Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mumbo Jumbo: What it Says Stylistically

From the Wikipedia handout on Mumbo Jumbo that we received in class:

"The format and typography of Mumbo Jumbo are unique and make allusion to several typographic and stylistic conventions not normally associated with novels. The text begins and ends as if it were a movie script, with credits, a fade-in, and a freeze-frame. This is followed by a closing section that mimics a scholarly book on social history or folk magic by citing a lengthy bibliography. In addition, the tale is illustrated with drawings, photographs, and collages, some of which relate to the text, some of which look like illustrations from a social-studies book on African-American history, and some of which seem to be included as a cryptic protest against the then-current Vietnam War."

Indeed the format of this book is intriguing. I actually prefer this sort of layout than something like Double or Nothing because I find it more thought provoking. Throughout the book we are shown pictures captioned with quotes, drawings, newspaper excerpts, advertisements, along with other images. Just as the narrative is a sort of mumbo jumbo of history, religion, and culture that is both real and fictional, but presented as a truth- the pictures themselves follow this form of presentation. Real photographs are paired with the narrative giving it a sense of realism.

Maybe in a sense, Mumbo Jumbo is a good representation of the world today. We are always peppered with statements and beliefs. Like the characters in the story, we must pick out our truths, distinguish reality from fiction, and learn to think critically for ourselves rather than blindly following whichever political leader or religious doctrine we have chosen to believe. Especially if it is true that this book does somehow protest the Vietnam War, then it would make sense that it would emphasize conspiracy and propaganda. As of yet I don't really see any allusions to the Vietnam War specifically. I might be missing something.

I guess some questions we should keep in mind as we continue reading are:

1. How does the style of the book (ie. layout, photographs) help relay the story? Does it add to the story or take away from it in terms of the plot and the author's goals?
2. How does the presentation of story portray society and culture (American, African/Black American)? As well as black-white relations throughout history? What does it say about oppression and fear?

Any thoughts?


  1. I agree! Not only does this format allow there to be a plot, we can analyze how the stylistic elements play a role in relaying the plot. As I started reading Mumbo Jumbo, it reminded me of a history textbook, not so much going in a chronological order, but the way the material is presented. The black and white pictures, newspaper clippings, and the quotes appear to be evidence that is supposed to dictate some kind of truth. I feel like all of the pictures as well as the historical name references bring a sense of reality and truth to the novel, thereby pushing towards the author's goal of representing a mumbo jumbo society of half truths. From what I can understand from the novel, there's definitely a great tension between the black-white relation and we don't really see a resolution to it as of now.

  2. I also agree. The stylistic elements, especially the pictures that are included, add to the message and tone the story seems to be trying to be get across, but also places the story into a sort of larger context, which gives the reader a lot more to consider when thinking about how all of the novel's different elements relate to each other.

  3. Me three! I really like how _Mumbo Jumbo_ has this multimedia aspect. I saw it as basically the backbone cementing Reed's tone throughout the novel - he recreates the over-the-top "Roaring 20's" era stylistically on his pages. Something else that I think added to this tone was his creative use of grammar. Mispellings (like "Mumbo Jumbo Kathedral"), using numerals instead of spelling out the words of ordinal numbers, and - my personal favorite - the liberal use of "O" in place of the exclamation "Oh", which references Greek and Shakespearean tragedy and the HEIGHT of drama, though the characters are just engaging in mundane dialogue... all of these things up the energy of the novel, an essential quality of the era(s) (1920's as well as 1950's/60's) Reed attempts to imitate here.