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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

July 18, 1993|CHRIS GOODRICH

BREATH ON THE MIRROR: Mythic Voices & Visions of the Living Maya by Dennis Tedlock (HarperCollins: $21; 256 pp.). It probably seemed a good idea at the time--Dennis Tedlock's decision to transcend the inherent limitations and biases of Western ethnography by taking a personal, creative, original approach to recording contemporary Mayan myths. That is one explanation, at least, for the existence of this confusing mess of a book, which seems to have been inspired by a strange combination of academic deconstruction, novelistic magical realism and admiration for Carlos Castaneda. "Breath on the Mirror" contains interesting tales, old Mayan myths from the Popul Vuh and modern myths about Jesus (and even visiting anthropologists), but Tedlock's storytelling methods are indeterminate to the point of untrustworthiness. It's interesting to note the author himself ridicules the notion "truth and method can be separated from one another." Tedlock, a professor of English at State University of New York Buffalo and a prize-winning translator of the Popul Vuh, may well be attempting to replicate for the reader the Mayan way of thinking, but he only succeeds in proving an ineffective imitation is worse than no imitation at all.

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