The wild flesh of Gary Snyder's "natural language" Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/x920g0889

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  • This paper explores the language theories of Gary Snyder, an important modern environmental author whose early work was associated with the Beat movement of the early 1950's. I am particularly interested in Snyder's thoughts on how language relates to nature. I focus primarily on Snyder's prose in attempts to understand his thoughts on language, but I also look at his book of poetry Mountains and Rivers Without End as an illustration of his theories on language and its relation to the self. I also compare Snyder's thoughts to those of the twentieth century phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, showing how both writer and philosopher help cross the divide that has developed between language and nature in contemporary literary theory. In the first chapter, I describe how Snyder bridges a divide between two environmental movements which are often thought to be in tension: ecofeminism and deep ecology. Adding to this, I also explore Snyder's appropriation of Buddhist thought into his own environmental vision, referring principally to the 11th Century Buddhist philosopher Dogen, a key figure in the development of Zen. It is from Dogen that Snyder draws his views of self as empty. In chapter two, I further develop Snyder's vision of an empty self, specifically in relation to language, and compare his views with the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty, who also explains self as the emptiness of "nothing." Both Snyder's idea of the empty self, appropriated from Buddhism, and Merleau-Ponty's conception of the self as "nothing" position self as determined through the context within which the self is situated. This alternative idea of the subject allows self-expression language to become a manifestation of the larger biotic community, rather than an assertion of the ego of individual humans. In the third chapter, I describe the structured relationship between language and nature as that of reciprocal wildness. In this structure, language organizes itself in a manner similar to the ecology of any particular bioregion. Language then both reflects and creates nature. It is the result of the outpouring of the self as a matrix of connections. Yet language is also self-organizing, so it generates its own structures and organizations that then influence the self's perceptions of the world beyond language.
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