (1948).
- Norman Mailer, Barbary Shore (1951).
- Norman Mailer, The Deer Park (1955).
- Norman Mailer, The White Negro (1957).
- Norman Mailer, Advertisements for Myself (1959).
- Norman Mailer, An American Dream (1964).
- Norman Mailer, Cannibals and Christians (1966).
- Norman Mailer, The Prisoner of Sex (1971).
- Norman Mailer, The Transit of Narcissus (1978).
- Norman Mailer, Of Women and Their Elegance (1980).
- Norman Mailer, A Small and Modest Malignancy (1982).
- Norman Mailer, Ancient Evenings (1983).
- Norman Mailer, Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1983).
- Norman Mailer, Harlot’s Ghost (1991).
- Norman Mailer, The Gospel According to the Son (1997).
Dave Eggers writes with a similar sense of vision in “a much more sober, humbled, craft-loving time” than Mailer’s.
- Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King (McSweeney’s Books, 2012).
- Dave Eggers, The Wild Things (McSweeney’s Books, 2009).
- Dave Eggers, Zeitoun (McSweeney’s Books, 2009).
- Dave Eggers, What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Ashak Deng (McSweeney’s Books, 2006).
- Dave Eggers, How We Are Hungry: Stories (McSweeney’s Books, 2004).
- Dave Eggers, You Shall Know Our Velocity (Vintage, 2003).
- Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Vintage, 2001).
- David Lodge, A Man of Parts: A Novel (Viking, 2011): “From time to time . . . the third-person narrative is interrupted by lively conversations between the aging (H.G.) Wells, looking back on his life from his London lodgings toward the end of World War II, and a probing internal “second voice” that could be Lodge or might be a stand-in for the skeptical reader.”
- Lidia Yuknavitch, The Book of Joan: A Novel (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 2017). The vision is that of a dystopian future if we do not preserve the natural environment.
- Neal Stephenson, Fall; Or, Dodge in Hell (William Morrow, 2019): “ . . . have you read Neal Stephenson? His mind is capable of going places no one else has ever imagined, let alone rendered in photorealist prose. And he doesn’t just go to those places; he takes us with him.”
- Hanya Yanagihara, To Paradise: A Novel (Doubleday, 2022): “With breathtaking audacity Yanagihara rewrites America, the Civil War having produced, in this account, not a united country but a conglomeration of territories, including one called the Free States. In this nation-within-the-nation, gay marriage is allowed — although, lending nuance to the picture, arranged marriages are, too.” – this sweeping novel displays vision by looking to the past.
- Tom Crewe, The New Life: A Novel (Scribner, 2023), “reimagines the lives of two pioneers who studied, and supported, homosexuality in 19th-century England.”
From the dark side: people cannot see their own nose:
- A.M. Holmes, The Unfolding: A Novel (Viking, 2022): “The novel opens on election night, 2008. Candidate John McCain has just conceded to Barack Obama, and not everyone is celebrating. In a Phoenix hotel bar, our protagonist — a 60-something business tycoon referred to only as the Big Guy — is drowning his sorrows and contemplating next steps.”
Film and Stage
- With his film Network, Paddy Chayefsky predicted the evolution of corporate-owned media into a monster, and the public unawareness that would accompany it, in horrifying detail. The “greatest screenplay ever to remain undestroyed by Hollywood and make it intact to the screen, (it) hits the Orwellian mother lode.”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
John Fahey transcended blues and country traditions through his vision of what the genres might be. Employing classical techniques, he created a distinctive art form rich in its simplicity, yet sparse owing to Fahey use of the steel guitar.
- The Legend of Blind Joe Deathis his groundbreaking 1957 album.
- “ Fare Forward Voyagers” album
- “The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favorites” album
- “Days Have Gone By” album
- “Blind Joe Death” album
- “The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death” album
- “America” album
- “Death Chants, Breakdowns and Military Waltzes” album
- “The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick” album
- Fahey live in 1997
- Aron Kallay, Beyond 12: Reinventing the Piano (2012) uses remodeled pianos to create unconventional sounds: Volume 1; Volume 2.
- Ragamalika is a form of composition in Carnatic music. – it means “garland of ragas”.
- Kit Armstrong, “William Byrd – John Bull: The Visionaries of Piano Music”
They laughed at me as "Prof. Moon,"
As a boy in Spoon River, born with the thirst
Of knowing about the stars.
They jeered when I spoke of the lunar mountains,
And the thrilling heat and cold,
And the ebon valleys by silver peaks,
And Spica quadrillions of miles away,
And the littleness of man.
But now that my grave is honored, friends,
Let it not be because I taught
The lore of the stars in Knox College,
But rather for this: that through the stars
I preached the greatness of man,
Who is none the less a part of the scheme of things
For the distance of Spica or the Spiral Nebulae;
Nor any the less a part of the question
Of what the drama means.
[Edgar Lee Masters, “Alfonso Churchill”]
The cooper should know about tubs.
But I learned about life as well,
And you who loiter around these graves
Think you know life.
You think your eye sweeps about a wide horizon, perhaps,
In truth you are only looking around the interior of your tub.
You cannot lift yourself to its rim
And see the outer world of things,
And at the same time see yourself.
You are submerged in the tub of yourself—
Taboos and rules and appearances,
Are the staves of your tub.
Break them and dispel the witchcraft
Of thinking your tub is life!
And that you know life!
[Edgar Lee Masters, “Griffy the Cooper”]