Mumbo Jumbo


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 followed by the publication and title pages which occur after chapter one. 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 Vietnam War.

Mumbo Jumbo both depends on and fosters the disorientation of the reader. Rather than stick to any semblance of a novel's conventions, Reed supplies us with a hodgepodge of hand-written letters, radio dispatches, photographs, various typefaces, drawings, and even footnotes. With the first and second chapters interrupted by copyright and title pages, we even get the sense we're looking at a cinematic title screen. This is all to say that Reed is constantly blurring the lines of those things traditionally understood as distinct—in this case, form. In this vein he seems adamant to defamiliarize the familiar.

It is interesting how many of these conventions are taken up, and then altered, and yet some still seem so difficult (or unwilling by the author) to get around. Particularly, while thinking of the female characters in the novel, loas, and of the author's knowledge of vodou, is there indeed a sort of failure, (or an ellipsis) on Reed's part, or perhaps western convention is indeed too much to overcome or to challenge completely.

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