Now I Know Only So Far: Essays in Ethnopoetics

Now I Know Only So Far: Essays in Ethnopoetics

Now I Know Only So Far: Essays in Ethnopoetics

Now I Know Only So Far: Essays in Ethnopoetics

Synopsis

In Now I Know Only So Far, sociolinguist and ethnopoetic scholar Dell Hymes examines the power and significance of Native North American literatures and how they can best be approached and appreciated. Such narratives, Hymes argues, are ways of making sense of the world. To truly comprehend the importance and durability of these narratives, one must investigate the ways of thinking expressed in these texts--the cultural sensibilities also deeply affected by storytellers' particular experiences and mastery of form. Included here are seminal overviews and reflections on the history and potential of the field of ethnopoetics. Native North American stories from areas ranging from the Northwest Coast to the Southwest take center stage in this book, which features careful scrutiny of different realizations and tellings of the same story or related stories. Such narratives are illuminated through a series of verse analyses in which patterned relations of lines throw into relief differences in emphasis, shape, and interpretation. A final group of essays sheds light on the often misunderstood and always controversial role of editing and interpreting texts. Now I Know Only So Far provides penetrating discussions and absorbing insights into stories and worlds, both traditional and new.

Excerpt

This book grows out of my involvement for many years with Native American myths and tales, especially those of western North America. It also grows out of my own intellectual ancestry, a mingling of anthropology, folklore, linguistics, and literature. Its main focus, of course, is the narratives themselves, to understand them more accurately, to help others to recognize their worth more fully, and to encourage fuller recognition for those who thought them and told them.

Some years ago I published “In Vain I Tried to Tell You” (1981), a series of papers showing what I understood about this subject at the time. the Chinookan peoples that once lived along the Columbia River in what are now the states of Oregon and Washington were its focus. Most of my own firsthand experience of Native American narrative and language is rooted there. I first heard and wrote a Native American language at Warm Springs Reservation, Oregon, mostly while visiting and going around with Hiram Smith, a Wasco, but also while working with Philip Kahclamat, who had been the partner of Walter Dyk, in writing the first grammar of the language, and who had gone to New Haven to take part in a course taught by Edward Sapir. (Philip also lived at Warm Springs then but was from the Washington side, where the language was called Wishram.) and the dissertation I had to complete in a year (1954–55) to take a job at Harvard was a grammar of Kathlamet, a sister language that had been spoken near the mouth of the Columbia and is known now almost entirely through the work of Franz Boas in the last decade of the nineteenth century. and I am from that part of the world and go back there.

Since “In Vain,” I have come to grasp more fully the knowledge, the competence, one might say, that underlies and informs such narratives. Comparative perspective, awareness of transformations such as Claude LéviStrauss has discovered, knowledge of what the fish in the rivers are like, and when grizzly bears last were seen in Oregon, all contribute to this fuller . . .

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