The fractal nature of Gary Snyder's Mountains and Rivers Without End.
This article employs the fractal as a template to uncover the complexity of Gary Snyder's poem cycle Mountains and Rivers Without End. Blending chaos and order, fractals are complex shapes emerging from simple sources. Unlike Euclidean geometric forms, like triangles or cubes, the bumpy, bulbous character of fractals reflects forms found in nature. Tuning his work to the chords of nature, Snyder incorporates a fractal pattern into the structure and thematic content of Mountains and Rivers Without End. The two components of "mountains" and "rivers" become a whirling whole--two seemingly opposing forces that twist and join, reverberating across broad scales, embodying patterns we recognize, and demonstrating nature's rhythms rising from language.
The Great Basin is a roughly heart-shaped expanse that begins as far north as Oregon and runs as far south as Mexico, nestled between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. In the northwest section of the Great Basin, roughly northwest Nevada, lies the Black Rock Desert. 60,000 years ago 500 feet of water covered this land; then the climate warmed and the waters evaporated, leaving behind fine clay silt over a mile deep in spots. Black Rock Desert looks like a tipsy "Y," at its peak 27 miles long and 12 miles wide: a playa surrounded by desert mountains. Elevations change only five feet over its length, making it one of the flattest places anywhere. (1)
The small town of Gerlach perches on the edge of the Black Rock Desert. A few miles outside Gerlach a street sign reads "Guru Rd." Legend has it De Wayne "Dooby" Williams was walking his dog along this road and got inspired by nearby petroglyphs to leave his own mark. He carved a quotation and his name into a black rock and set it upright for passers-by to see. Over time, he added more engraved rocks, his work becoming a natural, witty version of the old Burma-Shave signs lining country roads. One sequence of rocks, each sitting in a circle of black gravel bordered by white stones, reads, "The wonder road/A story with no beginning and no end/Destination unknown." People began calling it Dooby Lane and Guru Road, and eventually the town put up a street sign to mark the outsider art. Gary Snyder happened upon it in 1988 and recorded what he saw. As he wrote later in a book celebrating Williams's work, "It was my luck to get to be his scribe" (1996a).
If you go down on your stomach, body to the ground, nose to the rock, each piece looks like a miniature version of the mountains standing like sentinels over the Black Rock Desert. The jags of the stone resemble the curves of the earth. In The Practice of the Wild, Gary Snyder writes, "A place on earth is a mosaic within larger mosaics--the land is all small places, all precise tiny realms replicating larger and smaller patterns" (1990, 27). Dooby's art makes explicit this mosaic, merging into the landscape, so that the art becomes the land and the land itself becomes art. Perhaps the most extensive piece, a stone hut called the Imagination Station, has six windows made from old television sets. Look into the screens and you see the form and emptiness of the Great Basin wasteland stretching into the sky.
In his notes ending Mountains and Rivers Without End, Snyder notes the form and emptiness of the Great Basin taught him how to end his project, begun forty years earlier. Readers of Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums might recall the character Japhy Ryder, based on Snyder, explaining his plan to compose a long poem, and to
just write it on and on on a scroll and unfold on and on with new surprises and always what went before forgotten, see, like a river, or like one of them real long Chinese silk paintings that show two little men hiking in an endless landscape of gnarled old trees and mountains so high they merge with the fog in the upper silk void. I'll spend three thousand years writing it, it'll be packed full of information on soil conservation, the Tennessee Valley Authority, astronomy, geology, Hsuan Tsung's travels, Chinese painting theory, reforestation, Oceanic ecology, and food chains (Kerouac 1958, 157)
Snyder did write on and on, publishing many other works, but always keeping MR whispering through his mind. In 1975, he told Bob Steuding the work would be completed in two to three years (Steuding 1976, 93), and through interviews done over the following twenty years Snyder continually assures that MR is coming. Finally, in 1996, Gary Snyder completed his epic poem, the work he intends as his masterpiece.
But what makes a masterpiece? One factor is complexity. Harriet Hawkins suggests complex works of art mirror complex, self-similar forms of nature, such that "there are interactive effects within interactive effects, and the whole is larger than the sum of its parts" (1995, 22). This art intrigues us because we continually uncover new elements with each encounter. Apparently orderly elements sit poised, ready to spring on us with unexpected uncertainty; fragments work with each other to form patterns at multiple levels. Complex art incorporates and evokes the complexities we recognize in nature, and even suggests "if the obvious chaotic components in art, in nature, and possibly in human psychology are themselves self-similar, it could be called an entirely new way to see the mimetic (self-similar) relationship between all three" (86). Such work, says Hawkins, reflects the complex natural patterns we now call fractal.
A fractal is a graph of chaotic behavior, a mapping of the hop-and-skip movements of dynamic nonlinear systems. The fractal allows us to visually observe the interactions of order and chaos, the Butterfly Effect played out before our eyes. Like a lot of the science associated with chaos theory, as soon as scientists learned how to see fractals, they found them everywhere. With the zeal of the converted, Michael Barnsley writes, "Fractal geometry will make you see everything differently. You risk the loss of your childhood vision of clouds, forests, galaxies, leaves, feathers, flowers, rocks, mountains, torrents of water, carpets, bricks, and much else besides. Never again will your interpretation of these things be quite the same" (1988, 1).
By combining Hawkins's aesthetic analysis and Barnsley's real-world identification of fractal patterns, I argue applying fractal analysis to Gary Snyder's MR helps us not merely understand the work's complexity, but also how Snyder evokes the fractal nature of nature. Others have touched upon this quality of MR (particularly Anthony Hunt), but I intend to focus primarily on how Snyder uses one image--the spiral--as a fractal device to spin self-similarity at all scales of his text. Even prior to his knowledge of chaos theory, Snyder visualized MR as a scaling work, explaining to James Kraus how it is "a real biosphere poem. ... [that] rises to leap from the local to the planetary level and back again" (Kraus 1986, 181-2). By the time he completes his masterpiece in 1996, Snyder knows something of chaos theory and consciously builds MR around a fractal structure that evokes his beliefs and vision of nature.
Traditional, or Euclidean geometry, sufficiently describes many of the shapes around us--the elliptical orbits of planets, the straight lines and smooth curves supporting the frames of our homes. But as Benoit Mandelbrot notes, in nature these shapes do not always suffice: "Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line" (1977, 1), To more accurately evoke the tangled, bumpy shapes of nature, Mandelbrot created fractal geometry. Blending order and chaos, fractal geometry refines our understanding of how nature operates, giving us a visual example of chaos theory at work. Mandelbrot created the term fractal from the Latin adjective fractus, meaning "broken," because it connoted the idea of a fracture (like a bifurcation point) and also described the fractional dimension (between the integer first, second, or third dimensions) of the fractal (Gleick 1987, 98).
A fractal is an object that possesses the quality of self-similarity across scale. (2) In simpler terms, a fractal has recognizable features at different levels of magnification, so that the object magnified ten times will bear a similarity to the original view. One popular example is a Russian doll. Each version contained inside the previous is smaller than its container, but looks exactly the same (Schroeder 1991). But fractals do not have to be self-replicating--only self-similar. Paul Addison provides an excellent model to help our understanding. Picture a person. If we zoom in on the arm, that object looks very different than the original image of the body. Zoom even further, on the tip of one finger, and the close up view of the fingernail has a shape and quality that bears no similarity to the previous two. Now imagine a coastline. From space, it looks jagged and twisting. Move in closer, and while the shape has changed, we still see the same jagged and twisting qualities, echoing the original view. Even under intense examination, belly to the earth, the line marking the transition from land to sea follows the twists and jags of the individual stones (Addison 1997, 2). A coastline is fractal because it is self-similar at each degree of magnification.
Mandelbrot found by iterating even simple equations, like [Z.sup.2] + C, where C is a complex number and Z the result of the previous computation, an amazingly complex shape would emerge as he graphed the resulting "Mandelbrot set," referred to as "the most complex object in mathematics" (qtd. in Briggs and Peat 1989, 96). Visualized graphs like this are what most people commonly associate as fractal--the gorgeous pictorials that make it onto magazine covers or t-shirts. They usually follow a sequence, beginning with a heart- or bug-shaped image. One section gets magnified, showing rippling swirls branching into oblivion, with the bug-shapes lining the edges of the swirls. The deeper we go into such graphs, the higher we increase the magnification, the more levels of self-similarity we uncover, always with shapes arising that resemble figures viewed much earlier. It becomes easy to forget that this astonishing complexity arises from the repeated iteration of a simple equation.
Once you look for fractal patterns, you see them everywhere. Mandelbrot identified the coastline as fractal, but others have noted that mountains, clouds, and broccoli share the same qualities. Just as our bodies need a chaotic heartbeat and brain pattern to maintain health, fractal design also seems to be necessary in the development of the body. Our lungs, nervous system, and circulatory system all have fractal geometry, with large branches becoming smaller branches, becoming smaller branches, and so on, yet with each level self-similar to those above (Briggs and Peat 1989, 95). Michael Batty and Paul Longley have noted that while planners and architects have tried to impose smooth order, the regulated grid of streets, on the chaotic growth of cities, what has seemed chaotic (random) actually bears a fractal order (1994). Not surprisingly, since many have noted the marks of chaos in financial markets, analysts like Dimitris Chofras have suggested fractals can be important tools in market modeling (1994, 117). Kenneth Hsu has even discovered fractal qualities of self-similarity across scales in the music of Bach and Mozart (1993). Their forms embody chaos and order, and perhaps it is this complexity that compels us. Structured messiness appeals, as Richard Voss and James Wyatt suggest, because most of our evolutionary history was spent in a natural world where fractal shapes far outnumbered the Euclidean geometry that dominates our cities (Voss and Wyatt 1993, 181). In this argument, the fractal awakens us to a vision of nature that culture has striven to overcome. Fractal art conveys to us a sense of the patterns of nature and the intermingling of chaos and order.
Fractals and Literature
Finding fractals in nature is so simple people often wonder how we managed to describe as much as we did before fractal geometry. The translation from natural fractals to the computer screen was a smooth transition, as the iteration of simple equations spun out fantastical and appealing scenes. Other visual media have been a favored searching ground for evidence of fractals in art--especially painting. John Briggs invented the term reflectaphor to describe a form or shape that recurs at various scales in a painting, like a base unit we can search for at all scales. Briggs feels the recurrence of reflectaphors provides the painting with a "sense of unity, diversity, and wholeness" as the scene comes together in the viewer's mind (1992, 173). The repetition of similar forms placates us with regularity, but the forms are only similar--not exact--and those differences instill the tensions of the unexpected. Some new aspect of the work continually surprises the viewer even as she connects the new with the old as part of a larger pattern.
Fractal scaling in literature may not be as immediately apparent. Unlike a mountain scene or a painting, a work of literature is more difficult to hold in the mind. We can dissect the text into smaller components, and, indeed, Briggs says poetic devices that depend on establishing an unresolvable tension of similarity and difference, such as "irony, metaphor, simile, pun, paradox, synecdoche" are reflectaphors (Briggs and Peat 1989, 196). But unless the author magnifies this identifiable tension through larger scales throughout the work, such components would not in themselves qualify as fractal.
Alice Fulton provides direction for our literary needs. Fulton wants to abandon the term "free verse" and designate irregular-form poetry "fractal verse." She decrees in fractal verse:
Any line when examined closely (or magnified) will reveal itself to be as richly detailed as was the larger poem from which it was taken The poem will contain an infinite regression of details, a nesting of pattern within pattern (an endless imbedding of the shape unto itself, recalling Tennyson's idea of the inner infinity) Digression, interruption, fragmentation, and lack of continuity will be regarded as formal functions rather than lapses into formlessness All directions of motion and rhythm will be equally probable (isotropy) The past positions of motion, or the preceding metrical pattern, will not necessarily affect the poem's future evolution (independence). (Fulton 1990, 192)
Fulton believes that much contemporary poetry has at least some of these qualities. Others find similar traits in older poets. For example, Lucy Pollard-Gott reveals words or sounds in the poetry of Wallace Stevens that repeat in patterns similar to common fractal dimensions. She concludes, like Briggs, that a fractal structure helps explain the appeal of the author's poetry (1986). More significantly for this study, Hugh Kenner sees fractal scaling at work in Ezra Pound's Cantos. Pound had a tremendous influence on Snyder, so finding a fractal pattern at work in one should encourage us to look for similar traits in the other (1988).
As these examples demonstrate, poetry seems the most likely literary genre to locate fractal structure because of its more-visual nature and its extremely self-conscious design. Perhaps even more ideal, the book-length long poem's fractured form, allowing a scale and variety of form impossible in shorter work, especially reverberates with fractal possibilities. But I find Fulton's identifiers impossibly ambitious, demanding every line be "richly detailed" and that every poem must bear "infinite regression" when even nature itself cannot display such qualities. Narrowing my explanation of fractal geometry, I find five main characteristics:
Self-similarity across scale Blending of order and chaos Complexity arising from simple origins An effort to structurally echo the patterns of nature Fragmentation revealed as wholeness
To qualify as fractal, a work will incorporate these elements into its structure. A fractal text will have a high degree of complexity, hut identifying the underlying structure will help simplify our understanding of the work. This should in no way be interpreted as a reduction of the text, or the creative process, to a few simple rules. Ideally, my analysis will have an effect equivalent to that of Briggs and Peat when they discover the simple equation that creates a complex fractal: "Here the simple iteration in effect liberates the complexity hidden within it, giving access to creative potential. The equation isn't the plot of a shape as it is in Euclid. Rather, the equation provides the starting point for evolving a shape that emerges out of the equation's feedback" (1989, 104). Revealing a poem's fractal basis reveals its evolving complexity and connects the work with natural processes.
Applied specifically to MR, uncovering a fractal structure within the text will help to clarify the work's complexity. Structurally, MR may be an ideal form for searching for fractals in literature. Prose works can be broken into chapters, chapters broken into sections and sections into paragraphs, but those blocks of text, those black lines marching across the white page with uniform regularity, fail to stick in the mind. But poetry, with its varieties of form and distinctive use of space, provides a natural landscape for fractal exploration at many levels. At its best, MR has several specific scales of "magnification." First, there is the text as a whole, which is then broken up into four sections. Each section consists of several individual poems, with their own divisions into stanzas, lines, imagery within lines, and even sounds. This cursory glance gives us six levels to look for self-similarity, wholeness emerging from fragmentation, order and chaos, and other traits of fractal geometry.
One way Snyder himself says he sought to structure MR is "through the dramatic strategies of [Japanese] No" theater (1996b, 137). The main structuring device of No, what Monica Bethe and Karen Brazell term "the basic aesthetic principle underlying the No" (Bethe and Brazell 1978, 6), is the Jo-Ha-Kyu pattern, a pattern that the chief artist of No drama, Zeami Motokiyo, found frequently occurring in nature (1974, 191). On the level of the entire play, the Jo is an introduction; serene and somewhat slow. The Ha is marked by agitated development. Finally, the Kyu brings the play to a fast close. The structure provides an introduction, building tensions, and then a swift finish.
Like a fractal, No structure is iterative. Unlike the traditional Western model of dramatic structure, with a linear progression from complication to climax, No feeds back on itself--the Kyu component carries a reflection of all that has come previously. It does not, however, merely repeat the preceding action, but presents previous action in an accelerated but recognizable way. The audience focuses on not merely the quantitative repetition, but the qualitative analysis of how the actions are repeated. Also like a fractal, we find the same structuring device at all levels of No. Ideally, each component of the play--music, chants, dance, stanzas, entire play--correspond to the Jo-Ha-Kyu pattern (Bethe and Brazell 1978, 6). Each scene follows Jo-Ha-Kyu, as do the segments of the scene (7). Actors sing each line to correspond with the pattern, so that it "begins powerfully, quickens, and then slows, drawing out the last syllable" (50). In each dance, every move echoes Jo-Ha-Kyu (79). The pattern is an ideal, and the play and its pieces do not always exactly correspond with it, but the repeated embedding of pattern within pattern creates great complexity emerging from humble origins. Similar to the fractal, the deeper we magnify the No play and its components, the more we find self-similarity.
As a graduate student at University of California, Davis, I had the great good fortune to be in a seminar taught by Gary Snyder. We studied the long poem, and the second half of the course focused on Snyder's own soon-to-be-published manuscript. In one class, Snyder explained how MR follows the Jo-Ha-Kyu pattern of No drama, with the four sections dividing, respectively, into a Jo, Ha, Ha, Kyu pattern, and then each section further envisioned according to the same structure. In his amazing and comprehensive tome on MR, Anthony Hunt details how he was a guest at this very class period and touches upon the Jo -Ha- Kyu pattern's influence at all levels of the text. Hunt focuses, in particular, upon the poem "The Mountain Spirit," which Snyder built around the No play Yamamba. Hunt writes, "While all of MR may be seen as a cosmic No play, this section serves, fractally, as a mirror of the dynamics of the larger poem" (2004, 246). Hunt does not detail as specifically how the No structure contributes to the other levels of MR, but rather than rehash the excellent work he does on "The Mountain Spirit," I will instead pick a different and thematically more significant target for self-similarity--the spiral--to explore how Snyder gives MR its fractal nature.
Spirals in Mountains and Rivers Without End
In The Real Work, Gary Snyder tells an interviewer that he sees a poem as a whorl, or knot, in the grain of existence. The poem provides a point of turbulence, an "intensification of the flow at a certain point that creates a turbulence of its own which then as now sends out an energy of its own, but then the flow continues again" (1980, 44). Tom Lavazzi develops Snyder's metaphor, showing how Snyder uses the spiral image as a verbal, object, and structural device in some of his early poetry. Lavazzi concludes that the spiral eclipses symbolism; it works as a "reenactment" of unity, "not 'imitations' of the things presented, but linguistic interpretations of and interpretations with them" (1989, 41). In this section, I will push even further the significance of the spiral image. In MR, the spiral works as a reflectaphor that reveals fractal qualities, behaving like an eddy in a river--spirals within spirals within spirals.
Importantly, MR opens with a structuring device that immediately introduces the concept of the spiral. In "Endless Streams and Mountains," the first poem in the book, Snyder describes a handscroll depicting a scene from thirteenth-century Chinese life. He first saw it in the 1970s, although as Carole Tonkinson says, Snyder had responded to East Asian landscape paintings since encountering them as a boy in Washington state. These paintings, more than other types, seemed to best evoke the mountains he loved (1995, 171). In a brief prose note to the poem, Snyder writes, "The scroll unrolls to the left, a section at a time, as you let the right side roll back in. Place by place unfurls" (1996b, 9). The poem, similarly, reads as we would view the scroll, describing portions that follow a trail that spans the scene. As the scene ends, "the scroll continues on with seals and poems. It tells a further tale" (7). Chinese painting has a tradition of adding colophons, a running commentary on the painting: the ideas it inspires, the places it was viewed, even commentary on earlier comments. Snyder lists several of these colophons, then describes his own experience of viewing the scroll at the Cleveland Art Museum. Finally, Snyder adds his own colophon, ending the poem.
The rest of MR can be read as both the scenes of the scroll passing before us as we unfurl the text and as Snyder's own colophon, his own commentary on what he has seen. Additionally, however, because Snyder introduces MR with the scroll analogy (which rolled-up forms a spiral) he immediately invites us to look for spirals as a self-similar fractal image at all scales of the work. If we imagine the text's structure as a series of concentric circles, so that the first poem of Section One and the last poem of Section Four sit on polar ends of the outermost circle, the second poem of Section One and the second-to-last poem of Section Four in the next circle, etc., we find frequent pairings between poems at similar spiral levels. For example, the first poem, "Endless Streams and Mountains," ends with,
grind the ink, wet the brush, unroll the broad white space: lead out and rip the moist black line Walking on walking, under foot earth turns. Streams and mountains never stay the same. (Snyder 1996b, 9)
The book's final poem, "Finding a Space in the Heart," concludes with an inverted version of the lines,
Walking on walking, under foot earth turns. Streams and mountains never stay the same. The space goes on. But the wet black brush tip drawn to a point, lifts away. (Snyder 1996b, 152)
Obviously, this provides a sense of opening and closure to the work--brush/space/"Walking" becomes "Walking"/space/brush. Importantly, this pairing is similar, but not the same--a pattern Snyder repeats throughout, at multiple levels. This technique not only echoes the self-similar quality of fractals, but also prevents a book-ending effect in which there is a clear start and stop. Rather than a linear quality, the self-similarity of the pairings allows Snyder to structurally represent a spiral that neither begins nor ends.
Other examples abound at the text level. The second poem of Section One, the short poem "Old Bones," begins with hunting: "Out there walking round, looking out for food" (Snyder 1996b, 10). The narrator is "barely getting by," finding "No food out there on dusty slopes of scree." Dim hope appears at the end of the poem:
Out there somewhere a shrine for the old ones, the dust of the old bones, Old songs and tales. What we ate--who ate what-- How we all prevailed. (Snyder 1996b, 10)
The lines suggest that satisfaction of hunger comes only with knowledge of place: the history tying a people to the land. Only the "old songs and tales" can help us to prevail and overcome the hunger. But "Old Bones" contains little sense of achieving satisfaction: the knowledge is "Out there somewhere," but the narrator has not located it.
On the opposing end of the spiral, the second-to-last poem of Section Four, orbits another short poem, "Earth Verse." The entire poem is but six lines:
Wide enough to keep you looking Open enough to keep you moving Dry enough to keep you honest Prickly enough to make you tough Green enough to go on living Old enough to give yon dreams (Snyder 1996b, 148)
This poem also begins with a theme of hunting: "Wide enough to keep you looking/Open enough to keep you moving." The tone is very different, however, than in "Old Bones." The sense of desperation has evaporated. Here, hunting is an opportunity, a beneficial pushing, like a parent encouraging a child toward an action of independence. The repetition of "enough" conveys a sense of knowledge being imparted, that the narrator has found an end to hunting and now reveals that what we need lies before us--captured nicely in the final lines of each poem, with humans who must "prevail" in the land of "Old Bones" instead having the land "give you dreams" in "Earth Verse" (emphasis added). The land is not a threat in this poem, but our hope.
A last example, from the second and third sections, examines collisions of nature and civilization. In the sixth poem of Section Two, "Covers the Ground," nature is buried under human "cement culverts ... mobile homes ... yards of tractors" and other material (Snyder 1996b, 65). Appropriate for this darker section, the sense of loss emanates from the poem's epigraph, quoting John Muir: "When California was wild, it was one sweet bee-garden" (65). Wild, here, is relegated to the past-tense. Contrastingly, on the opposite end of the spiral lies "Walking the New York Bedrock," the sixth-from-the-end poem of Section Three. Snyder opens this poem describing a nature scene of trees, rocks, a squirrel, before revealing he is in a park in New York City--a sequence that gives nature precedence over civilization. Rambling the city streets, Snyder envisions the products of civilization not as impositions upon nature but as extensions of nature, or mere symbols of the "real" world. Thus, the city becomes "a sea anemone/wide and waving in the Sea of Economy" (97), helicopters are bees, and skyscrapers are "layered stratigraphy cliffs" (101). Snyder again uses the ordering of the poems to provide a mirrored-reaction on the orbit of his scrolling tome, this time to react to civilization and nature, initially pessimistically and then increasingly open to merging of the two worlds.
At the section level, we see similar spiral pairings. In Section Three, Snyder opens with "The Circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpais," then closes the section with "Macaques in the Sky." Both poems involve the narrator hiking and detailing observations. However, the first is more worldly and the second more spiritual. In "Circumambulation," Snyder, Philip Whalen, and Allen Ginsberg perform a walking meditation around the "Bay Mountain" near San Francisco. The poem becomes a how-to guide, as Snyder details each stop on the journey, along with the chants recited at each place. The heavy emphasis on physical surroundings, along with the prose-emphasis in which Snyder writes, grounds the poem. Contrastingly, while Snyder begins "Macaques in the Sky" with a prose section describing where and with whom he is "walking the trail," the poem quickly breaks into more typical poetic style. He describes several macaque monkeys nestled in the canopy above, focusing last on a macaque mother who leaps into the air, baby clinging to her belly. Unlike in the grounded "Circumambulation," the mother monkey becomes an explicit symbol:
mother of the heavens, crossing realm to realm full of stars as we hang on beneath with all we have (Snyder 1996b, 115)
As before, Snyder uses the spiral to pair self-similar themes that also evoke a sense of expansion, growth or progress in the differences between the first and the second. Such concentric examples occur throughout Section Three, but for brevity's sake, I'll merely list a couple without going into detail: "The Canyon Wren" and "The Bear Mother" (creatures "speak" to Snyder, first to "purify" then to "share") (Snyder 1996b, 91, 113); "Walking the New York Bedrock Alive in the Sea of Information" and "Haida Gwai North Coast" (ecological cycles: the first energy and information, the second, food) (97, 103).
Magnifying to the poem level, staying within Section Three, we find the spiral frequently as a specific image. "Circumambulation" presents a spiral around Mt. Tamalpais, with Snyder's trio "circling and climbing" in the first line, and then, when they've completed the circuit, "standing in our little circle" to complete their ritual (Snyder 1996b, 85, 89). The spiraled horns of the dibee, or Dall sheep, appear twice in this section: once in "An Offering for Tara," where "Wild sheep whose horns and skulls/make a woven roof-top shrine" (107); and more prominently in "Arctic Midnight Twilight." In this poem, Snyder calls attention to the dibee's "spiral horn" and watches the sheep "run in circles" (92, 93). More importantly, he also portrays the dibee as creatures comfortable with the merging of "sky-sea-earth cycles" (94) and represents cloud movements through the image of their horns: "floods of rising, falling,/warmer, cooler, air-mass swirls/like the curls/of Hall Sheep horns" (94). In both poems, the spiral horns of the dibee serve as a reflectaphor--we see it at both scales, earthly and aerial, merging the ground with the heavens in one larger spiral.
Narrowing our search to "Arctic Midnight Twilight," again we find the spiral structure of the text and section levels. Snyder begins the poem with "Dibee/Song" and closes with the self-similar "--dibee/a mountain sheep" (Snyder 1996b, 92, 95). The poem also opens and closes with the narrator describing the physical location and the actions of the sheep, while the middle section of the poem broadens to the larger implications of the sheep's significance as models for the human quest for Enlightenment. Throughout the poem, Snyder emphasizes spirals/cycles--not merely those mentioned above but also analogizing the sheep in the first section to "constellations" and observing that they band together by "the slow/rotation of their Order" (92). Bookending this, near the poem's end, Snyder follows the sheep trail until he loses them in a glacier's snow. He pauses to "Rest awhile among the rocks/arise to descend to unbuild it again" (95), again providing a spiral both in imagery and structure. The last line is particularly intriguing, providing within the single line two spirals "arise to descend" and "to unbuild it again" (with the "again" signifying a continual process), that Snyder separates with carefully placed empty space.
A final, looser, sound spiral comes with the frequent alliterative pairing Snyder places throughout this (and most) of his poems. Snyder uses alliteration heavily throughout his work, including what I call alliterative pairing--consecutive words repeating sounds, such as "Pellet piles" or "sun swings" (Snyder 1996b, 92, 93). In "Arctic Midnight" alone, Snyder uses twelve such pairings within single lines of the poem and four others linking the end of one line to the next. We could read this as a fractal pairing of sounds in a self-similar way, with the same sound repeating, but not the entire word repeated. Sprinkled through the poem, they provide a sense of the whorls within whorls, calling attention to themselves in a showier fashion than typical alliteration, but in a manner that echoes the very structure of the multiple spiral levels of the work. A particularly rich example comes near the beginning of the poem:
A broad bench, slate surfacing six sheep break out of the gorge skyline brisk trot scamper (Snyder 1996b, 92)
In this small section, the repetition of b and s sounds binds the section into an encapsulation of the scene that is nearly a haiku (7-7-6 syllables per line rather than haikus proper 5-7-5). The voiced plosive b sounds slow the aural pacing, while the silibant s sounds accelerate the reading. In this section, Snyder uses the alliterative pairings of the first line to introduce the main sounds of the whole section. However, he also uses the "speed" of the two sounds to encapsulate a larger idea. Both "broad bench" and "slate surfacing" describe the mountainside upon which the sheep will "scamper," hut the b sound's slow nature provides a sense of stability to the mountain while the quicker s sound, along with the verb "surfacing" applied to the seemingly rigid "slate," evokes a sense of motion. When we come to the final line, we naturally read it as the sheep upon the skyline, performing their "brisk trot scamper." With "skyline" being the main noun of the line, though, it could be the mountain itself scampering.
Which brings me to the dominant spiral of the entire work: mountains and rivers. First, however, I need to establish a template of what "mountains and rivers" means for Snyder. Readers of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek know the mountains-and-rivers image is also an important theme in her book: "I look to the mountains, and the mountains still slumber, blue and mute and rapt. I say, it gathers; the world abides. But I look to the creek, and I say: it scatters, it comes and goes" (1990, 195). Dillard voices traditional Western associations with the imagery of mountains and waters: mountains are solid, waters flow. That which has stability is "rock solid," but "still waters run deep" demonstrates that even the appearance of stillness in water is merely deception. Earth is continuous, rivers are in flux. The conceit inevitably establishes duality and grants privilege to the orderly earth or the chaotic waters.
Snyder approaches the image from a different perspective. His essay "Blue Mountains Constantly Walking" explains his understanding of mountains and waters. Heavily influenced by Chinese philosopher Dogen Kigen's "Mountain and Waters Sutra," Snyder begins from the assumption that "Mountains and Waters are a dyad that together make wholeness possible" (1990, 101). Patrick Murphy tells us the Chinese characters for "mountains" and "waters" together form the compound for "landscape" (1992, 66). Snyder himself writes, '"Mountains and Waters' is a way to refer to the totality of the process of nature" (1996b, 102). (3) The components become the whole--two seemingly opposing forces twist and join, reverberating across broad scales, embodying patterns we recognize. Such a position would not necessarily contradict Western assumptions. After all, "wholeness" in the Western universe requires both stability and flow. But Buddhism proclaims all is samsara, or cyclic existence. All things flow through a process of continual change, and those who see earth as stable glimpse but a small portion of the whole (Corless 1989, xix). (4) Snyder says the cyclic Chinese sense of the land has always avoided duality, instead incorporating "a dialectic of rock and water, of downward flow and rocky uplift, and of the dynamism and 'slow flowing' of earth-forms" (1990, 102).
Faced with this argument, Westerners would quickly fall back, admitting our scientists have long known that earth flows beneath us. Continents shift, heaving mountains skyward, driving land into the sea. But this happens on such a lengthy geologic time scale that we do not perceive land flowing--to us, all appears mostly stable. But to create this fiction is to imagine human time-scale is the time-scale--the accurate way to glimpse reality. Snyder cites Dogen's example that fish see water as a palace. They would be astonished if informed their palace flows, as we are when reminded how mountains flow (1990, 108-09). Buddhism recognizes we necessarily view reality though our own filtered perception, but also always reminds us this is not reality-Mountains flowing is just as real and of this moment as waters flowing.
We could read the title Mountains and Rivers Without End as a landscape that stretches for eternity, but Snyder presents a more complex idea emerging from these simple words. In addition to presenting the scroll image in the book's first poem, "Endless Streams and Mountains," Snyder also considers the cyclical nature of mountains and rivers. One of the colophons he quotes reads, "The water holds up the mountains,/The mountains go down in the water" (1996b, 7). Later, he writes, "mountains walking on the water,/water ripples every hill" (8).The phrasing depicts a cycling between what we consider two oppositional forms: mountains and waters, solids and liquids. We can depict the relationship between mountains and waters in each instance as:
The first leads to the second, which cycles back to the first. Together, the two form a whole, as the two ideograms together form the whole of "landscape." Additionally, Snyder reveals an impermanence of form, a fractal time scale in which each element reflects the other at different scales of time. Stability is an illusion as matter flows continually from one frame to another.
Snyder refers to cycling and recycling between mountains and rivers throughout MR. Sometimes he will use those specific words, but often he employs broader versions (the land and waters), smaller versions (hills and streams/creeks), or altered forms (boulders/rocks and clouds/glaciers). This, of course, provides Snyder a broader set of tools with which to build, but also mimics the fractal self-similarity across scales echoed with the spiral, and that repetition gives the entire work a depth unforeseeable in just one poem. For example, Anthony Hunt explains how the double-mirror image in "Bubbs Creek Haircut" represents the mind itself, reflecting imagery back and forth, infinitely. We treat the images as real and whole instead of simply a flow we perceive as solid. The goal is to see reality without preconceptions--to "dissolve the solidity of these illusions by noting their place in a vast scheme of interrelated cause and effect" and achieve a state of "mind only" or "mirror empty" (1980, 165). (5) In the poem, Snyder uses the word "reflections" to link the mirrors with the reflections of waters, saying, "the crazy web of wavelets makes sense/seen from high above" (1996b, 34). Similarly, the narrator imagines the barber's chair he sits in as a boulder ("The boulder in my mind's eye is a chair"), so that the chair becomes a fractal/reflectaphor of mountains (34). Waters and mountains are each associated with "empty sky" and "empty sun" respectively (34, 35). In one of the last lines, then, when the "chair turns and in the double mirror waver/the old man cranks me down and cracks a chuckle," we find an implanted idea of Emptiness, mountains, and rivers, despite the fact none are explicitly mentioned. The "crazy web of wavelets" that have little meaning on their own make sense if we look at these images through a fractal lens, noting their self-similarity and recognizing them as reflectaphors. The simplicity of the imagery encapsulates meaningful complexity that reverberates through the poem and that we would not see if we did not have the perspective granted from the larger scope of the text.
Part of Snyder's purpose may be to mimic the cyclical ideology of Buddhism. Roger Corless says Buddhist cosmology has three realms: hell, heaven, and the intermediate states. We continuously die and are reborn in different lives and different realms according to the karma of our previous lives: if we lived a bad life, our next existence will be a torturous, painful life in hell; if we lived a life doing good, we are reborn into heaven. But even being in heaven is not ideal, because lives there last a very long time, and one tends to get content with the easiness of existence, only to eventually die and be reborn in some lower realm: over and over the wheel of existence turns, never-ending. Enter the Buddha--he discovered how to break the cycle, to escape from samsara and enter nirvana, a blissful joining with the universe outside of samsara. Only in human existence are conditions ideal to learn the lessons necessary to escape samsara: our lives are short, but not too painful or blissful, and our brains contain a lot of empty space we can fill with the knowledge accompanying Enlightenment (Corless 1989, 5-6).
The most vital thing we can do in this life, then, is work to awaken ourselves (and others) from our deceptions; to realize existence in samsara is suffering; to relinquish desire, desirelessness, and indifference; and to reach Enlightenment. From the structural level of MR, outward to the cosmos of Buddhism and inward to specific imagery, we consistently find representation of cycles. Whorls within whorls, the spiral assumes a fractal quality, showing up in different but recognizable ways. Bob Steuding says in the No play Yamamba, which Snyder mimics in "The Mountain Spirit," "'hills,' meaning mountains, represent life; and one's travels in these hills, in terms of the Buddhist 'Wheel of Life,' are the endless round of reincarnations" (Stending 1976, 95-96). Yamamba (the old mountain woman), circling through the mountains, cannot break the cycle of samsara and her own ignorant attachment binding her to the cycles. Unlike with spiritual matters, the cycles underlying nature are not the curse of samsara but the blessing of life. The interpretation of the cycles changes from the spiritual to the earthly, but the reflectaphor remains. By incorporating a fractal spiral structure into MR, Snyder both parallels the necessary, healthy cyclical patterns that guide nature on the material level and reminds us of our own ability to escape these cycles on the spiritual level.
The Importance of Being Fractal
In his book A Place in Space (published a year before MR), musing on contemporary nature writing, Snyder declares, "At root the real question is how we understand the concept of order, freedom, and chaos" (1995, 168). Understanding why the fractal model works well in analyzing MR necessitates uncovering Snyder's own understanding of these concepts. Going back to The Real Work, a collection of interviews, Snyder refers many times to the climax concept in ecology: that an ecosystem will evolve toward a certain climax state at which there is a high degree of diversity, maximizing the stability of the system (1980). The theory implies a definite, continual order in nature, a system of laws that consistently guide nature with an optimal plan. Chaos can be read only as disturbance, a disruptive and harmful hiccup in the order. (6) Snyder continues to hover around this concept throughout his writings, but we do find him altering his terminology as he becomes more aware of shifts in science.
Looking at the concepts of "wild" and "free" in his earlier book The Practice of the Wild, Snyder writes, "To be truly free one must take on the basic conditions as they are--painful, impermanent, open, imperfect--and then be grateful for impermanence and the freedom it grants us. For in a fixed universe there would be no freedom" (1990, 5). "Wild" he notes, is often incorrectly "associated with unruliness, disorder, and violence" (5). Our cultural tradition assumes the State has created order in the sea of chaos; therefore, that which is not the State, i.e., the wilderness, must be chaotic and disorderly. But Snyder insists, "Nature is orderly. That which appears to be chaotic in nature is only a more complex kind of order" (92-93).
There seems to be a contradiction, or at least tension, in Snyder's thinking. He espouses impermanence, openness, and imperfection--characteristics most often linked with disorder--as qualities of freedom and the wild. But he also demands stability and orderliness in nature. Snyder's difficulty is his hesitancy to link "chaos" with "wild." We see him trying to distance the two terms when he says the wild, is not "unruliness, disorder, and violence," terms traditionally associated with "chaos." As Western culture has traditionally used it, "chaos" is negative. To assign the term to the process of nature, then, would be antithetical to Snyder, hi Snyder's ideology, the wild is a base value for the way nature works when all participants behave properly Since order is positive and chaos is negative, nature and the wild must be orderly. Likewise, freedom is a positive quality, so although he implicitly associates it with characteristics we might more readily acquaint with chaos, Snyder consciously works to bind it with his "more complex kind of order."
We see Snyder further struggling with his terminology when he mocks the scientific and ideological lineage of Descartes, Newton, and Hobbes for being "hysterical about 'chaos'" (1990, 19). These thinkers initiated and stratified the mechanical view of the universe, in which all matter and life are bound by titanium laws governing motion and possibility. Everything in then-universe is perfectly orderly, perfectly deterministic, and perfect in terms of prescribable outcomes, if we can only garner enough information. Chaos and order are dichotomies--there can be only one or the other. Snyder wants to distance himself from this worldview because it allows for no freedom, no uncertainty. But because of cultural connotations of "chaos" and "order," he cannot label nature chaotic, though he will give nature many qualities associated with chaos. At this point, Snyder is just as hysterical about chaos, in name if not in belief.
However, by the time he asks the opening root question about how we understand the concepts of order, freedom, and chaos, Snyder, like chaos theory, for the most part has abandoned traditional associations of "chaos." (7) He writes,
I will argue chat consciousness, mind, imagination, and language are fundamentally wild. 'Wild' as in wild ecosystems--richly interconnected, interdependent and incredibly complex. Diverse, ancient, and full of information. At root the real question is how we understand the concept of order, freedom, and chaos. Is art an imposition of order on chaotic nature, or is art (also read 'language') a matter of discovering the grain of things, of uncovering the measured chaos that structures the natural world? Observation, reflection, and practice show artistic process to be the latter. (Snyder 1995, 168)
The first expansion of the question asks if art is "an imposition of order on chaotic nature." This reading carries the same overbearing tones as the assumption that the State brings order to nature. In contrast, the second expansion more gently looks to uncover "the measured chaos that structures the natural world." Snyder still speaks of underlying rules in nature, the same "more complex kind of order" he found in The Practice of the Wild. But his terminology has changed. This "measured chaos" is akin to the chaos of chaos theory, with its blending of order and chaos, determinism and unpredictability. He has a different, less dichotomized understanding of the concepts of order, freedom, and chaos. "Measured chaos" can now have positive associations and be freely linked with the wild.
In addition, the role of the artist is "uncovering the measured chaos," or "discovering the grain of things." The artist does not impose order on a chaotic world, as many conceive of it, but reveals the deterministic chaos of nature through his/her art. (8) In Earth House Hold Snyder writes, "The primitive worldview, far-out scientific knowledge and the poetic imagination are related forces" (Snyder 1969, 128). Rather than reinforcing battles of science versus myth in a struggle for truth, Snyder finds similarities in both camps' search for knowledge. In Practice, he cites the second law of thermodynamics, the inevitable slide of the universe towards entropy, as evidence that the world will realign its cultures according to bioregions (1990, 43). (9) In his "Points for a New Nature Poetics," Snyder advises artists to "fear not science. Go beyond nature literacy into the emergent new territories in science: landscape ecology, conservation biology, charming chaos, complicated systems theory" (1995, 172). Most clearly Snyder writes,
Some of us would hope to resume, reevaluate, re-create, and bring into line with complex science that old view that holds the whole phenomenal world to be our own being: multicentered, "alive" in its own manner, and effortlessly self-organizing in its own chaotic way. Elements of this view are found in a wide range of ancient vernacular philosophies, and it turns up in a variety of more sophisticated but still tentative forms in recent thought. It offers a third way, not caught up in the dualisms of body and mind, spirit and matter, or culture and nature. It is a noninstrumentalist view that extends intrinsic value to the nonhuman natural world. (Snyder 1995, 240-41)
Science, when done properly, tells us what we have long known. For Snyder, the evidence has always been there--we just had the wrong interpretations. Science distanced itself from myth and held itself as a lamp, guiding the way toward objective, unbiased Truth. But twentieth-century science has fractured the idea of objectivity, and chaos theory questions dichotomies of order and chaos.
Note that Snyder designates "consciousness, mind, imagination, and language" as "wild," tying them not just to measured chaos but also to "wild ecosystems." The processes of nature, the whirling mix of chaos and order both deterministic and unpredictable, become fractal patterns repeated at levels of scale from the universe to the mind and tongue. For Snyder, identity, language, and nature are one force. In Practice, Snyder writes, "when Occidental logos-oriented philosophers uncritically advance language as a unique human gift which serves as the organizer of the chaotic universe--it is a delusion. The subtle and many-layered cosms of the universe have found their own way into symbolic structure and have given us thousands of tawny human-language grammars" (1990, 76-77). Language evolved as we evolved, a connection between body, mind, and environment (17). Distinctions generated between identity, language, and nature, are made to distinguish ourselves from nature, a process destroying both nature and ourselves.
Snyder clearly feels the origins and importance of language is vital. Many times in A Place in Space he raises the issue, most clearly in his essay "Language Goes Two Ways":
Languages were not the intellectual inventions of archaic schoolteachers, but are naturally evolved wild systems whose complexity eludes the descriptive attempts of the rational mind. "Wild" alludes to a process of self-organization chat generates systems and organisms, all of which are within the constraints of --and constitute components of--larger systems that again arewild, such as major ecosystems or the water cycle in the biosphere. Wildness can be said to be the essential nature of nature. As reflected in consciousness, it can be seen as a kind of open awareness--full of imagination but also the source of alert survival intelligence. The workings of the human mind at richest reflect this self-organizing wildness. So its very language does not impose order on a chaotic universe, but reflects its own wildness back. (Snyder 1995, 174-75)
For Snyder, "wildness" is the common constituent for all things--the simple pattern that generates the complexity of the universe. The language he employs in this passage, the systems that are "within the constraints of--and constitute components of--larger systems that again are wild," sounds much like the fractal notion of whorls within whorls. The systems are all different, yet share the self-similar component of wildness that Snyder has equated with "measured chaos." He repeats this again in the last sentence of the passage: "language does not impose order on a chaotic universe, but reflects its own wildness back." Language is a system, just like the mind/consciousness (identity) and like the ecosystem (nature), so it is not orderly or chaotic, but both.
Ideally, then, art is wild, or bearing the same patterns that produce the complexity of our surroundings and our interiors. Art and reality become not a duality, but a whole. Returning to the fractal organization of No drama, Zeami Motokiyo felt the structure of No mirrored nature: "All forms of creation--good and bad, large and small, sentient and insentient--each and every one possesses its own jo-ha-kyu. Even within the chirping of birds, the cries of insects, each call has its own allotted pattern, which is jo-ha-kyu" (Omote 1974, 191). (10) Completion of the sequence in a performance signals a "psychological event within the minds of the audience," bringing a moment of recognition which the audience identifies as mimicking the process of consciousness (Thornhill 1993, 73). The fractal patterning of No, in Snyder's terms its "wildness," rings true because we recognize the repetition of patterns at several scales.
We must also keep in mind Snyder's goal "to spread the Buddha's teachings" (1996b, 139). One component of reaching Buddhist Enlightenment is recognizing the non-duality of the universe. We need a sense of non-duality to accept the cyclical concept of mountains flowing into rivers flowing into mountains, but that idea at least leaves matter as solid material merely shifting forms. What to think, then, when the "Heart of the Perfection of Great Wisdom Sutra" tells us, "form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form; form is exactly emptiness, emptiness exactly form" (from Snyder's unpublished translation)? Sunyata pushes us beyond the cycles of the universe and tells us the Whole, symbolized by mountains and rivers, is actually Emptiness. Snyder prepares us for this by introducing MR with a quote in which Dogen discusses the saying, "A painted rice cake does not satisfy hunger." Dogen posits, "If you say the painting is not real, then the material phenomenal world is not real, the Dharma is not real." He concludes, "there is no remedy for satisfying hunger other than a painted rice cake. Without painted hunger you never become a true person" (2). The painted rice cake (art), seems in apparent opposition to hunger (the real/nature). But Dogen concludes that the two need each other and compliment each other. He rejects the duality between art and nature, moving outside logic to explain that what is not real is actually real. Without Emptiness, or "painted hunger," "you never become a true person."
In his concluding remarks to MR, Snyder says, "The form and emptiness of the Great Basin showed me how to close" the long poem begun 40 years earlier (1996b, 158). The last poem in the book, "Finding a Space in the Heart," closes Snyder's quest. In "Finding," Snyder visits the Great Basin four times over four decades, from the sixties to the nineties, the same time he's been composing his work. In his third visit, Snyder describes a trip past the Black Rock Desert where he
discovered a path of carved stone inscriptions tucked into the sagebrush "Stomp out greed." "The best things in life are not things." words placed by an old desert sage. (Snyder 1996b, 150)
It's Snyder's discovery of Dooby Lane, DeWayne Williams's outdoor art that merges form and emptiness, art and landscape. Snyder learns from this sage, seeing how in this heart-shaped land, he finds "all equal, far reaches, no bounds./Sound swallowed away,/no waters, no mountains" (151). And so Snyder reaches journey's end: the reflectaphor of mountains and waters is no longer necessary as form and emptiness merge. The Great Basin becomes his art, his heart, and his art becomes the Great Basin.
When we look at MR through the template of the fractal, we seek a means of organizing, or better yet, evoking the patterns of nature. The fractal functions like a mandala, a tool of meditation that focuses the mind in a step toward realizing Emptiness. In The Practice of the Wild, Snyder links "wild" to the Tao, declaring each is "Both empty and real at the same time" (1990, 10). Fractal structure shows us how Snyder incorporates the wild into MR, so that the work, like the universe, is both empty and real. Working from a fractal epistemology, looking at scales of myth, science, and poetics, Snyder finds self-similar ideas of chaos and order, of structure and understanding. As myth and science intertwine through his poetry, Snyder echoes fractal patterns of nature and uncovers the "grain of things": the empty and the real and the wild.
(1) Information about the Black Rock Desert can be found at http://www.nv.blm.gov/Winnemucca/recreation/Black_Rock_Desert.htm
(2) My discussion of fractals is indebted to the lucid and accessible explanation of Briggs and Peat's Turbulent Mirror. Other good primers on fractals are Clifford Pickover's The Pattern Book: Fractals, Art, and Nature (ed. Clifford A. Pickover. River Edge, NJ: World Scientific, 1995) and Michael McGuire's An Eye for Fractals: A Graphic and Photographic Essay (Redwood City, CA: Addison-Wesley, 1991).
(3) Dorothy Nielsen writes, "Snyder's scientific/anthropological model of speaking in the voice of nature assumes that the poet is not creating a subjective projection onto nonhuman nature but rather is repeating biological information that originates in nature" (Nielsen 1993, 696). I argue Snyder's use of the fractal model strives for the same goal.
(4) Unless otherwise indicated, my knowledge of Buddhism comes from Roger Corless' marvelous introduction, The Vision of Buddhism: The Space Under the Tree.
(5) In a nice bit of symmetry, James Gleick uses the double-mirror image in an explanation of fractals: "Self-similarity b symmetry across scale. It implies recursion, pattern inside of pattern. ... Self-similarity is an easily recognizable quality. Its images are everywhere in the culture: in the infinitely deep reflection of a person standing between two mirrors, or in the cartoon notion of a fish eating a smaller fish eating a smaller fish" (Gleick 1987, 103).
(6) In his essay, "Is Nature Real?" Snyder writes, "Heraclitus, the Stoics, the Buddhists, scientists, and your average alert older person all know that everything in this world is ephemeral and unpredictable. Even the earlier ecologists who worked with Clementsian succession theory knew this! Yet now a generation of resource biologists, inspired by the thin milk of Daniel Botkin's theorizing, are promoting what they think is a new paradigm that relegates the concept of climax to the dustheap of ideas. Surely none of the earlier scientific ecologists ever doubted that disturbances come and go. It looks like this particular bit of bullying also comes just in time to support the corporate clear-cutters and land-developers" (Snyder 2002, 196-197). But as Donald Worster ("The Ecology of Order and Chaos." Environmental History Review Spring/Summer, 1990: 1-18) and Michael Barbour (Barbour, Michael G. "Ecological Fragmentation in the Fifties." Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. ed William Cronon. NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1995. pp. 233-55) have shown, Clementsian ecology demands a strict, nearly Utopian progression from empty land to climax state. Further, if we accept Clemenstian theory as tact, "chaos" is necessarily viewed as the enemy.
(7) We know, because he cites it in a footnote to his poem "The Dance" in MR, that Snyder has read at least some of James Gleick's Chaos.
(8) Bob Steuding says Snyder differs from poets of the first half of the twentieth-century because, unlike figures such as T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens, Snyder does not try to coordinate his poetics with modern science (Steuding 1976, 35-37). He says Snyder strives to evoke a "pre-existing, organic order" (37) by liberating, not creating, the ideas inherent in things themselves. While I agree that Snyder's main concern is speaking the voice of nature rather than imprinting his ego upon the land, I think Snyder has always used science in an attempt to buttress his personal philosophies.
(9) Sometimes, as in this case, Snyder's application of an aspect of science is a bit questionable, but I am more interested in his attempt than his accuracy. The application of scientific ideas to literature is always a tricky business.
(10) Interestingly, Kenneth J. Hsu finds fractal qualities like self-similarity across scale in the music of Bach and Mozart, but not most bird songs.
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--. 2004. Genesis, Structure, and Meaning in Gary Snyder's "Mountains and Rivers Without End." Reno: University of Nevada Press.
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--. 1980. The Real Work: Interviews and Talks, 1964-1979. New York: New Directions Books.
--. 1990. The Practice of the Wild. New York: North Point Press.
--. 1995. A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Watersheds. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint Press.
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--. 2002. "Is Nature Real?" In Wild Earth: Wild Ideas for a World Out of Balance. ed. Tom Butler. New York: New York Academy of Sciences.
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Voss, Richard E and James C. Y. Wyatt. 1993. "Multifractals and the Local Connected Fractal Dimension: Classification of Early Chinese Landscape Paintings." In Applications of Fractals and Chaos: The Shape of Things, ed. A.J. Crilly, R.A. Earnshaw, H. Jones. New York: Springer-Verlag.
Rod Romesburg teaches as a lecturer at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. He has published articles on Ernest Hemingway, Ed Abbey, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2010|
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