"Living Outside the Madness" : reform and ecology in the work of Henry Thoreau and Gary Snyder Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/05741v93z

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  • Recent conflicts in America concerning the environment (the harvesting of old growth timber in the Pacific Northwest, or the proposed opening of public lands in southern Utah to mining interests, for instance) have precipitated a personal examination of "historical others" (Jensen 64), individuals that possess very different sensibilities from a larger capitalist culture. Two such writers, Henry Thoreau and Gary Snyder, use the wilderness to enact alternative patterns of living that are designed to change cultures that have lost touch with the land, and have spiraled into a future where nature is a mere afterthought. In response to the growth of his society, Thoreau built a cabin at Walden pond as an experiment to determine if life could be lived simply and morally. His activities were an effort to "wake up" his "neighbors" who were just beginning to explore capitalism. "Moral reform," Thoreau believed, "is the effort to throw off sleep" (WAL 61). Thoreau's criticism of capitalism, agricultural reform, and slavery were generated to help his culture understand what it is to live morally, and "awake." Gary Snyder is the voice of Thoreau in the late 20th century, and his work addresses a world fully enveloped in capitalism. The exploitation of wild creatures and places by world governments and multi-national corporations is the problem of the modern age for Snyder, and place-based living is a way of dissenting from a consumption-oriented culture. Reform begins with the individual living close to the land, but also involves people living in communities and creating patterns of living that are ecologically stable. This paper is, in an immediate sense, a comparison of two "American" non-conformists, but it is also a response to cultural and environmental crises that both writers faced. Chapter I of this study introduces Thoreau and Snyder and establishes the parameters of this paper. Chapter II discusses Thoreau's views on capitalism, agricultural reform, and environmental degradation. Chapter III highlights Snyder's interest in place-based living and bioregionalism. Chapter VI brings Thoreau and Snyder together in a discussion of political and social reform. The final chapter of this study reflects how Thoreau and Snyder mesh as ecological philosophers.
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