A Place in Space Essay - Critical Essays

Gary Snyder

A Place in Space

The twenty-nine essays in A PLACE IN SPACE, thirteen of which are new, make many of Gary Snyder’s historic opinions more accessible for the general reader first encountering Snyder. His purpose is to instruct and persuade, and by both content and style, he is largely successful.

In roughly chronological sequence, Snyder organizes these essays into three categories—ethics, aesthetics, and watersheds—with each section centered in Snyder’s spiritual and physical home, the American Northwest. “Ethics” begins with writings from the 1950’s about the “San Francisco Renaissance” and the “Beat Generation” poetry movements in which Snyder participated. Snyder then restates his well-known social positions on population control, pollution, and environmental protection, believing mankind is interconnected with nature. Snyder stresses cooperation between Eastern and Western cultures and advocates a respect for Native American practices.

The “Aesthetics” and “Watersheds” sections best illustrate Snyder’s wide range of interests. In “Aesthetics,” Snyder discusses the importance of Asian influences on his thought and verse, tracing the historical evolution of Chinese poems, showing parallels between Eastern concerns and Native American oral traditions. He is particularly instructive discussing the forms and craft of Asian languages and in his explanations of Buddhist practices.

In “Watersheds,” Snyder calls for a new, more diverse political order, believing that human consciousness must move beyond self-centeredness to correct modern problems. He finds hope in the idea that Americans can look to local communities in terms of “bioregionalism” for a more effective means of cultural identity.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCII, September 1, 1995, p. 32.

The Progressive. LIX, November, 1995, p. 28.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, July 31, 1995, p. 62.

San Francisco Chronicle. October 29, 1995, p. REV6.