Book of the Fourth World: Reading the Native Americas through their Literature

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9780521307604: Book of the Fourth World: Reading the Native Americas through their Literature

The Book of the Fourth World offers detailed analyses of texts that range far back into the centuries of civilised life from what is now Latin- and Anglo-America. At the time of its 'discovery', the American continent was identified as the Fourth World of our planet. In the course of just a few centuries its original inhabitants, though settled there for millennia and countable in many millions, have come to be perceived as a marginal if not entirely dispensable factor in the continent's destiny. Today the term has been taken up again by its native peoples, to describe their own world: both its threatened present condition, and its political history, which stretches back thousands of years before Columbus. In order to explore the literature of this world, Brotherston uses primary sources that have traditionally been ignored because they have not conformed to Western definitions of oral and written literature, such as the scrolls of the Algonkin, the knotted strings (Quipus) of the Inca, Navajo dry-paintings and the encyclopedic pages of Meso-America's screenfold books.

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The Book of the Fourth World offers detailed analyses of texts that range far back into the centuries of civilised life from what is now Latin- and Anglo-America. In order to explore the literature of this world, Brotherston uses primary sources that have traditionally been ignored because they have not conformed to Western definitions of oral and written literature.

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At the time of its "discovery", the American continent was identified as the Fourth World of our planet. Today the term has been taken up again by its "Indian" or native peoples to describe their own world - both its threatened present condition and its political history, which stretches back thousands of years before Columbus. Using indigenous sources as primary sources, Book of the Fourth World explores the landscapes and chronologies of this world as they have been seen and interpreted from the inside. Mapping the continent by this literary means, it pays particular attention to the well-documented traditions of the Nahuatl (Aztec) and Maya to the north of the isthmus, and of the Quechua-speaking Inca to the South. According to both the literary evidence and the testimony of native Americans themselves, notably at the Quito Conference of July 1990, an underlying coherence is to be found in the creation story told in the "bible of America", the Popol vuh of the Quiche Maya. A classic of world literature, this 16th-century work sets out a story of evolution understood by Europe only hundreds of years later; its natural philosophy is now being defended, as a way of life critical to that of the planet itself, in the tropical forests of the Amazon. Taking a skeptical view of the 1992 quincentenary and respecting the testimony of the Indians themselves, this study brings together a wide range of evidence from what is now Latin and Anglo America. In doing so, it offers detailed analyses of texts ranging far back into the centuries of civilized life that antedated Columbus.

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