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Experience and emptiness in Gary Snyder’s “Mountains and Rivers without end”

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Mountains, rivers and a Wandering Poet.
  3. Zen Buddhism and post-structural theory.
  4. Into the mountains.
  5. The grammatical structure of 'Raven's Beak River/At the End'.
  6. Conclusion.

Language orders our experience of reality. It establishes a scale of binary opposition dictating where one ends and another begins, clearly defining the relationship between what is and what isn't. This relationship grounds our notion of self and creates the framework through which we interpret and sift through the overwhelming diversity of the human experience. It is through this process of interpretation that meaning is created, that the fragments of experience are assembled to compose just who ?I? am. But according to post-structural literary theory this ?I? is arbitrary. If words are the signs upon which reality is ordered, both describing and simultaneously creating the meaning that defines our experience of being, how do we express that which is beyond language? Where do we distinguish between the experience of reality and the expression of that experience?

[...] And it is within this fluid and all-encompassing landscape that our journey through Gary Snyder's epic, Mountains and Rivers without End, begins. The first poem, ?Endless Streams and Mountains,? describes our experience of Streams and Mountains without End. Throughout these lines, our perception shifts. We become both the subject, viewing the painting from a distance, and the object, encompassed within and defined by the painting. Fleeting voices and images collapse the scales of difference upon which language operates. Words lead us in multiple directions creating a fluid center that embraces limitless meanings. [...]


[...] In the first section of this essay, I will introduce Gary Snyder and Mountains and Rivers without End. The second will familiarize us with the two theoretical perspectives we will use to read Mountains and Rivers without End. In the third, we will begin to through the text itself. And it is through this journey that we will observe how language can deconstruct the conventions of language, revealing not only the emptiness of words but also the emptiness of the self and the reality that self expresses. [...]


[...] Mountains and Rivers Without End. p Ibid, p Wong, Wucius. The Tao of Chinese Landscape Painting: Principles and Methods. Snyder, Gary. "Introduction." Beneath a Single Moon: Buddhism in Contemporary American Poetry. Ed. Ken Johnson and Craig Paulenich Snyder, Gary. "Introduction." Beneath a Single Moon: Buddhism in Contemporary American Poetry. Ed. Ken Johnson and Craig Paulenich. p. 1-2 Waddell, Norman, and Masao Abe, eds. The Heart of Dogen' Shobogenzo. p Nietzsche, Friedrich. "The Will to Power." Literary Theory: an Anthology. Ed. [...]

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