Blog Post 8: Mumbo Jumbo

Hi all,

Hope you’re having a good weekend. Here’s another open-ended blog post for our first day on Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo Wednesday. As with last week’s post, the focus and approach here is largely up to you, as long as you ground your thinking in some close reading of the novel’s material.

One way to approach this might be to think about how Reed’s style and form fit into some of the practices of appropriation we’ve been discussing, or how the thematic and narrative concerns of the novel extend our thinking about cultural appropriation — both things that we’ll take up as we start to discuss the novel. But you’re also welcome to pursue other questions or other elements of the novel as well.

Happy reading — see you all Wednesday!

Reminder: Your writing should go in the comments section for this post — click on the link near the top of this post where it says “Leave a Comment.” It should be at least 300 words, and is due by midnight Tuesday, October 24. If you have any questions, let me know via email.

18 thoughts on “Blog Post 8: Mumbo Jumbo”

  1. Ishmael Reed’s novel carries a self-awareness about it that no other appropriation artist prior had. This self-awareness creates an odd tension; characters within his novel criticize the systems of capitalism and Western civilization that destroy authentic history while both Reed and characters in his novel simultaneously try to profit off the very same inequalities. For example, Papa Labas runs the Kathedral that is quite counter-culture to Western society and maintains to those he teaches that they “shouldn’t attempt to use any aspect of The Work for profit” (52). However, even though Labas has convinced himself that he does not try to profit off The Work or any other spiritual aspect of his, Labas clearly has. Not only has he profited in the sense that he became a major figure of the Harlem community through his teachings, but he has profited in the capitalistic definition of the term; just after getting a court case against him thrown out, Labas goes back into his car and “removes a sky blue colored cigarette. His own brand, Muumbos” (48). Labas has his own brand of cigarettes! He is doing the exact thing he preaches against, with no self-awareness.

    But while the character Labas has no self-awareness of his hypocrisy, other characters in the novel do. Magazine editor Abdul Hamid puts up a front of extreme hostility to Labas’ ideas and teachings, but then admits in a very long speech that he has used Labas’ basic teachings as part of his own style: “I had patched something together out of my own procedure and the way that I taught myself became my style, my art, my process,” Hamid says to Labas (38). Hamid has no illusions that he is profiting off of others’ work as he tries to make his way up, unlike Labas. Yet he also criticizes the system while indulging in it. Reed himself partakes in this. He is aware his work is not wholly original and worthy of worship, as seen by his placement of the publishing information six pages after his story actually starts. Yet, at the same time, he makes claims that specific ideas and things belong to specific individuals. On his “dedicated to” page, page 12, Reed dedicates his book to George Herriman, an “Afro-American, who created Krazy Kat”. In a work that is an amalgamation of original thought and old quotes, it is ludicrous that Reed would claim an individual solely created something. It is hard to come to any sort of conclusion on the novel yet, but it is clear to me that there must be some reason that Reed criticizes the capitalistic admiration of the individual creator in some cases while trying to profit off the same admiration in other cases.


  2. In Mumbo Jumbo, we see conflict in appropriation, not between the appropriator and the culture appropriated, but rather from the old institutions of the appropriator’s culture. As the Jes Grew plague sweeps across America, it comes under scrutiny from all kinds of groups, from politicians to prohibition advocates. They take it very seriously, as evidenced by the doctor in the beginning of the book, who says, “if this Jes Grew becomes pandemic it will mean the end of Civilization As We Know It?” (Reed 4). Civilization, of course, meaning white American civilization, and the institutions it holds. This opposition comes mostly from the older generations, rather than the young people of the twenties. Apparently, “The kids want to dance belly to belly and cheek to cheek while their elders are supporting legislation that would prohibit them from dancing closer than 9 inches. The kids want to Funky Butt and Black Bottom while their elders prefer the Waltz as a suitable vaccine for what is now merely a rash” (Reed 21-22). Jes Grew is an epidemic to be eradicated by the older generations, no matter the draconian measures needed to end it, whereas the younger generations choose to embrace it, to be consumed by the rhythm. The older opposition comes from the perceived death of culture brought upon by Jes Grew. The aforementioned “end of Civilization As We Know It” is explored later in the book in the case of Haiti. The narration says “The only thing they have in Haiti are mangoes and coffee… It doesn’t have any culture either. I didn’t see a single cannon or cathedral while I was there” (Reed 22). Haiti, the sole example of a successful slave revolt, has no culture in the eyes of the Robber Baron, whose idea of history lies in the European colonial institutions of cathedrals and cannons.


  3. So far Mumbo Jumbo seems to be all metaphor. The Jes Grew stands in for the Black cultural uprising of the 1920’s of the Harlem Renaissance and the efforts to smother this “epidemic” (including the Knight’s Templar and Wallflower Order) represent the way Western European culture has constantly sought to discard African American cultural voices. The Jes Grew represents the heritage of African American culture in dance: “We’ve been dancing for 1000s of years […] it’s part of our heritage” (34). The rise of the Jes Grew is a rise of a resistance against Western racial suppression. Dancing gives African Americans voice, so that they will no longer be silenced by a world that enslaved them and appropriated their culture.

    The very structure of the novel, drawing on pictures, quotes, etc. seems to be a visual metaphor for a rewritten history – in many ways Mumbo Jumbo, with its footnotes and moments of historic reference, resembles a history text book. In this way, Reed is rewriting Western history by incorporating this other side of history: that of African American culture. Reed is threatening to undermine the authority of Western history, (Western culture is “the most notable achievement of mankind” and African American art “is described by the Atonist critic as “primitive,” at best “charming” and “mostly propagandistic””) which has long suppressed the culture of other races, and this is why the Jes Grew must be stopped: “You must get your hands on Jes Grew’s hunger” (57, 65).

    Apparently Jes Grew has before risen up as a sign of resistance – “We knew that something was Jes Grewing just like the 1890’s flair-up” – which suggests that, although, the “epidemic” has been silenced in the past, African American voices will not be silenced for long, but will continue to rise up again and again until they are finally heard.


  4. In terms of following narration, Mumbo Jumbo, is one of the more difficult texts that I’ve encountered recently. However, the general confusion that the text inspires in the reader allows for ample metaphors and generally speaking puts the reader in a state of discomfort that lends itself to understanding appropriation.
    This was particularly clear to me through the references to Haiti, the only successful slave revolt. Often considered a “specter” of the West, Haiti is the only place that became a sovereign nation following a slave revolt and this haunted the European consciousness. References to Haiti and the culture, or perhaps the lack of culture that the Robber Baron mentions on page 22, create a tension between understanding how the west has absorbed and appropriated cultures of the places it conquered and not understanding non-western cultures. This is particularly clear through the idea of Jes Grew being a disease that mostly white people are afraid of while the African American characters always remember Haiti. This is particularly sentient on page 28 as Earline realizes she has not refilled one of the loas trays. “On a long table in the Mango Room are 22 trays which were built as a tribute to the Haitian loas that LaBas claimed as an influence on his version of The Work.” (Reed 28) This connects to the idea that mangoes are one of the “only” things that Haiti has, according to the Robber Baron back on page 22. By naming the room that honors Haitian vodou the “Mango Room”, Reed allows his characters to attempt reclaim and honor Haitian culture by using what the dominant culture puts down as a symbol of cultural greatness.
    This section sets up pretty deliberately hits the reader with the idea that the dominant, white culture is fearful of what it would mean to accept other cultures without appropriating them. Though it does it rather bluntly, I think that using the slave revolt in Haiti forces reader to confront the fear of black rebellion that wealthy white people have had since America began to exist.


  5. Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo is certainly an interesting read. Often while reading the section assigned for today I was reminded of the latter half of White Tears, and the somewhat magical-realist style that Kunzru employs.
    What particularly interested me about this section of the book is the concept of “Jes Grew,” a supposed pandemic sweeping the United States. Reed describes a Southern congressman’s sentiments of Jes Grew as: “the boll weevil eating away at the fabric of our forms our technique our aesthetic integrity,” Reed goes on, “1 must ponder the effect of Jes Grew upon 2,000 years of civilization” (17). When one understands Jes Grew in the context that Reed establishes on the previous page, that “Jes Grew carriers came to America because of cotton” (16), one can rationalize that Jes Grew is in some way integrated or aligned with African-American identity in the United States. What is interesting here is that instead of choosing to simply say that Jes Grew is a facet of the African-American identity, Reed chooses to introduce the concept of the pandemic by saying that it “came to America because of cotton.” By doing this Reed is implicitly positing that Jes Grew is something that belongs to the other; Reed here suggests that Jes Grew is a dangerous import to the United States—a side effect of the slave trade, not unlike small-pox or malaria.
    In addition, it seems that Jes Grew is also representative of a ever-changing African-American culture—one that elder generations disapprove of, and one that other ethnicities can’t control. To this extent, I find it interesting how Reed engages with this concept of the culture of Jes Grew: weaving the idea through scenes of the South, North, young and old, and how he constantly grapples with how a transforming, marginalized culture operates within a volatile changing society.


  6. To be quite honest, I find this novel very difficult to digest, so I’m having a hard time coming up with a close reading of the text at this point. It has definitely given me a lot to think about when it comes to the concept of appropriating history. I suppose that, technically, everything is a part of history in one sense or another, so I do not think it is possible to make a distinction between “history” and “something else.” And, of course, there is no reason that anyone should be forbade from studying the histories of cultures that they aren’t connected to. I’m also not saying that Reed is, for lack of a better term, appropriating inappropriately in his book, though I am not yet prepared to formally argue that he isn’t. Rather, reading this makes me wonder if one can misuse historical texts. This question can be branched off in several directions. For instance, is there a way to include historical events in a narrative that somehow “disrespects” them? I imagine that if I were to try and write a comedy about say, wounded knee, there would be some backlash because that is a tragic event. But what about when tragedy is not part of the equation? Is there ever a time where it is inappropriate to reference certain historical events for the sole reason that your descendants were not present for and/or involved in them? The fact that I cannot think of an example in which this might be the case points to the answer being no, but I’m not about to say that settles things. Second of all, do “the rules” about when its ok to appropriate change when non-fictional historical text is involved? I remember as children we were encouraged to reword facts that we had read when including them in our papers and projects, but our discussions in this class have lead me to wonder just how necessary this sort of process actually is. I like to imagine myself disrupting my middle school history class, saying something like “why can’t I copy and paste from my history textbook from my report? You can’t appropriate facts!”


  7. As this is another open-ended blog post, I read the assigned pages more freely and more for content. The story, which is at times hard to follow, traces the anti-plague, Jes Grew, throughout the United States from New Orleans to Chicago to New York—where it is looking for its text, as it is some kind of anti-plague religion (“liturgy” 6). People, white people as it seems, do not know what to do about this anti-plague—they do not know how to label it or how to cure it and they certainly do not know how to exterminate it. Everything and everywhere is infected—no more “Rembrandt Dutch Masters” but rather portraits of Prince Hall (an abolitionist).

    These cultural contexts are plentiful—something we could spend multiple class times dissecting and researching. Though the larger idea is more tangible—black vernacular, black music, black culture was and is “infiltrating” America and white people cannot stand it, in fact, they “won’t tolerate it” (17). Reed references the Civil Rights movement of the 1890’s and it is mentioned that the book is set in the cultural renaissance of the 1920’s. Without a doubt, this book comments on the infectiousness of black culture and how easily white people appropriate it. For me, this book makes me think about the debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal and how black culture was and still is spoken about like a plague, which has infiltrated America when really America relies on black culture as its only culture. The food, the music, the dance, the fashion—white America appropriates everything “black” while trying to distance themselves from it at the same time.

    One bit that I quite liked which relates to our class discussions about appropriation and appreciation is in the start of chapter three. The narrator talks about how Jes Grew, the crisis, was becoming “acute” and that people were looting the museums and “shipping the plunder back to where it came from”. Furthermore, “Europe can no longer guard the “fetishes” of civilizations” that are held in museums. I have always thought of museums in this very way—they steal culture from other communities and display it as if it were an exotic abnormality. Museums are temples of appropriation and I think that this bit captures some of that idea but not the whole story—what does it mean to ship back objects to the source community—perhaps a place where that culture no longer exist. When a place is colonized or globalized, and the objects are taken by “explorers” and put in museums and then, in some soon time, that place is transformed and some aspects of its culture are lost—who owns the culture? Can a culture be owned? I have always detested museums for this and I am interested in how other people feel.


  8. Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, immediately proves to be a disorienting read, with the beginning of the book being pages ahead of the title and copyright pages as well as the addition of quotes from other works and pictures added at various points. This multimodality is similar to other forms of appropriation we have discussed, but I found Reed’s novel unique in the language he uses as a narrator and to represent dialogue between characters. Specifically, some of the lingo and slang Reed implements (or appropriates) are reflective of the time-period of the early twentieth century. However, often he overuses and adapts idioms in his writing; taking away their initial meanings and creating a more humorous or critical tone of the nature of theses expressions.

    One example of this strange and disruptive combination of phrases is spoken by Abdul to LaBas and Herman, in the midst of a much longer and stranger conversation concerning the threat of Jes Grew, religion, and assault. A transition in the conversation occurs when Abdul realizes that the three are alone and he begins a similarly strange and long-winded rant, beginning by addressing the two others in the room, “You got me. Johnny James Chicago South Side. Are you satisfied? I wasn’t born with a caul on my face, Papa LaBas. Nor was my coming predicted by a soothsayer… I haven’t developed a Hoo Doo psychiatry as you have Papa LaBas, nor can I talk to animals or spend 1 dollar twice as you’ve done, Herman” (Reed 36). This arrangement of cultural references and as well as seemingly made-up idioms causes one to question the speaker’s and author’s logic in their argument or even lose sight of any argument being made. For me, this unnatural combination of phrases caused some self reflection, trying to understand whether it was my own lack of understanding of the rhetoric used during this period. However, this fabricated piece of dialogue could be interpreted as reflection of the way in which certain sayings and phrases can lose meaning over time. While the book takes place in the early twentieth-century, it was published in 1972, and I am now reading it in 2017; creating layers of different styles and understandings of languages used. Having source material which allows viewers to question the creator’s presentation and the viewer/reader’s own response, is similar to Conner’s film collages. Reed’s compiling of multiple dated, obscure, and imagined phrases can create a similar effect to the way Conner compiled a variety of cultural references or historical clips together; making viewers critique or even lose understanding of their original meanings and purposes.


  9. The first section of Mumbo Jumbo was definitely difficult to read. Parts of it went against or challenged our expectations of the flow of a typical novel, which makes the reader slightly uncomfortable and gives the text a new perspective. The very beginning of the book made me think back to the concept of cut ups. The story begins and you read almost ten pages, but then the text is interrupted by a title page, information about the publisher, and so on (things that typically belong in the beginning of a novel before the story begins). I had to relook at those first few pages to double check if they were, in fact, still part of the book. This made me think about cut-ups because Ishmael Reed took universal parts of a published book and seemed to misplace them in the reading, which I image would throw his readers off.

    As I understand it right now, Jes Grew is representative of the Black culture in America, specifically the culture of jazz and dance within the community. Throughout the start of the novel they refer to Jes Grew as a type of virus, or epidemic. Meaning that it is believed that the African-American culture that began to rise in the United States during the 1920’s is infecting and getting in the way of White culture, which is seen as the dominant culture.

    The way the novel is designed incorporates pictures, excerpts and quotes from American history. It seems as if Ishmael Reed is retracing history with an African-American lense, rather than explaining history from the White perspective, which is the way in which it has been taught for so many years. This makes us question whether the novel can be considered an appropriation of African-American culture, since it is being mixed together with fictional aspects. It can be argued that the juxtaposition of fiction and nonfiction parts takes away the significance of the history being talked about. Ishmael Reed meant for the novel to be partly satirical, but maybe he is hovering over the line of appropriation in the process.


  10. Like Magden stated earlier, this book is a bit hard to digest so far. I won’t even begin a rant on the foolishness (maybe not foolishness but the mumbo jumbo) the author does with starting a chapter then inserting the publication and dedication pages. In thinking of how the thematic and narrative concerns of the novel extend our thinking about cultural appropriation, it definitely is reminiscent of black culture as a plague that has no place in white America. Another interesting thing Reed does, and I don’t wan’t to formally accuse Reed of appropriative attitude, is that his writing and language does seem to trivialize the history of words and historical facts–I’m thinking of the constant “coon” reference from the inception of the novel– all for convenience. But I digress, thematically, I think Reed does interesting things with “Jes’ Grew”. He traces the history of it through the South while highlighting somethings (not fully sure what all these somethings are), like the fact that America focused on raising cotton as a staple. Now, I’m not sure what that commentary is criticizing or whatever but it’s something I’ve never thought about before. So if I ignore the appropriative parts I think we can also get deeper comments about how although black culture is seen as a plague it is something inseparable from America and it’s history.


  11. This book tackles several different themes, such as cultural appropriation and collage. The style knows no bounds, as it consists of quotations, prose, dialogue, newspaper articles, all relating back to the general idea of this anti-plague, which refers to this musical fever almost. The text reads, “It knows no class no race no consciousness,” (5) referring to music, I think black music specifically. While some may argue that music does have race, thus rendering this sentiment as too in favor of cultural appropriation, I think the music stems from different races, but everybody is allowed to react to it. Of course, minority groups would have a different type of reaction to old songs about slavery than white people would, and they possess that right. Still, anybody can be “infected”.

    In a similar vein, the text also reads, “The words were unprintable, but the tune was irresistible, and belonged to nobody.” (11) This reminded me of the Death of the Author concept, because some would argue that, once a song is released into the public, it no longer belongs only to the artist. I think, however, that the artist plays a key role in how the song is perceived. For example, a song sung by a generic artist about a girl with red lips and blue eyes wouldn’t evoke the same reaction as “Two Ghosts” by Harry Styles, who is known to have a history with Taylor Swift, who has red lips and blue eyes. I apologize for digressing from the text, but I’ve been thinking a lot about appropriation today on account of Halloween costume discussions.


  12. Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo is truly a jumbled up novel that explores a new kind of narrative that I have never participated in before. Reading this was difficult- hard to follow to story and understand the satire and/or metaphors he presents. The style of the novel in and of itself is signifying the multiple directions and arguments Reed is making. The novel begins with shorter chapters and a forward yet confusing start, introducing the notion of Jes Grew and the importance of defining it early on. It took me a bit to understand the “epidemic” of Jes Grew, however, it defines the obsession of jazz, dance and movement of this culture to Chicago and New York. This made me think of the influence of jazz during The Great Migration – black migrants bringing the music that was part of the South and greatly impacting the popular music scene, especially in cities. I found it interesting as Ishmael Reed chose to critique the rise of jazz in the North in relation to white communities and the movement of controlling the population in becoming consistently stable and similar in what individuals choose to take part in (jazz, music culture).

    This emphasis on Jes Grew as a virus, “eating away at the fabric of our forms our technique our aesthetic integrity” seeks to highlight the idea that a multicultural society is a negative thing (Reed, 17). Reed seems to be critiquing the history of white communities having a difficult time accepting black individuals into communities and learning about new cultural ideas and practices, excluding and subjecting black communities to racist ideals. From this first section of Mumbo Jumbo, I believe Reed is critiquing the emergence of jazz stemming from an oppressed black-American experience in which white culture does not comprehend and takes jazz as their own. Like many other cultural elements of the American identity (i.e. Rock and Roll, Hip-Hop, soul food), white communities appropriated these as their own and took credit for “American” culture.


  13. In Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo there is a lot of rich material to dissect. Although the layout and context is a bit muddled, this confusion has struck me as a very powerful component of the book so far. The way it moves in and out of coherence and the way letters and words are mixed up is an interesting decision on the authors part. Reed writes, “Jes Grew is the boll weevil eating away at the fabric of our forms and our technique our aesthetic integrity…” (Reed 17). It is hard to make out what “boll weevil” means and there is a repeat of the word “our.” As the reader we can sort of make out the meaning, but it is not an easy, digestible sentence and proves difficult to fully comprehend. There are also some strange symbols used that do not resemble any letter in the English alphabet.

    The perplexing word choice and incoherence is doing a lot of fascinating, subversive work especially because the book alludes to African American identity and the history of slavery. Slavery has roots in awful, disturbing oppression at the hands of a white, dominant culture. There are different schools of thought and literary theory that discuss how language is inseparably bound with dominant cultures and is very Eurocentric. I think in the disorder of the wording and flow of the book, Reed is pushing against the dominant culture and notions that the English language represents, and therefore subverting the dominant forces that have enslaved different cultures throughout history. This chaos in a way gives the power back to the oppressed, the African Americans and their ancestors. The layout and style of the text also lends to the confusing accounts of African American history because history is usually told by the oppressor or the “winner,” and not by the people experiencing this history themselves. Whereas the ambiguity and mystification of this dominant history is in a sense re telling and working against that history.


  14. Like many of my classmates, I struggled to get through this first section of Mumbo Jumbo. The story line is a bit confusing and it does not necessarily flow in a way the is pleasant for the reader. First, it is physically disrupted by a title page on page 8. This actually reminds me of a technique often used in television or movies – the film/episodes starts right in on a scene and then after the scene is finished, they cut to the title screen/opener. On television it seems to flow but in a book it seemed to quite disruptive. I’m not sure if I am over thinking this but as we were discussing collage, cut ups, etc. in reference to both film and paper, I thought it could be relevant to bring up. There were also several other physical characteristics of the book that I found interesting.The book contains some figures (pictures, quotes, etc) which is not something I typically come across. There are also footnotes throughout the book which personally, I am unfamiliar with in a narrative like Mumbo Jumbo. These physical aspects were very striking to me as I read the book and I think add an interesting layer to our discussion of the book. I don’t think an author would by-chance set their book up in this way. Though parts of Kunzru’s book seemed confusing or out of place (like the many, many pages of “hahahah”s) there seemed to be a point to it. So, I think that the format of this book is obviously deliberate and thus should be considered in the discussion of the text.

    It becomes clear on the second page that the term “Jes Grew” is an important theme throughout the book. Reed says “something was jes grewing just like the 1890s flair up” and refers to it as an infestation (4), and then a few lines down says “Don’t you understand, if this jew grew becomes a pandemic it will mean the end of Civilization As We Know It?” (4). So then Jes Grew spreads thought the US and “infect all that it touched (13). I think the juxtaposition of this discussion of Jes Grew being an “epidemic” spreading across the nation and pieces of Black culture is very interesting. Take, for example pages 6 and 7 on which Jes Grew is referred to as a disease with “10,000 cases” (6) next to something written by Louis Armstrong. Here, Reed’s interesting set-up becomes relevant. At this point, to me Jes Grew seems to represent African American culture. I look forward to seeing how the physicality of the book continues to aid in this metaphor/comparison.


  15. What intrigues me most about this book so far are a number of its formal qualities, but they have definitely given me more questions than answers thus far. For example, why use the numerical “1” instead of writing out “one”? Is it merely to be unconventional, to make the reader pause and think (because frankly every time there is a 1 my reading stumbles for a moment)? Or is there a larger significance that I haven’t scratched the surface of yet? Another example, why place the first chapter before the front matter? It is almost hidden there, but not only introduces the Jes Grew disease, but also the underlying themes of Hoo Doo and New Orleans. It also includes the Mandingo definition of “Mumbo Jumbo” as “a magician who makes the troubled spirits of ancestors go away” (7). However, since it is before the front matter it becomes easy to miss. A reader might just as easily turn to the first page after the front matter, see the heading “2” and wonder where chapter 1 went. This is perhaps the oddest stylistic choice in the book so far, from my perspective. It struck me as an almost cinematic move, something out of a Tarantino movie – we get the first scene, containing all the set-up, and then we cut to the Title Slide, and then to a drastically different scene 2. A strange technique for a textual work. Finally, I was struck by the use of what appear to be historical facsimiles, such as the “S A T A N / A D A M A / T A B A T / A M A D A / N A T A S” text from Charles Edward Amory’s The Conquest of Epidemic Disease (33). Not only is it strange for there to be citations within a work of fiction, but they also push the boundary between fiction and non fiction – such as the citation on pg. 15 in which Reed justifies his use of the term “Mu’tafikah” (15). Generally, Mumbo Jumbo has raised more questions for me than it has answered.


  16. Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo is certainly outside the realm of the typical novel, from it feeling deeply metaphorical to the pictures which complement the text. It certainly is a novel that begs you to read closely, lest you miss something. I feel wary making any bold claims about the novel, but I can almost certainly say that Reed uses Mumbo Jumbo to parse through a slew of historical events regarding race and the 1920s, including (but maybe not limited to) the United States’ presence in Haiti and the white desire to silence black jazz music. The presence of voodoo within the novel invokes Haitian culture and the white fear of magic (especially magic performed by people of color), and the desire to silence black jazz music makes me think of cultural appropriation, as white people appropriated jazz following the 20s. Aside from this, the novel is rich with other concerns of cultural appropriation and race. The implications of the Text are quite peculiar. What would it mean for any/all of black culture to be both a collective feeling and a conglomerate of different artifacts such as music and vernacular? Something about the Text being a sacred book that the Jes Grew needs to survive implies that such an intangible essence can be contained to a single source, and can be stolen, lost, or found. Is the Text (or maybe by extension Jes Grew) meant to represent pinnacle grounds and moments of black history? The fact that the novel is set in the 1920s Harlem Renaissance supports this.

    I’m interested to see how the novel develops and whether or not my tentative ideas hold. What does it mean for black culture and cultural appropriation the Text needs to be so desperately sought after, lest it fall into the hands of The Wallflower Order?

    The only other thing I’m wondering is if I should be doing even more extra reading for this text; I feel as though I need to educate myself on the Harlem Renaissance and black poets further, as this will likely heighten my understanding of the novel, and perhaps illuminate any connections between Reed’s characters and actual figures of the Harlem Renaissance.


  17. How something is presented is often a question in movies and photographs, however, novels like Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo ask this question as well. The novel is unconventional in how it transitions between one chapter and the next, and often plays several parts of the story against each other. This is first seen just after the first chapter of the book when most of the pages that contain the copyright information, which usually comes before the narrative begins, creates a transition between the introduction of key plot points, and the narrative actually starting.
    Reed also uses article clippings to create a greater sense of place in the novel. Such as on page twenty-one, which features an article about the beginning of the Warren G. Harding administration, or on the next page which is mostly taken up with an article about a Haitian Voodoo uprising. Both of these fictional articles set-up for events that happen later in the story. These articles create a deeper world for the novel to take place in, and also provide an alternative presentation from other novels.
    Another feature is the footnotes seen at the bottom of the pages that feature the scene-setting articles. While not used to the same extreme as later works like David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which uses end notes to create a second plot of sorts, or to provide commentary on what is going on in the novel, the use of footnotes in Mumbo Jumbo gives a form of credibility to a work of fiction that would not otherwise be there. These footnotes present the fictional novel as a work of non-fiction.
    By presenting itself a work of non-fiction, Mumbo Jumbo is a remix of what we commonly think of as truth and lies. Thus transforming the meaning of the story itself.


  18. Reading the first part of Mumbo Jumbo, I noticed that how I found it more decipherable as a script or screenplay than I did as a novel. Mentally visualizing the book’s unconventionally laid out sections of plain text, italicized text, and visuals, I was reminded of Bruce Conner’s “A MOVIE.” Specifically, I was reminded of the title cards that say the movie’s self-referential title and “BY BRUCE CONNER” throughout.

    The arrangement of the title page and its accompaniments compelled me to consider the first chapter as a preface, or as a sort of establishing shot that left me with one thing: Jes Grew. I was curious to what it was an why it was such a concern. I should also admit that I did not pick up on the fact that the book was a satire for an embarrassingly long stretch of pages. Once I understood, this book, though hardly simple, became much easier to read once read as sarcastic. It is easier to process pandemic through the lens of comical alt-fiction.

    I am interested in the points that the book has made so far about both appropriation and gentrification. (If gentrification, though, is wealthy people seeing the physical space of a minority or oppressed group, liking it, and stealing it, it may just be considered a form of appropriation.) I am also interested in the novel’s brief (but multiple!) acknowledgment of a common characteristic of appropriation: white people failing to take African American culture seriously before they capitalize on it and claim co-ownership. This can be seen thus far in treatment of both jazz and VooDoo.


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