"Fiction is the truth inside the lie."--Stephen King
Over at Plumb, Rosemary Rhodes Royston estimates that writers are psychic. I don't think she's wrong, but I think the category should be extended to a more general “artists.” There's plenty of historical, theoretical, experimental, philosophical, and theological evidence for this. I'm not sure it's limited to writers and artists, but often the practitioners of the craft—who always have been led by the Creative Spirit—are adept at tapping into what some call the Universal Collective, or at least are tuned into what Plato called “the Real,” what many others have simply called Truth, even if what they are creating is fiction.
Theory: Artists live in the realms of the Subconscious, the biographical, experiential part of the psyche, and the Unconscious, the aspect of the psyche Jung theorized was biological, genetically and physically embedded with universal symbolism. In addition, as though philosophers in different tunics, artists dwell on humanity, what it is and what it means, noting its tendencies and mapping those tendencies along with their consequences on paper or canvas. When the chord is struck just right, it rings loudly, clearly, and devastatingly. When the chord is struck just right, it exists outside of time, seems to apply to all humans, and the product of the artist becomes immortal, far greater than the artist herself/himself. You can read, therefore, and find yourself in King Solomon's existential crisis in Ecclesiastes, in the tale of love and terror in the Gospels; you can laugh at yourself in Erasmus's Praise of Folly, suffer with the sinners and saints in the Divine Comedy, tremble with fear at the prescient similarities between the time you live in and the time laid out in Orwell's 1984. This isn't clairvoyance as much as it is getting in touch with the Self, as it is knowing thyself and being gutsy enough to shine a light on that.
Rosemary cites Carl Jung for support, and as a fellow Jungian, I think that's appropriate. Trying so hard to remain stoically scientific and rational, Jung soon found himself fighting his own romanticism on the divergent roads of the Psyche, where he discovered the Breath of God, and that breath was composed of symbolism—of metaphors—constant and universal within humans, seemingly implanted there in the womb. That may sound crazy, ye scientists who still proffer the recently outdated trope that science and spirituality are incompatible, but consider this: In a recent experiment with birds (forgive me, I'm not taking the time to find all my sources), scientists discovered what appeared to be “ancestral memory.” Male birds learn their mating songs from their fathers—Dad teaches his boys how to get the chicks!—and the researchers wanted to see what kind of songs offspring would sing if separated from their fathers before they could be taught the mating song. The songs were measured electronically, and the first generation of separated offspring produced some unmelodious and arrhythmic and pathetic verse. The second separated generation (the offspring of the offspring) did the same. But a few generations down the line, something incredible happened: The great-great-great grandsons found their special family rhythm again and produced mating songs identical to their original forefather.
Jung was right. All of us are connected by some strand of memory or symbolism, and a writer tapping into that effectively comes off as one stepping into your own head. The four archetypes, the universal metaphors, are present in all stories, all art stemming from the Unconscious realm. The Shadow: the dark but fascinating figure who thrusts the world into chaos, the one who must be defeated, the one very recognizable in others but frequently denied in oneself; Anima/Animas: the male and female aspects of the Soul; Syzygy: the divine couple, the (re)union of the aspects; the Self: also called the Real, the Truth, the Pneuma, or the vital, creative wind that carries us to God.
I'm surprised how many people I talk to who don't know much about Joseph Campbell, whose writings I think need to replace some of the Victorian twaddle still assigned in American schools. But they should know, especially if they're Star Wars fans; George Lucas gave express credit (and a private screening!) to Campbell for inspiring the iconic trilogy. Campbell considered himself a successor to Jung, and perhaps taking a cue from Jorge Borges, who said, “Perhaps universal history is the history of a handful of metaphors,” he dug around the myths pervasive throughout modern human history to see if he could identify those universal metaphors. And of course, he did. He found lots and lots of them, stretching across Middle Eastern messiahs, Chinese Cinderellas, and Native American Noachian floods.
Campbell discovered and wrote and said lots of interesting things before he died, and among them, the most interesting for me, was that as the modern world loses its rites of passage, as the modern Church fails to provide metaphors younger generations will be able to accept, as humanity strives for new metaphors with new (the same!) meanings, poets will become the shamans of mankind. And that's pretty retro, if you ask me, the idea we return to verse, but I suppose it makes sense because poets provide the metaphor, the deep layers of meaning within which we not only find ourselves, but the breath of God. Poets give us the symbols required for the Psyche to unlock the code. The writers of the Bible knew this. The Vedics did, too. Or how about this noodle-frying verse from John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And then Jesus commences to telling stories.
Here too, Campbell displays the divine couple: the poet and the storyteller. The poet reaches up into the realm of inexpressibility, overlays imprecise symbols that come only very close to interpretation, and brings the inexpressible down to expressible earth, which was, it is said, spoken into existence, and the storyteller lays out the routes upon which incarnated characters will live out their questions and live out their symbols. We rely on parables—on finding ourselves in the story—to reach God because the ultimate Truth is this: Every single thing we know about the Universe and Ourselves stems from a story someone told us and the odd and loose amalgamation of metaphors, both experiential and biological, we use for understanding.
Writers aren't anymore psychic than anyone else. We just have the gumption and curiosity to dwell in abstract and spooky gardens of truth, and we have hubris and courage enough to present those truths to sometimes hostile listeners. We don't pave roads, and we don't build cars. We only draw maps, and if we get lucky, the maps lead someplace real.