Painting Mountains and Rivers: Gary Snyder, Dōgen, and the Elemental Sutra of the Wild

in Research in Phenomenology
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In this essay I hope to make some new contributions to the philosophical opening occasioned by John Sallis’ articulation of an “elementology” more broadly and by his turn to Guo Xi’s exquisite Song Dynasty shan-shui scroll painting, Early Spring (in his forthcoming work, Senses of Landscape) more particularly. I do so by bringing the remarkable writings by the American poet and thinker Gary Snyder, especially in relationship to his reading of the great Kamakura Zen Master Eihei Dōgen, directly into the fray of contemporary Continental discourses on the elemental and the ecological. At the heart of this project is Snyder’s development of Dōgen’s elemental discourse of “mountains, rivers, and the great earth.” Like Sallis’ own efforts to recast language into a more elemental discourse, this essay will also focus on the manners of speaking specific to the philosophical and poetic self-presentation of the elements, including the relationship between the philosophical and the artistic as such.

Painting Mountains and Rivers: Gary Snyder, Dōgen, and the Elemental Sutra of the Wild

in Research in Phenomenology

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John SallisForce of Imagination: The Sense of the Elemental (Bloomington: Indiana University Press2000); henceforth fi. This is a work of “pragmatology”—adapted from Plato’s famous Seventh Letter where he wrote of τὸ πρᾶγµα αὐτό die Sache selbst the thing in itself (341c)—which speaks to die Sache “as they themselves appear in their self giving” (fi 38). “Pragmatology as monstrology requires also elementology” (fi 173): “At the limit of the limit are the elementals that are unassimilable and that delimit the very expanse of all self-showing: earth and sky. Even when one does not see them at all they are elementally operative bounding all that one does see and all else that is implicated in what one sees” (fi 172). All images are elemental; they are images not only of themselves but also of the elements. “All would hinge on declaring: though all things are earth earth is not a thing” (fi 174). See also Logic of Imagination: The Expanse of the Elemental (Bloomington: Indiana University Press 2012) Shades—Of Painting at the Limit (Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1998) Transfigurements: On the True Sense of Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 2008) as well as the forthcoming Senses of Landscape (Evanston: Northwestern University Press). For an invaluable consideration of the trajectory and accomplishments of Sallis’ philosophical oeuvre see Bernard Freydberg’s The Thought of John Sallis: Phenomenology Plato Imagination (Evanston: Northwestern University Press 2012).

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Mark ElvinThe Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China (New Haven: Yale University Press2004) 9; henceforth re.

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Hee-Jin KimDōgen Kigen: Mystical Realist (Tucson: University of Arizona Press1987) 187; henceforth dkm.

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Gary Snyder“Is Nature Real?,” in The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose Poetry and Translations: 19521998 (Washington dc: Counterpoint 1999) 388–89.

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