Monday, September 27, 2010

Mumbo Jumbo and language

In writing Mumbo Jumbo, Ishmael Reed strictly adheres to a language that is fluid with the time and context in which it is set. In her article ""We will make our own future Text": Allegory, Iconoclasm, and Reverence in Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo," Roxanne Harde writes, "black culture for Reed is a language game apart from white culture, a body of knowledge with different rules and different criteria for determining value" (372). With the entirety of the work focused on the division of white and black, Harde suggests that even the language that is used by Reed further separates the cultures, which potentially widens the gap and causes more issues. For example, when Black Herman and Papa LaBas are speaking with Benoit Battraville, Benoit says, " 'The joke became 'The Haitian people are 95% Catholic and 100% VooDoo.' The Belgians and French were always bewildered when we laughed as they tried to interpret St. Jacques as Ogoun the Warrior!" (134).

While the introduction of underground to mainstream African American culture was very apparent in the 1920's, does anyone else feel that a noninclusive language and underground meetings may have not been the best approach in regards to relations between cultures? Reed adheres to the "voodoo" and "jes grew" language as a man who is painting a picture of black/white relations. However, it's been said that that which isn't understood is often feared, which pushes a plot line, but primarily just causes more conflict. With that said, would Reed's work be as effective if he strayed from the language? Would the story's quasi-historical relation be blurred even further? Would Reed's story continue to work in the fashion it does if jes grew and voodoo were called something different?

1 comment:

  1. I don’t know if I agree that the motive of this particular use of language was to create distance between “white” and “black” culture. As Harde stated, it may well display its own unique qualities but I actually think that Reede could possibly be trying to bring white and black together through the process of reading this work. Although the language seems distancing at times as it can be difficult to follow, it ultimately forces readers to open their minds further in order to gain an enhanced comprehension of the ideas presented. By struggling with the alternative language, readers are accepting the invitation to learn about a different culture, therefore proving Reede’s use of this language to be a beneficial tool for the initial study of the Jes Grew and voodoo jargon.