Body Matters: Gary Snyder, The Self and Ecopoetics

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Gary Snyder has offered, in poems and essays, ways to acknowledge the interrelationships of humans with the more-than-human. He questions common notions of selfness as well as understandings of what it is to be human in relationship to other species and ecosystems, and he offers new paradigms for the relationship between cultures and the ecosystems in which these cultures reside. These new paradigms are rooted in a reevaluation of our attitudes toward our physical bodies which impacts our relationship to the earth and raises new possibilities for an ecological spirituality or philosophy. The sum of Snyder's endeavors is a foundation ... continued below

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Murray, Matthew May 2000.

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  • Murray, Matthew

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Gary Snyder has offered, in poems and essays, ways to acknowledge the interrelationships of humans with the more-than-human. He questions common notions of selfness as well as understandings of what it is to be human in relationship to other species and ecosystems, and he offers new paradigms for the relationship between cultures and the ecosystems in which these cultures reside. These new paradigms are rooted in a reevaluation of our attitudes toward our physical bodies which impacts our relationship to the earth and raises new possibilities for an ecological spirituality or philosophy. The sum of Snyder's endeavors is a foundation for an understanding of ecopoetics.

Snyder's poem "The Trail is Not a Trail" is an interesting place to begin examining how human perceptions of the self are central to the kinds of relationships that humans believe are possible between our species and everything else. In this poem there is a curious fusion of the speaker and the trail. In fact, with each successive line they become increasingly difficult to separate. The physical self is central to Snyder's poetry because his is a poetry of the self physically rooted in ever-shifting relationship with the biosphere.

The relationship of the self to the biosphere in Snyder's poetry also points toward a spiritual experience that can be called ecomysticism, by which I mean the space where new ecological paradigms and mystical understandings of the world overlap.

Ecomysticism goes beyond mysticisms that describe a spiritual being longing for supernatural experience while being "unfortunately" trapped in a physical body. Ecomysticism emphasizes the spiritual and physical interrelatedness or interconnectedness of all matter, the human and the more-than-human.

The integration of the spiritual and physical aspects of the self is only possible through an awareness of the interrelatedness of the self and the non-human. New paradigms for the self are thus central to ecopoetics, a poetics that seeks to heal the rift between humans and the biosphere.

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  • May 2000

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  • Sept. 24, 2007, 10:20 p.m.

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  • April 26, 2016, 4:27 p.m.

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Murray, Matthew. Body Matters: Gary Snyder, The Self and Ecopoetics, dissertation, May 2000; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc2513/: accessed June 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .