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Mumbo Jumbo: A Novel by Ishmael Reed




Mumbo Jumbo is a 1972 novel by African-American author Ishmael Reed, originally published by Doubleday in New York. The novel has remained continuously in print in the decades since its first edition. It was first published in the UK by Allison and Busby, and has been published in translation in several languages, including French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, as well as a Chinese translation in 2019. The novel was released as a Penguin Modern Classic in 2017. Mumbo Jumbo is an ingenious deconstruction of Western civilizationa cinematic collage that mixes portraits of historical figures and incidents with sound bites on subjects ranging from ragtime to Greek philosophy. It is a satirical commentary on American society, culture, history, and politics, as well as a celebration of African-American art, creativity, and spirituality. It is also a neo-hoodoo novel that draws on various sources of African-American folklore, mythology, religion, and magic. The Plot of Mumbo Jumbo




The novel is set in 1920s New York City and depicts the elderly Harlem houngan PaPa LaBas and his companion Black Herman racing against the Wallflower Order, an international conspiracy dedicated to monotheism and control, as they attempt to root out the cause of and deal with the "Jes Grew" virus, a personification of ragtime, jazz, polytheism, and freedom. The Wallflower Order is said to work in concert with an extant Knights Templar Order to prevent people from dancing, to end the dance crazes spreading among black people. The virus is spread by certain black artists, referred to in the novel as "Jes Grew Carriers" or "J.G.C.s." The Jes Grew Virus




The Jes Grew virus is a mysterious phenomenon that affects people's behavior, making them dance, sing, laugh, and enjoy life. It is said to have originated in New Orleans and to have traveled northward along the Mississippi River, following the route of jazz music. It is also said to be a manifestation of the ancient African spirit Osiris, who was dismembered by his brother Set and whose body parts were scattered across the world. The virus is thus a way of reassembling Osiris and restoring his power. The Wallflower Order




The Wallflower Order is a secret organization that opposes the Jes Grew virus and seeks to maintain the status quo of Western civilization. It is composed of various groups and individuals who share a common interest in suppressing the expression and influence of African-American culture. Some of its members include the Knights Templar, the Masons, the Atonists (followers of the Egyptian god Aton), the Psychoanalytic Society, the New York City Police Department, and the president of the United States, Warren Harding. The Search for the Text




The novel also involves a quest for a mysterious book that contains the secrets of Jes Grew and its origin. The book is said to be written in hieroglyphics and to have been stolen from Egypt by Moses, who used it to perform miracles. The book then passed through various hands and places, until it reached Harlem, where it was hidden by a black militant named Abdul Sufi Hamid (whose name reflects that of the Harlem street corner radical preacher Sufi Abdul Hamid, a.k.a. Eugene Brown, an early black convert to Islam). PaPa LaBas and Black Herman try to find the book before it falls into the hands of the Wallflower Order, who want to destroy it. Along the way, they encounter various allies and enemies, such as Biff Musclewhite (a white journalist who infiltrates Harlem), Earline (a voodoo priestess who works for PaPa LaBas), Mme. Zora Neale Hurston (a famous writer and anthropologist), and Hinckle Von Vampton (the editor of a literary magazine that promotes J.G.C.s). The Style of Mumbo Jumbo




Mumbo Jumbo is not a conventional novel in terms of its genre, structure, or language. It is a hybrid work that combines elements of fiction, history, philosophy, religion, art, music, and media. It is also a playful work that experiments with different forms of expression and communication. A Neo-Hoodoo Novel




Mumbo Jumbo is considered a neo-hoodoo novel, a term coined by Ishmael Reed to describe his own style of writing. Neo-hoodoo is a form of literature that draws on various sources of African-American folklore, mythology, religion, and magic, such as voodoo, conjure, Santeria, Candomble, Macumba, etc. It is also a form of literature that challenges the dominant modes of Western thought and logic, such as rationalism, empiricism, monotheism, etc. It is a form of literature that celebrates multiplicity, diversity, creativity, and improvisation. A Collage of Texts and Images




Mumbo Jumbo is also a collage of texts and images, a technique that Ishmael Reed borrowed from the visual arts. The novel incorporates various types of texts and images into its narrative, such as newspaper clippings, photographs, drawings, diagrams, maps, charts, graphs, etc. These texts and images are often juxtaposed or superimposed on each other to create new meanings and associations. They are also used to parody or critique different genres and discourses, such as detective fiction, historical fiction, academic writing, religious writing, etc. A Jazz-Inspired Rhythm and Voice




Mumbo Jumbo is also a jazz-inspired rhythm and voice, a technique that Ishmael Reed borrowed from the musical arts. The novel reflects the influence of jazz music on its structure and language. The novel has a nonlinear structure that jumps back and forth in time and space. It also has multiple narrators and perspectives that interweave with each other. The novel uses a vernacular language that mixes standard English with slang, dialects, neologisms, rhythm, repetition, syncopation, improvisation, and polyphony. The Themes of Mumbo Jumbo




Mumbo Jumbo is a novel that explores various themes that are relevant to the African-American experience, as well as to the human condition in general. Some of the major themes are: The Clash of Cultures and Histories




Mumbo Jumbo portrays the conflict between two different worldviews and narratives: the African-American and the Western-European. The novel shows how the Western-European culture has tried to erase, suppress, or appropriate the African-American culture, as well as other cultures that do not conform to its standards. The novel also shows how the African-American culture has resisted, survived, and thrived despite the oppression and marginalization it has faced. The novel challenges the dominant history that has been written by the victors and offers an alternative history that includes the voices and perspectives of the oppressed and marginalized. The Power of Art and Creativity




Mumbo Jumbo celebrates the power of art and creativity as a way of expressing one's identity, culture, and spirituality. The novel showcases the richness and diversity of the African-American artistic expressions and innovations, especially in music, literature, and visual arts. The novel also demonstrates how art and creativity can be used as weapons against oppression and control, as well as tools for liberation and empowerment. The novel suggests that art and creativity are essential for human happiness and fulfillment. The Critique of Oppression and Control




Mumbo Jumbo exposes the various forms of oppression and control that have been imposed on the African-American people and other people of color by the dominant culture. The novel criticizes the racism, colonialism, and elitism that have shaped American society and history. The novel also denounces the religious, political, and economic systems that have been used to justify and maintain the oppression and control. The novel advocates for a more egalitarian, pluralistic, and democratic society that respects and values diversity and difference. The Reception and Legacy of Mumbo Jumbo




Mumbo Jumbo is a novel that has had a significant impact on American literature and culture. It has also influenced other media and art forms. Some of the aspects of its reception and legacy are: The Critical Response to Mumbo Jumbo




Mumbo Jumbo received mixed reviews from critics and readers when it was first published in 1972. Some praised it for its originality, creativity, humor, and insight. Some criticized it for its complexity, obscurity, irreverence, and subversion. Some dismissed it as nonsense or mumbo jumbo. Some recognized it as a masterpiece or a classic. Over time, Mumbo Jumbo has gained more recognition and appreciation as one of the most important works of postmodern literature. It has also been regarded as one of the best novels by an African-American author. The Cultural Influence of Mumbo Jumbo




Mumbo Jumbo has inspired and influenced many other works of art and media in various genres and forms. Some examples are: - The 1978 film The Last Dragon by Michael Schultz, which features a martial arts master named Bruce Leroy who is searching for a mysterious book called "The Glow" that contains the secrets of kung fu. - The 1984 film Ghostbusters by Ivan Reitman, which features a villain named Gozer who is summoned by an ancient Sumerian cult to bring about the end of the world. - The 1987 album Sign o' the Times by Prince, which features a song called "Play in the Sunshine" that references Jes Grew. - The 1990 film Mo' Better Blues by Spike Lee, which features a jazz musician named Bleek Gilliam who struggles with his artistic integrity and personal relationships. - The 1996 album Illadelph Halflife by The Roots, which features a song called "UNIverse at War" that samples a speech by Ishmael Reed about Mumbo Jumbo. - The 2006 novel The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead, which features a protagonist named Lila Mae Watson who is a black female elevator inspector in a dystopian city. - The 2016 musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which features a character named Thomas Jefferson who returns from France and sings a rap song called "What'd I Miss?" that references Jes Grew. The Contemporary Significance of Mumbo Jumbo




Mumbo Jumbo is a novel that is still relevant and timely today, as it addresses issues and topics that are still prevalent and important in the contemporary world. Some of these issues and topics are: - The role and impact of art and culture in society and politics - The representation and recognition of marginalized and oppressed groups and voices - The challenge and resistance to dominant and oppressive systems and structures - The diversity and complexity of human identities and histories - The search and struggle for freedom and happiness Conclusion




Mumbo Jumbo is a novel that defies easy categorization and description. It is a novel that challenges and entertains, that educates and provokes, that delights and disturbs. It is a novel that reflects the African-American experience, as well as the human experience. It is a novel that deserves to be read, studied, and enjoyed by anyone who is interested in literature, culture, history, and art. FAQs




- Q: What does the title Mumbo Jumbo mean? - A: The title Mumbo Jumbo has multiple meanings. It can refer to a West African god or priest, a term for African-American folk magic, a derogatory term for nonsense or gibberish, or a playful term for something mysterious or incomprehensible. - Q: Who is Ishmael Reed? - A: Ishmael Reed is an African-American author, poet, essayist, editor, publisher, teacher, and activist. He was born in 1938 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and grew up in Buffalo, New York. He has written more than 20 books of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and anthologies. He is also the founder of the Before Columbus Foundation, which promotes multicultural literature in America. - Q: What is neo-hoodoo? - A: Neo-hoodoo is a term coined by Ishmael Reed to describe his own style of writing. It is a form of literature that draws on various sources of African-American folklore, mythology, religion, and magic. It is also a form of literature that challenges the dominant modes of Western thought and logic. It is a form of literature that celebrates multiplicity, diversity, creativity, and improvisation. - Q: What is Jes Grew? - A: Jes Grew is a phenomenon that affects people's behavior, making them dance, sing, laugh, and enjoy life. It is said to have originated in New Orleans and to have traveled northward along the Mississippi River, following the route of jazz music. It is also said to be a manifestation of the ancient African spirit Osiris. - Q: What is the Wallflower Order? - A: The Wallflower Order is a secret organization that opposes the Jes Grew virus and seeks to maintain the status quo of Western civilization. It is composed of various groups and individuals who share a common interest in suppressing the expression and influence of African-American culture.




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