Friday, May 18, 2012

When angry, why not laugh?


The trajectory of Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo feels like “madness maddened,” as if it were written by a comedic African Ahab at war with the white whale.

It’s as monolithic as the monolith it attacks, seaming together the international and inter-racial strands of an inside-out subjective analysis of “Jes Grew” nationalism:

We decided that we would be their [Atonists] desecraters, that we would send their loot back to where it was stolen and await the rise of Shango, Shiva, and Quetzalcoatl… [89]

MJ lays out the paranoid gist of a secret “1000s” year-old racial holy war between Pantheist Pagans and Atonists, pitting Eros v. Thanatos in an attempt, via “mumbo jumbo,” to exorcise our secret societies of their ancestors’ “troubled spirits.”

This task, according to the novel, is so important because the private struggles among secret societies are at the very core of all warfare:

Moses learned the secrets of VooDoo from Jethro and taught them to his followers. H.P. Blavatsky concurs: “The fraternity of Free Masons was founded in Egypt and Moses communicated the secret teaching to Israelites, Jesus to the Apostles and thence it found its way to the Knights Templar.” 186

The aggressiveness of the Atonist White Man is the African Pantheist’s burden, which is made all the more difficult because “The White man will never admit his real references.” [194]

Certain Romantic, anti-Royalist Anglophiles may find the trotting out of the Osiris Myth old news and might even take exception to the way Reed’s narrator skewers Milton:

[Milton] foresaw the Bad News [Jes Grew] was going to bring to the world. John Milton, Atonist apologist extraordinary himself, saw the coming of the minor geek and sorcerer Jesus Christ as a way of ending the cult of Osiris and Isis forever. [171]

The narrator then quotes at length from “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity,” before pegging it:

And those “Timbrel’d Anthems dark” is the music that old Jethro played, the music of worshippers of those festivals where they had a ball. Boogieing. Expressing they selves. John Milton couldn’t stand that. Another Atonist; that’s why English professors like him, he’s like their amulet, keeping niggers out of their departments and stamping out Jes Grew before it invades their careers. It is interesting that he worked for Cromwell, a man who banned theater from England and was also a hero of Sigmund Freud. [171-2]

A feeling may persist among lovers of Milton, I count myself among them, who refuse to damn the man because Africa wasn’t on his radar in the mid-Seventeenth century. Anyone who’s read Paradise Lost knows Milton didn’t love Jehova/Yahweh or the Demiurge, nor did he proclaim him a god worthy of worship. In fact, one might suspect Milton’s Satan of speaking on behalf of Milton more than any other character. God was the King Milton rebelled against. But still, Milton aligned himself with Cromwell, etc.

Reed, a humorist who more than once in MJ made me think of Kurt Vonnegut, skewers that and all world views which can’t and won’t groove to the blues.

By satirizing “white” political-economy and culture and contrasting it against counter-institutions on the “black” side, Reed ends up satirizing the whole of human society: “What is the[ir] wound?...the knowledge in his heart that he is a … charlatan …” [132]

Readers looking for history will instead find both an historical artifact and present-day conflict that seems to be forever ongoing in our affairs as human beings.

Today we have the so-called “Tea Party” representing a spasm of the Atonist vision of the “African” Obama, for whom the term African-American feels oxymoronic. Jes Grew embodies everything Ayn Rand and her wounded, tea-bagged followers most fear—the pursuit of a life worth feeling.

When Mumbo Jumbo was published in 1973, “Jes Grew needed its words to tell its carriers what it was up to. Jes Grew was an influence which sought its text, and whenever it thought it knew the location of its words and Labanotations it headed in that direction.” [211]

Jes Grew seams a necessary, subconscious drifting toward the beautiful, a desired after but slippery unity orchestrated by the psychogeography of a collected, unconscious mind. It’s like the narrator says early on: “This is the country where something is successful in direct proportion to how it’s put over; how it’s gamed.”

Allowing for the uncanny is always a trick. Ironically, there’s an old Jewish proverb that goes: “When fearful, dance; when sad, sing.”

But the old Atonists forgot something: When angry, laugh. Life is play…

That’s mumbo jumbo.

No comments:

Post a Comment