Parallel Worlds

Parallel Worlds: Genre, Discourse, and Poetics in Contemporary, Colonial, and Classic Maya Literature

Kerry M. Hull
Michael D. Carrasco
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 448
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt4cgkrh
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  • Book Info
    Parallel Worlds
    Book Description:

    Despite recent developments in epigraphy, ethnopoetics, and the literary investigation of colonial and modern materials, few studies have compared glyphic texts and historic Maya literatures. Parallel Worlds examines Maya writing and literary traditions from the Classic period until today, revealing remarkable continuities across time. In this volume, contributions from leading scholars in Maya literary studies examine Maya discourse from Classic period hieroglyphic inscriptions to contemporary spoken narratives, focusing on parallelism to unite the literature historically. Contributors take an ethnopoetic approach, examining literary and verbal arts from a historical perspective, acknowledging that poetic form is as important as narrative content in deciphering what these writings reveal about ancient and contemporary worldviews. Encompassing a variety of literary motifs, including humor, folklore, incantation, mythology, and more specific forms of parallelism such as couplets, chiasms, kennings, and hyperbatons, Parallel Worlds is a rich journey through Maya culture and pre-Columbian literature that will be of interest to students and scholars of anthropology, ethnography, Latin American history, epigraphy, comparative literature, language studies, indigenous studies, and mythology.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-180-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-18)
    MICHAEL D. CARRASCO and KERRY M. HULL

    Since the mid-1980s, incredible strides have been made in the linguistic decipherment of the Maya hieroglyphic script. Historical figures have emerged from the linguistically mute archaeological record, illuminated by narratives about ancient political machinations and dynastic intrigue. The rich iconographic world of Maya mythology has also been set within the context of specific textual narratives that have provided a clearer picture of the religious aspects of Maya thought and society than was ever possible through images alone. Research since 1990 has shed light on verbal morphology and other grammatical structures (Houston 2000; Wald 2007; Wichmann 2004) that in turn have...

  5. Part I Finding Continuities in Maya Poetics and Literature
    • 1 THE NARRATIVE STRUCTURE OF CHOL FOLKTALES: One Thousand Years of Literary Tradition
      (pp. 21-42)
      NICHOLAS A. HOPKINS and J. KATHRYN JOSSERAND

      After listening to Chol storytellers for nearly thirty years, we came to understand that there is a narrative style, a canon that is followed by the best narrators and only marginally controlled by those who are not. Over and over again we noted the same features in stories told by different narrators. For that matter, we noted many of the same features in stories told by speakers of other Mayan languages (England 2009; Josserand and Hopkins 2000), as well as in Classic period Maya hieroglyphic texts (Hopkins and Josserand 1990: 307–310, 1991). That is, there is an established tradition...

  6. Part II Establishing Traditions:: Hieroglyphic Literature and Poetics
    • 2 SYNTACTIC INVERSION (HYPERBATON) AS A LITERARY DEVICE IN MAYA HIEROGLYPHIC TEXTS
      (pp. 45-72)
      ALFONSO LACADENA

      Hyperbaton, from the Greek ύπέρβατον (transposition), is treated by studies on literary theory within syntactic figures, a process caused by the permutation of constituents (Mayoral 1994: 145–158). Hyperbaton consists of the alternation of the normal syntactic order of distinct elements that compose a phrase, for the purpose of creating a poetic effect. Literary theory distinguishes between various forms of hyperbaton according to the way the elements alternate between themselves, the maintenance or disruption of the natural contiguous relationship, and the resulting grade of alternation. I will refer to three forms: anastrophe, hyperbaton itself (though hyperbaton usually names the figure...

    • 3 POETIC TENACITY: A Diachronic Study of Kennings in Mayan Languages
      (pp. 73-122)
      KERRY M. HULL

      The poetic and literary aspects of Maya hieroglyphic texts are just beginning to come into focus. In this chapter I trace the diachronic use of one of the most elegant poetic forms among the Maya: the diphrastic kenning—the pairing of two distinct elements to produce a metaphorical, more abstract third concept. I investigate the use and meanings of fourteen specific kennings/pairings found in Maya hieroglyphic writing that have attested counterparts in Colonial period documents or modern Mayan languages. This comparative analysis sheds light on both Maya conceptual patterning based on selectively paired lexical items and the interpretation of such...

    • 4 THE HISTORY, RHETORIC, AND POETICS OF THREE PALENQUE NARRATIVES
      (pp. 123-160)
      MICHAEL D. CARRASCO

      The ruins of the ancient city of Palenque now lie largely concealed in the forested foothills of the Sierra de Palenque. However, Palenque was once a prosperous Classic period polity at the western edge of the Maya world. From a protected hillside plateau, the city commanded a northern view of the broad lowlands that stretched to the Gulf of Mexico. The city served as a point of connection between the lowlands and highlands as well as a node along the historic route linking Central and Gulf Coast peoples to the cities of the Maya heartland. Long abandoned when the first...

    • 5 UNDERSTANDING DISCOURSE: Beyond Couplets and Calendrics First
      (pp. 161-180)
      LLOYD B. ANDERSON

      The study of discourse structure lies somewhere between grammar and meaning.¹ It concerns devices such as topics, fronting, parallel phrases (couplets), highlighting, and narrative genres. These devices are used to signal what a text or a discourse is about and what the reader or listener can expect to learn. They are used to divide a text into sections, to emphasize, and to contrast. They can also signal elegance and formality. If we are responsive to the discourse structure of Mayan alphabetic and glyphic texts, we discover how content relates to major text divisions (“paragraphs” or “sections”). We can understand texts...

    • 6 DRAWING AND DESIGNING WITH WORDS
      (pp. 181-194)
      DENNIS TEDLOCK

      When the signs of the Maya script are locked into a relationship with syntax, the reader converts clusters, rows, and columns of marks into syllables, words, phrases, and sentences, reversing the sequence followed by the writer. There may be times when the process of reading a text is slowed down by beautiful calligraphy or an unusual spelling, but the directionality of language is still there, drawing the reader onward. What concerns us here are cases in which Maya writers liberated signs from syntax, creating what might be called graphic poetry. Such works allow the reader to linger on the threshold...

    • 7 NARRATIVE STRUCTURE AND THE DRUM MAJOR HEADDRESS
      (pp. 195-220)
      KAREN BASSIE-SWEET, NICHOLAS A. HOPKINS and J. KATHRYN JOSSERAND

      Classic period inscriptions refer to the accession of a lord into the office of king in a variety of ways. One accession statement refers to the fastening of a white headband on the new king (k’ahlaj “fasten, enclose, bind, or tie,” sak huun “white headband”) (Grube, cited in Schele 1992: 39–40; Schele, Mathews, and Lounsbury 1990: 4–5; Stuart 1996: 155). Several scenes, such as the Palenque Temple XIX platform and Bonampak Sculptured Stone 1, show a sak huun headband being handed to the incoming ruler. This crown of kingship is illustrated as a flexible headband of bark cloth...

  7. Part III From Glyphs to Letters:: Colonial Maya Poetics and literature
    • 8 CREATION NARRATIVES IN THE POSTCLASSIC MAYA CODICES
      (pp. 223-252)
      GABRIELLE VAIL

      Narratives in the Postclassic screenfold books known as the Dresden, Madrid, and Paris Codices have received relatively little attention in the past, although scholars have recently begun focusing on them in more detail. They provide an important source of information about deities and events in primordial time that helps supplement Classic and Colonial period datasets. This chapter focuses on a particular narrative—and pictorial—device used by Maya scribes to highlight the shift to mythic time and the performance of rituals related to invoking this “time out of time.”

      Importantly, narratives in the codices referring to mythic time are presented...

    • 9 SOME HISTORICAL CONTINUITIES IN LOWLAND MAYA MAGICAL SPEECH GENRES: Keying Shamanic Performance
      (pp. 253-270)
      TIMOTHY W. KNOWLTON

      The Yucatecan Maya genre of u thanil literally means “the word of” but is perhaps better translated as “incantation” (Gubler 1996; Roys 1965). U thanil are often performed for the purposes of curing, although incantations related to other domains of life, such as fire drilling and hunting, also appear in the documentary record. Most of the known Colonial examples of this genre appear in the manuscript known as the Ritual of the Bacabs (Arzápalo Marín 1987; Roys 1965).¹ The extant manuscript copy of the Ritual of the Bacabs dates to the late eighteenth century; however, some framing devices of the...

    • 10 APPROPRIATING SACRED SPEECH: Aesthetics and Authority in Colonial Ch’olti’
      (pp. 271-282)
      Danny Law

      The task of religious conversion is not simply a matter of belief. It also involves the inculcation of new practices, a new aesthetic. To the true convert, much that was sublime must become diabolical; many of the actions and thoughts daily life so firmly inscribes into our bodies have to be rewritten. The Catholic missionaries, following on the heels of the conquistadors, baptized Native Americans in droves; in some cases, during the early years of the Conquest, as many as 1,500 baptisms were reported to have been performed by one priest in a single day (Greenleaf 1961: 46). In these...

    • 11 POETICS IN THE POPOL WUJ
      (pp. 283-310)
      LUIS ENRIQUE SAM COLOP

      In this chapter I will show how poetry and prose are interwoven in a text to provide fluency to verbal art.¹ I will also discuss specific characteristics of parallelism as found in the Popol Wuj (or Popol Vuh), arguing that parallelism is not only the contiguity of two lines but that it extends further into constructions of three and four lines, in which the last line of the paradigm is broken to link verse with prose. I will also provide evidence that poetics and function take precedence over word formation in parallelisms, despite the fact that some couplets appear to...

    • 12 THE USE OF CHIASMUS BY THE ANCIENT K’ICHE’ MAYA
      (pp. 311-336)
      ALLEN J. CHRISTENSON

      The presence of chiasmus and other poetic constructions may be useful in determining the relative antiquity of ancient writings composed by the K’iche’ Maya of Guatemala in the early Colonial era. A chiasm is created when in a given text the first element or concept of a passage directly parallels the final element, the second element parallels the penultimate element, and so on. Such chiasms may be simple or very long and complex, even comprising entire chapters or books. While various poetic devices, particularly parallelism in couplets, have been recognized in early K’iche’ texts (Edmonson 1971: xi–xii), the presence...

  8. Part IV Keepers of Tradition:: Modern Maya Poetics and Literature
    • 13 BEFORE POETRY, THE WORDS: A Metalinguistic Digression
      (pp. 339-374)
      AURORE MONOD BECQUELIN and ALAIN BRETON

      As Don Rigoberto, a fifty-year-old exceptional storyteller, recounted a long narrative about the ancient history of the region of Rabinal (Guatemala), the etymology of the name of a particular lineage puzzled him. In the middle of the narrative, something else also emerged: a discourse on language. Are etymology, ancient language, word-for-word translations, context and poetic intention, levels of language, figures of speech, or language and thought the exclusive territory of linguists? No! Don Rigoberto thinks aloud about his own language through a kind of ethno-metalinguistic process. Don Rigoberto’s asides, his seemingly trivial remarks in the context of his telling of...

    • 14 HUMOR THROUGH YUCATEC MAYAN STORIES
      (pp. 375-400)
      ALLAN F. BURNS

      Yucatec Maya people have a bold and bawdy sense of humor, especially when expressed through stories about authority. Humorous, slapstick narratives about wayward priests, statues that magically come to life and run away from irate husbands, and descriptions of religious masses interpreted through the eyes of naive country Maya are enjoyed and retold to the delight of audiences—young and old, male and female.

      In this chapter I explore the social and linguistic context for humor based on poking fun at religious authorities. The narratives for the analysis were spoken and recorded in Yucatec Mayan. As with many uses of...

    • 15 A COMPARISON OF NARRATIVE STYLE IN MOPAN AND ITZAJ MAYAN
      (pp. 401-448)
      CHARLES ANDREW HOFLING

      Itzaj and Mopan Maya are members of the Yukatekan branch of the Mayan language family spoken in the Maya lowlands of Guatemala and Belize. The distribution of Yukatekan languages at the time of contact is shown on map 15.1. As indicated on the map, Itzaj and Mopan territories are near one another. The Peten was under Mayan control until the Spanish Conquest of the Itzaj in 1697, a century and a half after the rest of the Mayan territories came under Spanish control (Hofling 2004, 2009; Jones 1998, 2009). Immediately prior to the Conquest, the Mopans were under Itzaj control,...

    • 16 THE LIGHTS DIM BUT DON’T GO OUT ON THE STARS OF YUCATEC MAYA ORAL LITERATURE
      (pp. 449-470)
      MARY H. PREUSS

      The purpose of this study is to become more familiar with the most popular characters in contemporary Yucatec Maya oral literature and the symbols and motifs that help them accomplish their objectives. Focus will highlight the types of actors and actresses in this literature, the symbols and motifs that associate them with the past, purposes they serve in contemporary society, changes in their roles over the years, and a glimpse into the future. The characters presented are ones I have gotten to know in my field project of taping, translating, and studying present-day stories in the Yucatec communities of Becal,...

    • 17 TO SPEAK THE WORDS OF COLONIAL TZOTZIL
      (pp. 471-476)
      ROBERT M. LAUGHLIN

      In this chapter I present a variety of expressions found in The Great Tzotzil Dictionary of Santo Domingo Zinacantán, which I will give in literal translations of the Tzotzil, followed by their meaning in English. I begin with Tzotzil kinds of speech and words that focus on k’op, “word,” and its verbal forms, then I travel from the positive to the intermediate to the negative aspects of the culture of Colonial Zinacantan, transforming monologue to dialogue so the reader will become a part of it.

      Following this neat set of expressions, frequently with just one meaning per literal expression, I...

  9. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 477-478)
  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 479-480)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 481-494)