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Reviewed by:
  • Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts'íib as Recorded Knowledge by Paul M. Worley and Rita M. Palacios
  • Jaime Pérez González (bio)
Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts'íib as Recorded Knowledge by Paul M. Worley and Rita M. Palacios University of Arizona Press, 2019

the value par excellence of Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts'íib as Recorded Knowledge is that it brings ts'íib into the globally dominant Anglo and Eurocentric models of literary criticism not only as a way of writing but as an alternative model of producing and recording knowledge in the Mayan artistic creation.

In seven chapters, Paul M. Worley and Rita M. Palacios engagingly and uniquely show how ts'íib reveals the Maya peoples' perception about artistic creation, which does not always follow the same patterns or respond to the same aesthetic demands and cultural standards as traditional Western works. They expose that ts'íib corresponds to a unified multimodal domain built through a broad range of artistic production and relationships that can include codices, ceramics, murals, monumental architecture, textiles, and books with Latin scripts. The book can be divided into two divergent lines of inquiry, as the authors suggest. In the first line, "Words beyond Writing," the authors explore the intersection between weaving, writing, and reading in the production of textiles and in works by contemporary Maya authors (chapters 2, 3, and 4). In the second line, "Writing beyond Words," the authors focus on what are traditionally considered "literary texts" and the ways in which Maya authors use performatic aspects of ts'íib to decolonize the written word (chapters 5, 6, and 7).

The authors convincingly demonstrate that in the Maya category ts'íib, Latin script is only a single option among many others for recording and retrieval knowledge. The authors favor ts'íib over the concept of Maya literature because Maya literature limits its parameters to the written word, the page, and the book, which in turn tend to dictate who can produce and who can have access to such production, as the dominant models of creation dictate from the Western tradition. In their analysis, ts'íib presents a non-Western sense of textuality and intertextuality. They exhibit that ts'íib encompass different media and operate in different domains; interaction is ts'íib's central characteristic. Thus, ts'íib is built across different social networks where this artistic production acts on the audience but also where the audience can act on the artistic production. Ts'íib is more performatic [End Page 178] than intertextual, but the performance here is not complementary or additional but rather integral and archival in the sense that it fulfills the role of storing and transmitting knowledge.

Worley and Palacios not only contribute to the theoretical approaches from literary creation situated in written words but also offer a major decolonial departure from a perspective of Native American and Indigenous studies scholarship. The authors argue effectively (and this reviewer strongly agrees) that the incorporation of writing in Latin scripts in the Maya understanding of ts'íib must be constructed as an act of ontological and epistemological resistance designed to meet the needs of multiple audiences and not as act of assimilation, as it has been seen in previous studies. Therefore, Maya writing has to be read as dialoguing with a multimodal Indigenous understanding of texts, as a sine qua non condition.

Although the book is outstanding, I have two reservations. First, the authors' intent to connect ts'íib with some Maya philosophical concepts (k'anel, cholel, and cha'anil) may not necessarily capture the same way of thinking across the thirty-one contemporary Mayan languages. Second, not all Maya writers whose work is analyzed here write in, read, or speak a Mayan language. The authors argue that "they [the non-Mayan speakers] are nonetheless unified as much by their claim that they articulate a 'Mayan literature' as by their multimodal approach to textuality" (9-10). However, later they write, "Neoliberal translation may also paradoxically facilitate the very thing that it seemingly obscures, the independent expression of the indigenous voices in Indigenous languages" (162). The latter quote may perhaps clearly capture the multimodal expression of ts'íib.

Without doubt, Worley and Palacios...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2332-127X
Print ISSN
2332-1261
Pages
pp. 178-179
Launched on MUSE
2021-09-03
Open Access
No
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