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R ip r a p o f T h i n g s : S u b j e c t a n d O b j e c t in G a r y S n y d e r ’s E a r l y P o e t r y L o u i s e M i l l s In this essay, I will focus on the way in which Gary Snyder takes issue with the commonly assumed structure of a separation of subject and object by which the exchange between reader and text becomes distant and restricted. The works of Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer provide me with a useful bridge between the vocabulary and discourses of a Western comparative literature department and those of Zen Buddhism, to which Snyder constantly turns.1 In particular, Snyder’s exploration of the breakdown of a separation between subject and object arises largely out of his study of Zen Buddhism. Heidegger and Gadamer have been foremost in the critique of this separation in m odem times. Although Snyder has worked with well-known figures of the Beat movement, such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, he is not as widely known as these writers, and he resists being classified as a “Beat writer.” His poetry, which is in the tradition of the meditative lyric, differs from the long lines and speech rhythms of Kerouac and Ginsberg, yet there are points of similarity in the outlook of Snyder and these writers. For example, Snyder’s fascination with what are often termed “alternative” ideas and practices in the West and the East— what he himself terms “the subculture”— has led him to believe that “the subculture is the main line and what we see around us is the anomaly” (Real Work 68). He lives and writes according to these various ideas and practices and is therefore reluctant to be confined by geographical or stylistic labels. Although Snyder identifies with the term Zen Buddhism, he does not feel restricted by this identification: You know, calling yourself a Buddhist is not like calling your­ self a Catholic or a Christian. It’s not a label that defines you right away as a member of a sect with a set ideology. Buddhism is a way of mind, a kind of way of seeing the world, that can embrace all of those other things and then still go beyond it. ... There are no Buddhists; there are just people who are on the way. (Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation) For Snyder, Zen Buddhism is not a system of thought but an opening “that can embrace all of those other things and then still go beyond it.” 3 1 4 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e F A L L 2 0 0 4 The influence of this “way of mind, a kind of way of seeing the world” is evident throughout Snyders writing life. In a 1976 interview, Snyder defines what he sees as the “value and function of poetry”: One side of it is in-time, the other is out-of-time. The in-time side of it is to tune us in to mother nature and human nature so that we live in time, in our societies in a way and on a path in which all things can come to fruition equally, and together in har­ mony. A path of beauty. And the out-of-time function of poetry is to return us to our own true original nature at this instant for­ ever. And those two things happen, sometimes together, some­ times not, here and there and all over the world, and always have. (Real Work 73) The polarity here is between structure and the absence of structure. Within poetry, Snyder suggests, our usual notion of temporal structures coexists with a release from this notion. He acknowledges the simultane­ ity of theoretical structure and lack of structure and does not view this simultaneity as paradoxical. In fact, he views both poetry and the world as at once structured by theoretical distinctions and...


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pp. 313-333
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