Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mumbo Jumbo? Sounds Clear to Me

Ishmael Reed is on to something in his novel Mumbo Jumbo. He's examining the racial, social, and cultural relations against the backdrop of a hectic 1920's decade that is still reeling from the effects of the First World War, yet trying to find some semblance of lightheartedness in a world that has suddenly gone dark. The effect of that, naturally, is chaos: I imagine the people of that decade were constantly on the fritz in terms of nerves, something that sounds all too familiar.

Even when wading through sentences muddled with dated slang, Reed's examination of the 1920's via the Wallflower Order's struggle against Jes Grew resonates strongly and clearly with the condition of our time. We too are in an era that is reeling from an ongoing war on terrorism, desperate to escape and find room to breathe but wary of those who actually do. There are ways of thinking and acting that are morally reprehensible to much of conservative society, but still catch on in the very same way Jes Grew is catching in Mumbo Jumbo. Homosexuality, something that for years was downplayed and even ignored, is now a hot button issue that refuses to go away. More and more people come out, and more and more people fight against it. Sexual promiscuity is another similar issue that seems to be gaining more and more notoriety. Song lyrics are getting racier. Things that were once considered sinful are beginning to seem attractive.

My point is that Ishmael Reed's look into American relations in the 1920's sounds exactly like now, but without all the slang. Nothing is new under the sun, it would seem. Mumbo Jumbo stands to be one of those timeless novels.

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