Blog Post 9: Reading Reed

Hi all,

Our first day with Mumbo Jumbo last week gave us some useful foundation in terms of the general political, formal, and historical concerns. To build from that, for part of our time this week, we’ll turn to looking at the form of the book and the larger work that it’s doing. So for this blog post you should focus in on a piece of the text that leads you in that direction — some moment of collage or visuality, where Reed brings in material from outside of the novel’s narrative or physical world — and do some close thinking about that moment: what other worlds is that moment bringing in, and what larger issues does that thus introduce? What’s the effect of collage here, and how might that relate to the material we’ve seen in collage, cutup, and remix thus far? Feel free to focus on whatever moment intrigues you, but try as much as possible not to repeat material others have posted on unless you have something substantively different to suggest about it — try to branch out so that we have a number of options to look at in class on Wednesday. We’ll also be looking at Shields’ “Collage” in the packet as well, so while you don’t have to include that in your post, make sure to read it as well.

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 31. If you have any questions, let me know via email.


17 thoughts on “Blog Post 9: Reading Reed”

  1. On page 118, just after Hinckle Von Vampton begins to panic that his plans for stopping Jes Grew may never come to fruition, Reed reproduces an image of a program for the Cotton Club Parade and quotes Stackalee, an old American folk song. When the reader looks at the two reproductions initially, neither stands out. One just looks like an innocuous program at a contemporary theater, while the other quotes two lines that do not make much sense out of context: “But the woman he really loved was a voodoo queen/From Creole French market, way down in New Orleans”. Sure, the reader has seen plenty of voodoo prior to this part, and the novel started in New Orleans, but what does that have to do with Von Vampton? Well, the importance of these two quotations requires further research, but it is well worth the effort since they each connect to events dramatized in the book.

    Both the program and the popular form of the song are the products of white Americans who appropriated black American artstyles for their own benefit. The Cotton Club was a whites-only club that consistently had black artists and performers on stage. The first time Stackalee entered into popular American consciousness was renamed to “Stagger Lee” and recorded by white performers such as Fred Waring. The exact content of what Reed quotes or reproduced via photograph is not what is important. What is important to Reed is that readers understand that there is absolute truth in the ridiculous “mumbo jumbo” of the book. Characters like Caroline, a black performer who makes her money by selling her craft to white audiences as one might find at the Cotton Club in New York in those times, were real. “Safecracker’s” exploitative ploy to make a musical based entirely upon black song and dance happened, as seen in the Stackalee example. On this page, Reed uses his vast knowledge of “original” art and works in conjunction with his overarching plot and characters to convince the reader that, as funny and abstract this plot about the end of Western Civilization at the hands of uncontrollable dancing may be, there is more than a kernel of truth at its core.


  2. In the immediate aftermath of PaPa LaBas’ discovery of Abdul Hamid’s corpse, the narration breaks and shows “a handbill for the play Harlem by Wallace Thurman” (Reed 99). It reads “Harlem!… The City that Never Sleeps!… A Strange, Exotic Island in the Heart of New York!… Rent Parties!.. Number Runners!… Chippies!… Jazz Love!… Primitive Passion!” Wallace Thurman is a Harlem Renaissance author from Utah whose more famous work is his novel The Blacker the Berry, which deals with, among other themes, the idea of colorism in the black community and the preference of lighter skinned people. He wrote about the divisions that existed under the surface, unseen due to the greater focus on the greater divide between white and black. More specifically, the play deals with a black family that moves from the South to New York and the trials the go through while living in Harlem. The handbill is a sensationalized account of the events of the play, likely to draw in more viewers to see something salacious rather than deep and exploratory towards the soul of a community. In effect, the handbill itself, not the play, connects to the events surrounding it in the novel. Discrediting black culture through salacious images and a Talking Android is the purpose of Benign Monster magazine. Furthermore, the next few pages after the handbill call back to the themes present in Thurman’s work, such as the front page of the Sun suggesting that Abdul’s death “HINT[S] WAR BETWEEN BLACK FACTIONS” (99), at the same time attempting to highlight and strengthen any perceived divides in the black community. Later, Reed gives a further nod to Thurman’s work when the Talking Android Woodrow Wilson Jefferson is refused entry to a club owned by a black man for being too dark. The handbill highlights the prejudices heretofore unobserved in the narration in any great capacity.


  3. The second time Reed substantially mentions Freud is when the narrator states that he’s “read Freud very much and [his] little sheet brings it all out into the open. Allows it to all hang out” (102). The reader might ask about what it is that is hanging, what it is that Reed wants us to think about regarding Freud and the narrator openly admitting to this act? It’s the collage of Western ideology. Reed doesn’t have to make this assertion himself, rather he does so in terms of the narrative. Although Freud is not necessarily a “Western” philosopher, his ideology is widely accepted by many normative societies today. When Freud visits America with Jung, historical fact is conflated with the narrator—or rather Reed’s—view of philosophy. When Freud confronts Jes Grew he’s nearly faint and even Jung on 209 is quoted saying that after seeing Europeans “going Black..[he] keeps to himself.” The photo at the end of the page could also be seen as a sort of philosophical collage. One that positions a black man being cornered by white men. Obviously, this is Reed or the narrator condemning Freud and Jung’s philosophy but it also shows how Reed uses methods of collage or mixing in order to demonstrate the ways in which philosophy is based on means of prejudice.


  4. I would like to write about the handbill for “Harlem” by Wallace Thurman that appears on page 99. I find the use of advertisement in a work like this particularly intriguing, because I feel that doing so complicates the process of merging fiction and reality. Advertisements present a dramatized version of reality, sometimes to the point where they themselves are fictional. To use them in a context like this complicates the process of incorporating bits of “real life” into a fictional narrative. Without taking into consideration the implications of advertisements as distorted reality, I considered the instances where historical documents were inserted into the narrative to be grounding, in a sense. Among other things, I thought they were meant to act as a springboard for the book’s more chimerical elements. But now I wonder if that was the wrong approach to reading it (no interpretation is absolutely incorrect, I would argue, but you know what I mean).
    This raises the issue of historical reliability, that relates to the “archive effect” coined by Jamie Baron. My experience reading Mumbo Jumbo was that I accepted whatever my first interpretation of the non-fictional texts were as they appeared. I suppose that, juxtaposed with some of the more absurd parts of the writing, these texts are rendered un-mysterious. I’m not necessarily claiming that the sampled text in this book is equally as “fictional” as the narrative. That handbill for Harlem is, as far as I can tell, something that actually exists and pertains to an event that actually took place. But what about a newspaper article, that is written with a relatively objective tone? It’s not that I believe that everyone read the inserted texts as though they were objective, but I initially found myself doing so. I would not be surprised if Ishmael Reed intended for readers to be shocked by the realization that they were not questioning the content of these texts themselves, and what this says about how much context can influence interpretation.


  5. On page 60 shortly following Hickle Von Vampton’s firing from the New York Sun, there is a small excerpt from Joost A.M. Meerloo’s “The Dance: From Ritual to Rock and Roll, Ballet to Ballroom.” The excerpt reads as follows:
    “Dance is the universal art, the common joy of expression. Those who cannot dance are imprisoned in their own ego and cannot live well with other people and the world. They have lost the tune of life. They only live in cold thinking. Their feelings are deeply repressed while they attach themselves forlornly to earth” (Meerloo). Directly following the excerpt is a photograph of what appears to be an American dance performance, consisting of a young white girl dressed as the Statue of Liberty and an older white woman kneeling next to the girl with the American flag draped down her back like a cape.

    The perpetual quest of the Atonist movement to quell America of Jes Grew and silence black self-expression is seemingly here characterized by Reed as an attempt of the Atonists to “imprison blacks within their own ego.” This excerpt—particularly its relation to Reed’s story—reminds me of a source I used for my cultural appropriation essay a few weeks ago. The source was about our founding father’s silencing of black art and music and how they, seemingly intentionally, tried to omit black art from our nation’s history. This attempt at omission is made evident by the musical scores they elected to collect and a variety of letters and documents that blatantly prove their inherent racism and proclivity for silencing black music and destroying black art. Joost A.M. Meerloo was a white, Dutch doctor with a number of publications concerning psychology and the history of ideas. While I don’t necessarily agree that dance is the end all and be all of self-expression, I believe Reed’s inclusion of this excerpt is a way of suggesting the potential power of self-expression and showing how—whether they would admit to it or not—the Atonists (as well as real-life white people such as Thomas Jefferson and others who would quell black expression) are aware of what they are trying to rob blacks of by halting the Jes Grew movement.


  6. I was especially drawn to the photo on pg. 65. This appears to be a photo from the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, not from the 1920’s, when the novel takes place. It is a photo of a civil rights protest, set underneath the Knights Templar creed: “Lord, if I can’t dance, No one shall.” By putting a 1960’s photo of black resistance of the civil rights side-by-side the oppression of African American culture in the 1920’s, it draws parallels between the two time periods.

    I’m reminded our discussion of the collage, and how context is what connects seemingly unconnected objects, combining or commenting of already existing meaning, or forging an entirely new meaning. I’m also reminded of our class discussion on the archive – and the ability to “rewrite” history based on the context and arrangement of information. Placing certain images and texts side by side imbues them with different meaning. I mentioned last week in my blog post that the structure of Mumbo Jumbo seems to parallel a history text book – it is rewriting history by dislodging things from the archive and submitting them to the public in different context.

    By placing a photo of the 1960’s into a narrative about the 1920’s, the text is not only rewriting history, but also intertwining history, overlapping it and making connections through time – not just textual context. Jes Grew is a cyclical epidemic, a testament to the endurance of African American strength and culture throughout the ages, not just reserved to a certain time – but a resistance that is going to keep turning up for as long as oppression of African American culture exists. (This also reminded me of Charlie Shaw’s persistent haunting in White Tears). History seems to be doomed to repeat itself until we get it right.


  7. Reed references Osiris later on in Mumbo Jumbo and the story of how there was essentially, “no text to turn to” (164). Mumbo Jumbo often reads as a religious text with countless references and names–often hard to keep track of. It is not necessary a religion here but rather Jes Grew–as mentioned earlier on, Jew Grew is looking for its text. The reference of Osiris on page 164 reads, “Then something strange happened. People began to do the dance of Osiris and it would interrupt their tilling of the soil. It would hit them at al times of the day and some of them would wander through the streets talking out of their heads and making strange signs. Set circulated a rumor that this was because Osiris didn’t really know the alchemical arts and had brought a curse upon Egypt. Osiris was worried and the people were grumbling. Well, there was a certain artists down near the harbor who painted arks. He was a man who had once made out with Osiris’ mother and had a big reputation for his decorative work. He called on Osiris 1 day and argued his theory that the outbreaks occurred because the mysteries had no text to turn to. No litany to feed the spirits that were seizing the people, and that if Osiris would execute these dance steps for Thoth he would illustrate them and then Osirian priests could determine what god or spirit possessed them as well as learn how to make these gods and spirits depart.
    And so possessed, Osiris did his basic dances for many days until Thoth had them all down. A Book of Litanies to which people in places like Abydos in Upper Egypt could add their own variations.
    Guides were initiated into the Book of Thoth, the 1st anthology written by the 1st choreographer.” (164).
    This explanation or reference acts not only as a propeller for the book but a click in peoples’ minds. This book is headed in the direction of the “1st” something–the complexity of the book creates confusion but the first anything, like the story of Osiris, is confusing. Something needs to be written down to capture the complexity so that people can fiddle with it and “add their own variation”. The use of collage is similar to the collage used by people who work with found footage. The idea is a reference to something real–something tangible and explicated through words. However, when pulled out of context and added to a concept (such as in Mumbo Jumbo) the reference is malleable and made into something new–something that still holds emotional weight and value but now that weight is doubled by Reed’s use of it.


  8. Throughout his novel, Ishmael Reed utilizes a distinct practice of incorporating real historic documents and moments into his absurd fictitious world. As we discussed in class, the myriad of citations and specific historical references he includes make it nearly impossible for the reader to be able to identify and recognize each one. However, by selecting a specific citation and excerpt, the depth and intention behind Reed’s references becomes evident. In the second section of the novel we are reading, I found Reed’s use of a modern dancing guide, written in 1912, to be both a humorous example of his satire style as well as larger commentary on cultural appropriation. The scene into which this piece of text is incorporated portrays Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty (the actual attorney general at this time) in front of press declaring a plan of action against Jes Grew (a fictional representation of a real phenomenon). Reed describes Daugherty’s method of action as, “a plan based upon the ideas of Irene Castle, the woman who in 1915 inspired a generation of young women to cast aside their corsets and petticoats” (93). He then includes and cites an excerpt from Modern Dancing by Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Castle which includes a list of ways not to dance such as, “Do not wriggle the shoulders. Do not shake the hips. Do not twist the body” (93). In the context of Reed’s satire, this scene could be read as humorous or ironic, in which there is an extremely serious tone surrounding a prohibition of specific dancing styles such as the “Turkey Trot” and “Bunny Hug” written by a famous modern dancer. This irony could be interpreted without any specific knowledge of Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Castle, but preliminary research into their significance provides a much deeper understanding of this scene.
    The book Modern Dancing is readily available online for free, and the section Reed draws from is found towards the back of the book in its own distinct column. In the context of the book, this list also has a serious tone, which was surprising to me as the language used seemed cartoonish reading it in the 21st century. The book is meant to be a serious guide for modern dancing written by internationally renowned artists on the “correct” methods of dancing. But the irony present in the original text is that the Castles, two white dancers from Southern parts of America, are attributed for helping to popularize African-American music styles for dance. Placed in conversation with Reed’s text, there is a subtle commentary or revealing of cultural appropriation, in which Irene’s guide for dancing is used to ban African-American dance styles of the time, but her own work and reputation profited from their music styles. This relates to many of our conversations in class about cultural appropriation reflecting how forms of art created by people of color are not fully accepted or popularized until adopted by white people.
    By creating a literary collage of real historic figures and documents within his fictitious and satirical universe, Reed is able to make poignant yet subtle cultural commentary within the span of half a page, that may or may not be understood by a majority of his readers.


  9. The ‘collage’ element of Mumbo Jumbo which interested me the most was the recurring sections in Courier New – type font. The first instance of this I found was on pg. 32, and PaPa LaBas is at the party listening to the radio. The narrative switches to a “Situation Report …from the 8-tubed Radio”: “S.R.: Jes Grew onflying giving America a rise in the town of Muncie Indiana where it is engendering more excitement than the last dental inspection…” (32). Here, the passage is not cited, although it is in the Courier New font. In a later instance of this font’s appearance, another radio broadcast is transcribed, this time out of context: “S.R.: The Wallflower Order induces its running dog medical societies and its Jackanape Punk Freudians to issue a report which “Scientifically” proves that Jes Grew is hard on the appendix…” (115). This passage, however, is cited as belonging to This Fabulous Century: 1920-1930, vol. 3 – Time-Life Books. Then, a passage on pg. 204-205, a radio recording emanating from a restaurant (“S.R.: A grateful nation once again pours telegrams into the president’s office. According to the white house poll they are running 20-1 in their endorsement of his stringent methods of dealing with the Jes Grew crisis…”) is once again uncited. I find it interesting that Reed, despite using radio broadcast excerpts consistently throughout the book, chose to fictionalize some and not others. However, this technique does lend a certain authority to all the radio excerpts and in turn the Jes Grew crisis. It also increases the overall sense of reality which pervades the whole book, which is then increased by other collage elements and the inclusion of historical characters. ‘If some of these radio broadcasts are true, why couldn’t they all be?’ Reed seems to be asking.


  10. A feature of this section that struck me was the seemingly out-of-context pictures, like the one found on page 84. The surrounding text consists of in-depth description of both setting and action. The chapter begins with the following description: “The Mu’tafikah are holding a meeting in the basement of a 3-story building located at the edge of ‘Chinatown.’ … 3 men, under an almost maroon red light, kneel on the basement’s concrete floor. Berbelang and Thor’s raincoats hang from a coat rack near the door. Propped against the wall are their dripping, black umbrellas. Some of the women Mu’tafikah in Garbo hats and speaking in brittle unadorned voices are standing around a long wooden table in the rear of the basement.” (82)

    Soon after this passage, the author inserts a drawing with no caption or citation. The image—a man in a formal outfit pointing a weapon at a sinister ghostly person running through the front door of a house. One could argue that the drawing relates to the text, because it mentions people entering through a door and later mentions Berbelang moving “the pointer”. (85) I, on the other hand, see no connection between the prose and the drawing. Still, Reed uses his artistry to form an original thought by combining different mediums of art. Examples like this make us think about an artist’s intent. Perhaps his intent is for us to wonder what his intent is.


  11. I’ve chosen to look at a moment only a couple of pages into our assigned reading, the picture on page 77. The image is of several black women donned in white dresses and head coverings, who seem to move gracefully in a line. The image is imbued with the motion of the women’s skirts, and the lights and shadows that dance around them. I’m drawn to this image because I’m trying to figure out exactly why Reed chose to put it in his novel, and why here. The image separates a portion of text that seems to be a write-up on the spread and presence of Jes Grew across Haiti, New Orleans, and Chicago, and the narrative text, starting with “a few months later” (Reed 77). This image and the “S.R.” are sandwiched between Hinckle Von Vanpton’s quest for the black lens; he craves a black perspective on the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

    This thought is a work in progress, but perhaps the image helps construct a parallel, one that says something about how people respond and react to racial difference and specifically black culture. The page before this image, which depicts black women all wearing the same thing and doing the same thing, is about Woodrow Wilson Jefferson being hired as a “Negro Viewpoint” (76). The purpose of this job is to, at its core, speak for the race which he belongs to. There’s something diminutive about this; Von Vampton hiring someone to give him a perspective he’s barred from is not only entirely self-serving, but in doing so he glosses over the many differences in black culture based on hometown heritage, but it almost assumes that any black person’s opinion will be the same as all others. Though a small action and a small section, the “Negro Viewpoint” position operates under the assumption that black experiences, personalities, and livelihoods are interchangeable with one another and hegemonic, much like the women in the photo on the next page. This may very well be a stretch (perhaps he image is present for as simple a purpose as transitions from chunks of text), but nevertheless, the image invokes a sense of uniformity. This reading suggests that the image and text themselves are a collage; two loosely related ideas brought together to strengthen each other.


  12. I found the image selected by Reed on page 84 to be particularly interesting. A few pages prior to being presented with the image, Reed details a scene wherein the “Mu’tafikah” are planning to infiltrate areas of high society, including renowned museums to steal precious art and artifacts. Reed writes:
    “Before museum heads could warn their continental colleagues of his presence in Europe, he and his aides, posing as innocuous exchange students, had repatriated masks and figures—carried to Europe as booty from Nigeria, Gold Coast, Upper Volta and the Ivory Coast—from where they were exhibited in the pirate dens called museums located in Zurich, Florence, England, Paris; the Rietberg Museum, Zurich; Berlin’s Museum, Prague; the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden—none are spared invasions into their ‘primitive’ collections by these cool soft-spoken, colorfully dressed Africans.” (82-83)
    There are a few important aspects at play here. First of all, in essence what Reed is asserting is that these museums, those both renowned and globally accredited as supreme cultural institutions, are guilty of cultural appropriation. Reed states plainly that the artifacts that belong to cultures across Africa (historically marginalized cultures), were not only taken forcibly, but were subsequently put on display in museums that seem to serve only the white elitist class. Second of all, what seems to be going on here is that the Mu’tafikah are devising covert operations to reclaim, and ultimately give back, these stolen artifacts—a facet of Reed’s writing that lends potential meaning to the image on page 84.
    While I can’t place exactly where the image came from, I am reminded by looking at it of bills in the mid 18th century advertising the Fugitive Slave Act. What the image depicts is a white-southerner firing a pistol at a feeling, cartoonish assailant. Should we assume that these is the cultural context that Reed is drawing this image from, then this two speaks to the reclamation of culture that Reed had discussed just a few pages before. In the case of fugitive slaves, slaves fled to the North in an attempt to reclaim their humanity, while white institutions (that of slavery in this case), tried to maintain power over the culture that they had stolen and abused. I think here Reed is attempting to draw a parallel between a modern reclamation of culture and an antiquated one.


  13. Reed makes use of many collage and cut up techniques in his book. While I was reading this book I thought a lot about our class discussion at the beginning of our cut ups section. Most people in our class agreed that the cut-ups we were assigned were pretty hard readings to get through. Then, when we made our own cut ups, it was clear that they can be complete gibberish (one might say “mumbo jumbo”). Our discussion last week acknowledged that Reed’s linguistic choices characterize his writing as “mumbo jumbo”, or difficult to read and understand. Normally I would think that an author probably wouldn’t try or even want want to make their writing difficult to read however, but, as we discussed this is likely a very intentional choice made by Reed. Further, the similarities between Reed’s writing and the writing in the previous cut-ups highlight general themes of cut-up work that they might be incoherent, but they can still be significant.
    We also spoke at length about Reed’s references, and how many of us needed to constantly Google words, references, etc. So, most basically, in his use of references Reed is tying his work into outside material (this could be thought of as a collage of sorts – a collage of information). But, one of Reed’s techniques that is unique and worth-noting the way that he makes his conceptual collages visual. He is making a collage by using information/ references from many different sources (which is where some other authors might stop). But, where Reed pushes further is that he uses different fonts, and inserts pictures, drawings and text boxes in his work at well. His book not only is an informational collage but it looks like a collage as well.
    While this is not a specific page I think that all of the illustrations/images are important in the discussion of how Reed connects his work to outside information. We discussed that this book, and specifically “Jes Grew” are largely representative of the culture that came from the Harlem Renaissance. The implications of the text are that this culture was invasive. The way Reed places the images, breaking up the text, represents this culture and the feelings about it that he is trying to portray.


  14. While continuing to read Mumbo Jumbo, I kept thinking about the references that Reed chooses to incorporate throughout the book. This text goes back and forth jumping between plots and including new characters that take a bit to understand their purpose. On page 115, Reed includes a photo from a real book “From Ragtime to Swingtime” in order to make a factual point about the impact of jazz in American culture. His choice to include references and other quotes other than his own, seeks to find validation throughout the book and provide multiple opinions to shape his own. This use of other thoughts and texts in one lends itself to the purpose of a collage. Reed is “take[ing] a source, extract[ing] what appeals to [him], discard[ing] the rest” in order to “reflect something of the individual doing the editing” (Shields, 78). Reed is using all of these points of reference to create his own edit about racism and cultural identity in the 1920s as well as today. Instead of creating a beginning, middle and end, he has created a mish mosh of texts and wants readers to make meaning of it themselves. Reed’s inclusion of real life material makes his work into a true collage, not a text of fiction or a novel with a steady plot and clear story. This fictional text derives meaning from these found historical objects that make his story more meaningful with hard evidence. The use of advertisements, photos and other texts creates an interesting perspective that adds to Reed’s narrative and purpose of his message about the 1920s.


  15. Chapter 24 caught my attention because it seems to be a collage of many different texts and beliefs. Irene Castle’s name caught my attention because of how she used dance to help change what women could and could not wear. Her arguments would have been subversive in the early 1900s but by 1920s the “flapper” style was very in. I found the use of Irene Castle, who may have thought herself to be rather subversive, as a way to reinforce societal norms of the novel to be satirical. This is because Castle was a dancer and largely her words are used to forbid dancing. Secondly, because Castle helped to change society for the better and to use her as a force to keep society stagnant is satirizing the idea of progress. It prompts the reader to consider how accepting activists are and whether activists, particularly those of a higher social status, want equity or equality. Furthermore, Reed references “Kongress” as a means of indicating that norms are shifting and that those in power are uncomfortable. We can understand this because by replacing the “c” in Congress with a “k” we are reminded of the eventual demise of the Kingdom of Kongo (a predecessor to modern Congo nations). This demise was due to colonialism and by connecting Congress with the Kingdom of Kongo, Reed forces us to consider what it means to enforce cultural norms on a culture different from our own. While this is a macro concept, Reed brings it back to the micro by using Irene Castle. She assisted in changing the dominant culture for the better and by using her words to try to keep culture stagnant we understand that the dominant culture is only comfortable with some people trying to change things.
    All in all, I’m glad that I looked up all this extra information about this chapter but I still wonder how effective Reed’s method is given that I still was googling everything. I do not necessarily think that it is bad that there are things in the text I do not understand but I wonder what audience Reed was aiming to reach through this.


  16. Collage is central to the narrative of Mumbo Jumbo. The novel takes several excerpts from the news as well as including multiple pictures a way of conveying additional information to the reader. One of these instances is a drawing of a devil on page 88. The appearance of the drawing is between Berbelang and Yellow Jack discussing each culture’s history of calling the other devils. It is a representation of what the devil means to both of them as a symbol. It also contributes to the use of collage that is prevalent throughout the book.

    In Mumbo Jumbo collage is used as way of conveying the disorienting nature of Jes Grew. It is a disease that is not a disease, it works by rapidly turning a normal person into something that does not resemble them at all. Collage is the perfect analogy for this disease because it is a recontextualization and appropriation of a disease, much like collage is these things to written word.

    In a sense, Ishmael Reed’s novel is as close to collage as one can get while still creating an original fictional story. The use of tropes, such as the insertion of news articles and pictures, introduces new ways of thinking into the novel and creates a unique reading experience and they also bring in questions about what the original meaning of those pieces were. This is similar to collage, where words and sentences are remixed and rearraigned to form new meanings, and take on a new second life. Mumbo Jumbo could not exist without collage, it is that important to the narrative the story is trying to tell.


  17. I’m interested in the bold, alarming newspaper-like headlines that appear throughout the book. Although these headlines are not necessarily moments of visualization like the photos, they resemble a collage or disruption in the text that strays from the normal type font and flow and create a moment of preoccupation that stems outside the text. For example, Reed writes on page 76, “NEGRO VIEWPOINT WANTED.” While the page before this headline does mention how the newspaper staff needs “a negro viewpoint” (75) and that is what the sign says in the window, the bold font and all upper case letters create a collage type effect and force the reader to attach another layer of complicated importance or meaning to those few words, especially because they had previously been mentioned. Why the sudden startling mention of these words again? What purpose does it serve?

    David Shields talks about his own literary collage and states, “This is what I’m aiming for: I want all of the pieces to come together, but just barely.” I believe Shields’ comment is in the same vein of what Reed is attempting. The words and phrases are coherent enough for us to understand, but just barely. Going back to the newspaper-type headlines, I can obviously assemble some sort of meaning to the words, as aforementioned, the headline on page 76 was mentioned previously in the text. However, in bolding those words to make it similar to a headline of a newspaper, Reed begins to tap into something bigger than what is going on in the text itself.

    I think it’s interesting to think about the power of the press and the portrayal of people of color in the media. Historically, our narratives of black people in the press and the media have been saturated with racial prejudice and violence. I think Reed is somehow calling attention to these things in the random bolding and collage of these words. It harks back to how white people control what is published and written about whom and what constructs the “norm.”


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