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Book of the Fourth World: Reading the Native Americas Through Their Literature.

This is a truly extraordinary and maverick book. In his definition of text BROTHERSTON takes his cue from Derrida's maximalist viewpoint, by which Navajo dry-paintings, Inca quipus, Algonkin birch scrolls and the painting on skins of 'Turtle Island' (the temperate north) are as much writing as the, to us, more familiar screen-fold books and scripts of Mesoamerica. The reluctance of westerners to take these texts seriously as masterpieces of an immensely rich, ancient and coherent intellectual tradition of history, historiography and cosmology that challenges the 'blithe universalism of western science' and the 'crass evolutionism that celebrates the Semitic-Greek alphabet' is seen as part of the still-ongoing politics and ideology of colonialism. Structures of thought and mappings of time and space in the Fourth World are argued to show non-coincidental similarities (the recurrent of the quincunx and quatrefoil, for instance) from the Andes to the Appalachians that amount to a Native American world-view. And the idea of a break at 1492 (another comfortable philosophy for the victors) is passionately attacked: 'for here (in Turtle Island) most scholars have refused to apply the term "history" at all to the time that elapsed before contact with Europe. Hence, the "historic" Indians of this territory owe their very existence to the invaders who displaced them, to their capacity to be reflected in the white mirror'. At times the continuities of structure across 1492 take the form of ghastly cosmological puns that highlight the difficulty in reconciling the two traditions occupying the continent: in 1781, Tupac Amaru 11, named after the last Inca, and leader of an uprising in Cuzco, was torn apart by four (colonial) horses in a parody (intentional or unconscious?) of the quatrefoil map of Tahuantinsuyu, the Land of the Four Quarters. This is often an angry book as well as a brilliantly written one. By its later chapters, which explore the fascinating 'American palimpsest' of native and invasive writing, it has moved on from anything remotely archaeological. But its overall message, whether approved or denied, will force the archaeologist to step back, and back again and again, from a nested set of assumptions, not just those surrounding his/her particular research on somesuch sequence or process, but those implicit in the entire idea of archaeology in the Americas. In BROTHERSTON's words "'scientific" data have so far seldom been integrated into the urgent political and environmental concern ... that is being felt for the very survival of America's native peoples'.
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Author:Broodbank, Cyprian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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