Grammatological Opening

Popol-Wuh as Archmat of Mytho-History

A grammatological opening of the Popol-Wuh was made by Gordon Brotherston in his remarkable Book of the Fourth World: Reading the Native Americas Through Their Literature (1992), where he makes his point of departure the simple observation that:

For Derrida, “writing” is in fact present everywhere, in gesture and speech itself, in the traces and paths of landscape: Orality and script do not therefore constitute a mutually exclusive binary; still less are they moral opposites […] At the same time, through the very term “grammatology” he enables us the better to conceptualize script in the most various forms it can take, technically on the page, in other visual and tactile media, and in lining and encoding within “purely” verbal language (42).

Although for Raphael Girard as well as most scholars the pluridimensional nature of the Popol Vuh appears clearly as a matter of course, Brotherston is able to push the earlier “multi-disciplinary” assumptions unto higher theoretical ground. With the help of De la Grammatologie (1967), therefore, the grammatological opening of the K’iche’ “text” can present itself as the general archetypal cipherscription of Its Root Ancient Word across media.

Brotherston deploys the grammatological opening of the Popol-Wuh by expanding on the general concensus about the Popol-Wuh being reducible to an “original” hieroglyphic form:

Not relegating the Popol vuh entire to the Maya hieroglyphic corner has important consequences for the reading of the text, particularly in the matter of perceiving how its structure relates to orders of spatial logic typical more of iconic than of hieroglyphic script. (Brotherston 218)

From all this we may confirm that the Fourth World indeed has its own complex grammatology. Deciphering it means entering the history of both its internal relations and its five-hundred-year encounter with the West. It also means becoming aware of how the Fourth World has fared in supposedly universal histories of humankind’s efforts to write, most of them characterized by that crass evolutionism that celebrates the Semitic-Greek alphabet, like the wheel, as a turning point in human achievement to which America was unfortunately not party. (The Totonacs used wheels for their children’s toys, and, as we have seen, the impoverishment implicit in the phonetic alphabet was well understood in the Fourth World.) Hence, America makes only brief, fragmented appearances in I. J. Gelb’s A Study of Writing (1963) and David Diringer’s The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind (1968); in the latter the quotation from a Maya hieroglyphic text is upside down. (45)

One important effect of this exercise is to highlight those texts that within a given tradition stand as classics or charters, central points of reference for literary production. These are the great cosmogonies of America that, largely ignored as such from the outside, have sustained generations of life and thought from within, marking time-space coordinates and generating the energy of politics. Those known or available to us represent only the smallest part of a possible total, yet among them they offer an authoritative version of the Fourth World — above all the magnificent Popol vuh, which in every respect deserves its epithet “the Bible of America. (49)

Norland Téllez is an artist and teacher with over two decades of experience in the entertainment industry. As a scholar of myth and history, he remains committed to critical thinking through the power of the mythic image.

Grammatological Opening

WORKS CITED

Brotherston, Gordon. Book of the Fourth World: Reading the Native Americas Through Their Literature. Cambridge: UP, 1992.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Hopskins UP, 1997.

Works Cited

Brotherston, Gordon. Book of the Fourth World: Reading the Native Americas Through Their Literature. Cambridge: UP, 1992.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Hopskins UP, 1997.