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  • Gary Snyder:Translator and Cultural Mediator Between China and the World
  • Robin Chen-Hsing Tsai (bio)

Snyder's writing has been concerned with four areas connected to the cultural translation of nature: indigenous cultures and civilizations; ecology and nature; Asian cultures, especially Chinese, Japanese, and Indian; and ecopoetics. Snyder addresses native and foreign cultures in these four zones so as to lay bare the ecological implications and environmental concerns in the texts he comments on or translates; hence, this article revolves around the Snyderian "worlding" of an ecology of mind and Snyder's role as translator and cultural mediator between China and the world. I first look at the ways Snyder contributes to so-called environmental world literature, a term coined by Ursula K. Heise to describe the texts that "have inspired environmentalist thinkers and movements beyond their own context of origin to stand up for the conservation of the natural world."1 Then I place Snyder's ecopoetics in dialogue with Guattari's "ecosophy"—mental ecology, social ecology, and environmental ecology—because both decry industrial capitalism's wreaking havoc on the environment. Finally, I also propose Snyder's translation of the Cold Mountain poems as a classic example of world literature in terms of David Damrosch's definition of world literature, meaning literature that transcends national culture and circulates in translation in an international market. Wang Ning's insights are also useful for analyzing Snyder's work, particularly his concept of canonicity and readability in the contexts of world literature, which emphasizes that the heart of world literature always presupposes a foreign country. I conclude by suggesting that this type of ecoliterature is a "minor" literature with a transformative and revolutionary potential to become world literature. [End Page 596]

Whither Environmental World Literature?

"World literature" is a contested term that is defined differently by critics. Goethe, though not himself the originator, is credited with coining the term, and he in turn has inspired many comparatists and literary critics, including David Damrosch and Djelal Kadir. Damrosch, instead of responding to the doubts that have been cast upon this term, pragmatically argues that world literature "encompass[es] all literary works that circulate beyond their culture of origin, either in translation or in their original language. . . . [W] orld literature could include any work that has ever reached beyond its home base, but Guillén's cautionary focus on actual readers makes good sense: a work only has an effective life as world literature whenever, and wherever, it is actively present within a literary system beyond that of its original culture."2 Kadir suggests that the word "world" in world literature should preferably be used as "a verb," "not as boundless sweep but as bounding circumscription": "To world and to globalize, then, would have to be parsed in light of their subject agencies and their object predicates."3 Kadir further points out that the question "Which world are we worlding literature into and why?" seems more exigent when it comes to world literature.4 In other words, one of the practical concerns of world literature seems to urge us to scrutinize the ways in which "it affects a phenomenon and makes it a/the world."5 For Martin Puchner, the "world" in and of "world literature" has Saidean connotations of the "worldly" and "secular," while for Aamir R. Mufti, it signifies a "horizon," a "mode of critical thinking."6 Hence, world literature carries multiple and diverse layers of meaning.

In spite of the inherent contradictions that arise in the attempt to define world literature, the creative assemblage between world literature and eco-criticism might shape another productive ecoliterary tendency for the field. In her recent groundbreaking piece entitled "World Literature and the Environment," Heise attempts to bridge the two worldviews by promoting a field that would combine literature and environmental studies—"environmental world literature"—a new attempt at the "relationship between world literature and the environment." Drawing on the Heisean prognostic line of environmentally oriented thought, together with the practical, pedagogic purpose adumbrated by Damrosch and Wang, I focus my ecocritical exploration on Snyder's role as a cultural translator and mediator, though ecocriticism in its early years was undoubtedly influenced by the...


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