Ms. R.KRISHNAVENI M.A., M.Sc., M.Phil., (PhD)
Assistant Professor and HOD i/c, Department of English Anna University Tiruchirappalli – 620 024
Tamilnadu, India. email@example.com
- STRATEGIES OF DETECTIVE FICTION
- BLUES DETECTIVE
- DECONSTRUCT THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF THE DETECTIVE SUBGENRE
- RACIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CONSCIOUSNESS
- INDUCTIVE NARRATOLOGY
- BLACK LITERARY TRADITION AND ITS RELATIONSHIP OF WESTERN LITERARY FORMS
- SEEN AND UNSEEN FORCES OF HOODOO POWER
- HOODOO TRICKSTER
- THE STYLE OF RHETORICAL WORK
One of the essential features of hoodoo detective is the issue of the African American civilisation. To probe the mysteries of this civilisation, it is appropriate that Reed uses the detective genre, essentially as a novel of suspense, in order to structure the novel. The conventions of this genre enable him to depict a world of conflicting powers which the detective must investigate and explain. While there are several layers of time in the novel, the main plot unfolds during the 1920s and concerns the apparently inexplicable outbreak of the plague in his novels.
Reed signifies on the discovery of truth pattern in the detective fiction. Structure in his novel is shaped in part by the structure of the traditional detective story. He uses that form as a skeletal structure for the basis of the narrative. Through the variety of personal life histories Reed tried “to redeem Black history from oblivion, correct the false account of White historians and make future Black generation aware of their proud heritage” (Wells 4-5). This paper analyses the reflection on the Black literary tradition and its relationship to Western literary forms played in the Hoodoo detective. The detective fails to solve the crime or find the truth. The missing text destroys any expectation of a closed conventional ending and reaffirms the text’s sense of indeterminacy. To Reed his novels do improvise upon the conventions of the traditional detective story [much in the same way the jazz musicians are expected to improvise on the standard composition].
In criminal investigations, detectives apply different thinking styles, such as method style, challenge style, skill style and risk style. In a survey in Norway, detectives were asked to list the five most important characteristics of effective investigators. This was done in a free format, requiring content analysis to categorise responses. Responses were categorised according to thinking styles. While creativity was the most frequently mentioned characteristic, content analysis shows that the skill style of detectives is the most effective thinking style. To be effective, detectives need to practice good empathic communication, open-minded curiosity, logical reasoning, creative thinking and dogged determination. The detective that consistently solves difficult cases is often said to have luck. While this may be partially true, it is probably only a small portion of what really makes the detective effective. To be an effective detective, in addition to that, being adequately prepared, one must also possess and develop certain essential traits. Some of these traits are self discipline and reasoning ability.
Every successful detective must possess a high degree of self discipline. This self discipline helps the detective’s behavior to ensure that only legally acceptable and ethical methods of investigation are utilised to solve cases. A successful detective always approaches the case with an alert and fastidious attention to detail and never leaves anything to chance. All steps of the investigation must be carefully calculated and chances never taken that might jeopardise the case. Similarly, reasoning is based on the detective’s ability to draw conclusions from evidence discovered in the course of an investigation. The ability to analyse a multitude of facts, and determine how they interrelate, is basic to a successful investigation. Although law enforcement officers practice this trait on a regular basis, this mental challenge is a routine part of being a detective.
Detectives are viewed as experts in many regards. Along with this recognition comes the responsibility for developing a case, while acting in a responsible and ethical manner. Most people have the ability to draw good conclusions from a set of facts. This conclusion does not necessarily have to agree with the conclusion other detectives have drawn [there can be an honest disagreement among reasonable people]. The problem arises when a detective is not willing to realise or admit that his/her bias is influencing his/her course of action.
STRATEGIES OF DETECTIVE FICTION
Detective fiction is a branch of crime fiction that centers upon the investigation of a crime, usually murder, by a detective, either professional or amateur. It is the most popular form of both mystery fiction and hardboiled crime fiction. It is a stand-alone course and it examines, American and British detective fiction and the cultures in which these texts are literary created one. The American hard boiled approach versus the British arm chair approach to this genre, looking at characteristics which include narrative structures, plot devices, themes, stylistic flourishes, characterisations, and the function of detective heroes within the stories. Research scholars have the opportunity to research and read the major writers of detective fiction and explore how many of these authors have used detective fiction as social commentary, and, how, at the very least, their texts reflect the values, achievements, and social structures of their time.
Detective fiction, a genre once considered mostly fluff, abounds with good writing and trenchant social criticism. Although in the latter, teachers
of literature should be aware of the former as they consider whether or not to use detective fiction in their classes. Because of the latter, however, parts of the chapters could be used in classes of history, sociology, women’s studies, African American studies, or even Native-American studies. The novels in this unit deal with themes of identity, social class, race, ethnicity, gender, assimilation, and discrimination.
But for the more traditional teacher of literature, the novels also contain complex protagonists and intricate plots. Hence they can be used to study characters and to analyse the structure and conventions of plot and narrative. The settings range from the rural to the urban, including the suburban, and these settings often play an integral role in developing aspects of the characters and the plots. This is to say, all the elements of good literature are here, and the added advantage of trying to solve a mystery alongside a fascinating detective in a clearly evoked setting.
While each novel in the paper will be dealt with separately to exploit what is interesting and unique about it, there are certain elements common to most literary works within the detective fiction genre that should be established at the beginning of the paper itself. These include a detective, a crime or mystery that needs to be solved, clues, suspects, and the positive identification of the culprit or solution to the mystery based on the clues given.
The above statement is taken from the work of Stephen F. Soitos, whose text ‘The Blues Detective: A Study of African American Detective Fiction’ provides what Soitos calls “major tropes” that have “transformed [the detective fiction tradition]” These tropes include: “the detective persona, black vernaculars, and hoodoo” (11). Laura said to Soitos by introducing his writing that:
Black detective writers use African American detective tropes on both classical and hardboiled detective conventions to create a new type of detective fiction. Through the use of black detective personas . . . , black vernaculars, and hoodoo creations, African American detective writers signify on elements of the detective genre to their own ends. (BIDF 3)
These tropes not only apply to the novels of the African American writers in the unit, such as Walter Mosley and Barbara Neely, but, by replacing the words black and African American with Indian and Native American, they can be shown to apply to the novels of Tony Hillerman. According to Soitos, the fictional black detectives in his study identify strongly with their blackness and “all of them are aware, and make the reader aware, of their place within the fabric of their black society” (29). He further explains that “Black detectives are intimately connected to their surroundings, often involved in family relations, certainly deeply committed to exploring the meaning of blackness in the text” (31).
The blues detective creates a different set of priorities than either the classical or hardboiled detective. Rather than focusing simply on the crime and capture of the suspect, the blues detectives are interested in the social and political atmosphere. This social and political atmosphere is inscribed by racial prejudice. The blues detective recognises his or her own blackness as well as what blackness means to the characters in the text. Soitos use the term hoodoo to represent indigenous, syncretic, religions of African Americans in the New World, expanding the term to suggest that it also represents alternative worldviews of some black Americans. Soitos goes on to explain what he means by alternative worldviews:
The most important aspect of hoodoo . . . is the pervasive influence of its combined beliefs in creating an alternative belief system . . . These alternative systems include all of the common African philosophies such as ancestralism, belief in a higher life force, and the concept of full ontological being, which can include aspects of divination, animism, and spiritual awareness, through magic and conjure. (47)
Reed thinks that the Western novel is tied to Western epistemology. So it is usually realistic and has character development and all these things that one associates with the Western novel. Deconstructing his novels becomes a metaphor for deconstructing Western metaphysics.
DECONSTRUCT THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF THE DETECTIVE SUBGENRE
Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo is a busy and noisy novel. The pastiche of parody and satire clamours are the reader’s attention for laughter. The novel
is what Bakhtin calls a carnivalesque text [a media theory], one seeking to capture the comic spirit in a jaded, overly rationalised and standardised age. In the novel, Reed offers the healing power of laughter as an antidote to the plague of tragedy – to him, essentially an exalted form of rationalism that has been the bane of Western Civilisation. The seeds of it are there in the possibilities inherent in Jes Grew and in the figure of LaBas who stands for and points to the meeting of the real World and the spiritual World.
In addition to the satire of cultural politics and the fervent declarations of aesthetic independence, Mumbo Jumbo is a novel concerned with pedagogy and epistemology. It has forays into myth and legend. It is also a revisions of history seek to challenge and dismantle our assumptions and conceptions about knowledge and truth. The novel seeks to undermine artifice of conventional history and to remind them that there are other ways of knowing and other things to know.
This detective novel, in Mumbo Jumbo evinces Reed’s desire to deconstruct the epistemology of the detective subgenre, with its emphasis on realism, linearity and ratiocination. Unlike the brooding, the hard boiled sleuths of American fiction, Reed’s detective, LaBas, is above all else intuitive. His name, as Gates has noted, suggests both the Voudou Ioa (deity) Esu, in Haiti called Legba, a pan–African trickster figure. LaBas, a phrase used in New Orleans jazz recordings of the ‘20s and ‘30s. A “Two–headed man” (or hoodoo) who works out of Mumbo Jumbo Kathedral, LaBas eschews empirical evidence, preferring to understand phenomena through dreams and his feelings.
The monologue of the West cannot stand. A polyphonic and heteroglossic conversation must replace it. This is Reed’s positive vision of American society, like Robert Hayden. To open up to Jes Grew does not mean that life would be an endless Madrigal, but it would keep it from being a perpetual lent, as the Atonists seem to prefer. The Jes Grew movement is opposed by the Wall flower Order led by Hiero phant one who hires Hinckle Von Vampton, a Knights Templar, and his thugs, Biff Muscle white and Hubert safe cracker Gould, to destroy Jes Grew before it dismantles Western Civilisation. This is not the first time these forces have collided. The conflict in the 1920s, and by extension in the 1960s, is a replay of the ancient struggle between Osiris and sect and the various cults derived from that myth.
The plot of the novel is about the plot to stop Jes Grew from repossessing its ancient text, which connects Jes Grew to a primordial force
and an ancient conflict enshrined in myth but repressed throughout history. While there are murders that Reed’s Hoodoo detective LaBas must investigate, Reed is more concerned with the macro crime, the theological and metaphysical betrayal at the root of it all. As LaBas says in the novel’s epilogue – which takes place in the late 1960s – “I was a jack legged detective of the metaphysical who was the case” (MJ 212).
RACIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CONSCIOUSNESS
Going back into the past to get some metaphor from the past to explain the present or the future is what he calls necromancy, in the form of prophecy. For Reed the cultural politics of the 1960s seemed to recapitulate what was happening in the 1920s. Both decades are full of political corruption. Racial consciousness is high and intense. The decade of the 1960s was both the Age of Aquarius and the politics of Law and Order. The authority to give the name to an age depends on the choices the culture makes – jazz or prohibition, doing the Eagle Rock or standing on the Plymouth Rock. It is one of the roles of art, as he sees it, to show what choices have been and can be made in this novel.
Reed let Neo-Hoodoo breakout into a fully large enough epidemic in his 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo. In this novel, both black and white characters are beset by a disease called “Jes Grew” which throws them into dancing fits and makes them unable to function in American society. The novel’s hero, a “Hoodoo detective” named LaBas, investigates the plague and in the process constructs the Hoodoo aesthetic that became Reed’s Manifesto.
Reed makes plain, however, that some manifestation of Jes Grew would be revived by future generations of artists. The novel is about the near success of the transformation from old to new in the 1920s, an explanation of why Jes Grew did not reach pandemic proportions and change the face of America. Mumbo Jumbo suggests that the current upsurge of artistic activity among black artists is guided by an impulse more favourable to Jes Grew, the determination to reject white forms and recall back. It is not only concerned with the traditional province of fiction but also the registration of individual consciousness. In an interview given after Mumbo Jumbo was published, Reed discusses his concerns in the novel:
I want to go into the mysteries of the American civilisation. The American civilisation has finally got its rhythm; looking into the past you can see the rhythms of this civilisation. So I
stepped back to an age that reminds me of the one I’m writing in. I stepped back to the twenties. Instead of Nixon I invoked Harding. The parallels between the two are remarkable. (CIR 133-34)
As a metaphysical novel, the hoodoo detective LaBas, Reed’s man at the borderline of human, combines mystical communication, the phenomenon of the crossroads, on the one hand, and the search for the solution of crimes, on the other. Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo is the best mystery novel of the year and there is a problem as to whether or not this humorous experimental work can be classified as a mystery. Carter sees Mumbo Jumbo as:
further extension of the mystery genre into the realm of serious literature… Reed regards the mystery novel as a vehicle for getting at other mysterious, such as the mystery of American civilisation… Obviously Reed is after bigger game than individual evil doers. (IND 8)
According to this view, there is a metaphysical dimension in detective fiction which is down-to-earth-i.e., the mystery is ultimately concerned with matters of this world.
In The Last Days of Louisiana Red novel, LaBas the Hoodoo detective recovers a spirit from the world of the dead. He tries to solve the murder of a gumbo works owner whose gumbo had been found to cure the illness brought on by forgetting the history. This is a good example to illustrate Reed’s notion of metaphysical detection in The Last Days of Louisiana Red. The gumbo is the way to connect back to the spirit of the African past. Neo-Hoodoos’ are detectives of the metaphysical about to make a pinch. A writing strategy of detection is replaced by one of induction narratology of detection in the novel.
At this point it should no longer come as a surprise that Reed turns to one of the most popular genres using a retrospective strategy, the detective story as a vessel for his Neo-Hoodooism. This detective story defines a discursive realm in which the very inductive rules of tracing causes from symptoms are constantly thematised. Reed himself extends the notion of mystery when he refers to The Last Days of Louisiana Red as:
A detective novel and a mystery… there are a lot of esoteric things -mysteries – in it, but at the same time it is a detective novel because there are people consciously looking for clues. (IND 8)
According to this view, there is a metaphysical dimension in detective fiction which is down to earth which means the mystery is ultimately concerned with matters of this world. Unlike many white authors for example, Graham Greene, Reed does not aim at reaching a transcendental dimension. Much of Reed’s close descriptions and predilections for vivid detail can be traced to Himes’s hyper realistic style, which he greatly admires. Reed associates Himes’s work with concrete perception and description, quoting Marcel Duhamel, the director of Gallimard’s detective story series, who gave the following advice to Himes:
Always action in detail makes pictures. Like motion pictures. Always the scenes are visible. No stream of consciousness at all. We don’t give a damn who’s thinking what-only what they’re doing. Always doing something from one scene to another. Don’t worry about making sense. (IND 8)
Though Himes may not offer a lot of free narratology, the abundant use of concrete details in his writing makes an analogy to Reed’s possibilities.
Moreover, in both cases they appear textualised like words; the physical traces which Himes’s detective ace needs in order to arrest the Harlem hoodlums and the signs which Reed’s detective is used to solve metaphysical crimes are phenomenally alike. Description may point in either direction. Both narrative strategies have in common a gesture of detection, which celebrates the inductive approach. It is by the signs that they can recognise the forces, by the manifest details–detectives cannot work without traces, no matter whether they are detectives of the physical or of the metaphysical. In this sense mythic rings of a conspiracy against Black men and white women that only Reed, with his enormous post-rational leaps of causality, could devise-and only detective LaBas, the leading occult troubleshooter in the country could solve.
Louisiana Red Corporation is a criminal mail-order house specialising in juice boxes, black record companies and hard drugs. The novel chapters are narrated by a black minstrel Chorus who holds an old grudge against an actress starring in Antigone who once upstaged his act, and the dialogues of some street people Moochers named such as Andy,
Kingfish and their moralistic compatriot Amos, a loyal Worker for Solid Gumbo. Yellings’ was eliminated and a black Mammy in love with a white man is no more a mystery than the conclusion of any Greek drama or super- detective story, even though there will always be Louisiana Red. Reed’s hoodoo has a wickedly funny vitality that undermines white European ideology. Ironically, Reed’s narratology seem to have given too much emphasis to inductive notions reminiscent of the physical sciences, consider that Reed’s narrative gesture also correlates with that of the mythologies, and that it is precisely the original status of knowledge which is different in myth and in history.
BLACK LITERARY TRADITION AND ITS RELATIONSHIP OF WESTERN LITERARY FORMS
Reed’s next Neo-hoodoo novel Flight to Canada is a playful reflection on the black literary tradition and its relationship of western literary forms. It is a wildly comic novel that reverses a number of the genre’s formulas, in particular the association of freedom with the movement from south to north. The narrator, Raven Quickskill, is an escaped slave who has returned south to tell the story of Uncle Robin. The second half of the novel continues to alternate between scenes in the North with Raven and scenes on the plantation with Swille. Flight to Canada is a conventional novel. The characters do not belong to a world resembling everyday reality.
The major plot of Flight to Canada involves the escape of Raven Quickskill from his owner, Massa Arthur Swille, and Swille’s efforts to capture Quickskill. The historical Canada is the eventual destination where Quickskill and other slaves wish to arrive when they run away Virginia, but this historical Canada is not the heaven slaves to think and pray. Yet in the face of the depressing stories about Canada from his friend Leech field, Carpenter, Cato and 40’s, Quickskill will not relinquish his dream. For him, Canada is personified beyond the physical plane – it is a metaphor for happiness, be it evil, death, art and liberation in the novel.
Hoodoo time is also liberally dispersed throughout the novel by the usage of contemporary indices. The opening of the novel, which is the poem ‘Flight to Canada,’ mixes the time of the novel (the 1860s) with the present time. The poem also serves as a synopsis of the action prior to the beginning of the narrative in chapter one. This chapter opens with Raven reflecting “on the writing of the poem: Quickskill” (FC 3 – 5). Later, Cato arms the female slaves to monitor the male slaves, who are excited over the escape of 40s,
Leechfield, and Quick skill. Cato says, “They’ll keep order. They’ll dismember them niggers with horrifying detail” (FC 56). This is an extra – textual reference to the episodes in Gayle Jones’ Corregidora (1973), in which black men were pictured as brutes and brutalised by black women.
Quickskill reflects on The Man Who Cried I Am (1971), by John A. Williams as an indication of how titles tell the tale of the black man’s sojourn in America, and how far that tale has advanced as indicated by the progression of titles, from Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin: The Man who was A Thing (1852), Half A Man by Mary White Overton, (1910) and finally William’s book in 1971.
SEEN AND UNSEEN FORCES OF HOODOO POWER
As in The Last Days of Louisiana Red Hoodoo also surface in Flight to Canada as a corporeal force. In chapter one, Quickskill asks himself if it is Hoodoo who is writing the poem Flight to Canada and if it is Hoodoo who punishes Stowe for stealing the plot of Uncle Tom’s Cabin form Josiah Henson, an escaped slave. Stowe is quoted as saying that ‘God wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ (FC 11); Quickskill asks, ‘Which God? Some gods will mount anything’ (FC 11).
Later, Swille anthropomorphises Hoodoo as a strong, real influence carried by blacks who have the United States under a spell. Finally, Uncle Robin says that it is the power of Hoodoo which has allowed him to triumph over Swille in the end. In response to Aunt Judy’s assertion that the deception of Swille is an Christian Uncle Robin responds:
I’ve about had it with this Christian. I mean, it can stay, but it’s going to have to stop being so bossy. I’d like to bring the old cults back. This Christian isn’t going to work for us. It’s for desert people. Grey, arid, cold. It’s a New Mexico religion. There’s not a cloud there often, and when they do come, it looks like judgment. Sure was lively out in the woods when they had them horn cults, blacks dressed up like Indians. Everybody could act a fool, under controlled conditions. (FC 171)
Aside from its concept of time, Hoodoo is principally used in this novel as a kind of force which gives the African American protagonists the strength to be direct in the face of seemingly hopeless situations. It becomes a kind of faith which sustains and uplifts without at the same time
necessarily degrading those toward whom it is in opposition. Hoodoo is also the unseen force behind Lincoln’s Plunge into the Civil War and his signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The non – fictional Lincoln is portrayed as a man who, at best, was ambiguous about the quality of African Americans.
At one point in the novel, Cato attempts to explainQuickskill’s poem, Flight to Canada: “it does not have no redeeming qualities, it is bereft of any sort of precede resistance, is cute and unexpurgated (FC 52). Swille, unimpressed, simply says:
Spare me the cotton. Stuffing, Cato. No one’s interested in your critical abilities and you know what they did in the old days to the messenger who brought bad news.” Cato is hurt by this: “But, Mr. Swille, you sent me to school for that. To be critical about things. (FC 53)
In Cato’s case, being critical without historical perspective this causes his observation to exist within the framework of possibility bounded by current events. Transcendence beyond current event occurs only as a function of what Cato has been socialised to believe as possible by his master and illegitimate father, Arthur Swille. Cato is neither free nor literate, they gibbed him stands as an ironic affirmation of his status as a slave. When a member of an oppressed racial minority decides not to idealise reality based on their own history that individual finds ingenious and always brutal ways to support the status quo. The tradition of which the educated Cato is a part sometimes finds its contemporary to regard in academia, where African American occupy privileged positions (certainly in comparison to the majority of African Americans) not unlike those of the house slaves, Mammy Barracuda and Cato. To be sure, these privileged positions do not insure a consciousness like that of house slaves.
William Julius Williams, Adolph Reed, Jr., and a host of others variously condemn affirmative action programs and almost any attempt at empowerment of African American along racial lines. In the tradition of materialist social scientists who define options in accordance with the seen forces of history, Williams asserts that economic class is the primary determiner of life chances among African Americans. His causal exhortation to blacks is to assume the obligations of citizenship. His argument is that Jesse Jackson’s run for the presidency is hopeless. Ultimately, harmful because Jackson will act as a focal point for black concerns and thereby relieve white candidates of the need to speak to those concerns. Essentially,
he argues that because Jackson is not assured of victory he should not run for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. At the very least, this interpretation of current events ignores the dialectic of struggle within African American history. It reflects with examples of individuals posing the impossible, be it ending slavery or eating where one wants to, in the face of odds that, at the very least, seem objectively insurmountable.
For black neoconservatives, black empowerment proceeds along a path defined by those outside the African American experience. It is a static back drop that holds no sway in current politics. One imagines blacks posing in front of one specific historical backdrop to illustrate whatever dramatic historical moment expediency demands, and quite significantly never knowing any motivational connection between themselves and that back drop. The proper socialisation of the slave is not only concerns the obvious manifestations of history but also, and quite profoundly, the more subtle manifestations of people’s history as illustrated in their religion and social customs.
In The Terrible Twos (1982) Reed uses a contemporary setting to attack the Reagan administration and exploitative nature of the American economic system. The novel is a comic-mythological tour de force, uniting elements of our culture’s Christmas story-Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the legend of St. Nicholas, the commercial street-corner Santa Clause into a bizarre satire on greed, racism and inhumanity. Reed chides the United States of the 1980’s as a mindless, grasping two-year old, a resources, hope, and compassion, hiding behind a phony costume of charity and concern. Nance Saturday is Reed’s African American detective, sets out to discover St. Nicholas’s place of exile.
The Terrible Threes are not in the not-so-distant future mostly to undress the Reagan years. The detective, Nance Saturday, who gets lost in the thick plots, remains aloof from the madness of trying to make it in the new white, and becomes celibacy out of a fear of infection. Neo-Hoodooism itself has been pushed offstage entirely by a sort of Gnostic (having mystical knowledge spiritual) sect of questionable sincerity. Characters include President Dean Clift, a former model become-President because he is manipulability by Big Oil. Nance Saturday, black and sexy sleuth on the trial of the real Santa; and Jamaica Queens, a sensual reporter who penetrates the inner Sanctum of the Nicolaites (those who would restore Saint Nicholas to
the church) only to discover Black Peter, everyone’s favourite hoodoo man and wizard.
In The Terrible Twos and The Terrible Threes, Reed discovers his hoodoo trickster Black Peter in what appears at first an unlikely source, a major stream of European mythology and legend. Black Peter, a servant who, in the legend of Saint Nicholas, originally “carried Nicholas’s bags” (TWOS 81), is transformed into the trickster through a recuperation of two pictures. The first shows Black Peter in a jester’s cap with its rooster’s comb:
“An illustration of Saint Nicholas, but peeking from behind him is a cox-combed black figure with a bunch of rods sticking out of a pouch he carries on his back. Black Peter!”. (TWOS 121)
As phallic images, the rooster’s comb and the erect rods also link Black Peter to Blue Coal, the ithyphallic deity of The Last Days of Louisiana Red. The second picture, from a Moscow art gallery, shows Saint Nicholas exorcising a devil, but devil, a “tiny black creature with long body and a big nose and a rooster’s crown,” (TWOS 121) is another version of Black Peter as trickster. Through this examination of the transformation of Santa Claus into a major icon of Western enterprise, Reed not only recovers the figure of Black Peter, but he finds a connection to the Hoodoo spirit world by pursuing the icon’s earliest features in European mythology as he relates Christmas to the “dreadful Winter solstice when the undead, the half dead, and the near dead roamed the world” (TWOS 120-121). A major point made through this examination is that the Hoodoo trickster is omnipresent and irrepressible, something the narrator underscores: “The Americans would soon find out what the Dutch, French, and English had learned before. It’s hard to prevent Black Peter from going where he wants to go” (THREES 131).
Reed demonstrates this major point about the irrepressibility of this trickster by organising The Terrible Twos around a modern Black Peter, a ventriloquist with red dreadlocks who displays his power through Hoodoo. Black Peter gives abundant evidence of his Hoodoo power through a dramatic and continued subversion of oppressive authority. First, in a debate with the leader of the Nicolaites, a Christian sect, he astonishes the audience by “using the exact tone and inflection of his opponent’s voice” (TWOS 59), wins the debate, and thereby becomes the sect’s new leader. Throughout, Reed uses the Hoodoo trickster to present a merciless satire of white infantilism pandered to by greedy bosses whose aim is to make each day a
profitable Christmas and in a particularly subversive image, Reed transforms the familiar sight of Saint Nicholas astride a white horse entering Amsterdam into one in which the black servant as trickster changes roles with his master.
THE STYLE OF RHETORICAL WORK
Reed’s next Neo-Hoodoo novel’s title Reckless Eyeballing not only refers Ball’s play and Reed’s wildly satirical view of American life, but also recalls one of the accusations against Emmett Till, the young Chicago black who was murdered in Mississippi in 1953, for looking and whistling at a white woman. As the novel opens, Ball has written a new play, also called “Reckless Eyeballing”, that he hopes will appease powerful New York white feminists and their black women supporters.
Critics have failed to account adequately for Ishmael Reed’s Reckless Eyeballing, and generally dismiss it as less interesting than his more controversial early writing. This novel seems more straight forward in the plots and messages, and much less experimental in method. However, this apparent clarity is part of a complex and innovative style. One might characterise this style as “rhetorical” in the broadest and most pervasive sense-that is, its overall narrative strategies at the level of plot, theme and character are constructed primarily on the way the audience can read and even misread the novel. Reed broadens the definition of the rhetorical aspects of the literary text as part of a larger attempt to reformulate how his own works relate to the African American tradition.
Critics have noted that African American writers often are particularly aware of their precursors and tradition. Reed, however, not only carefully situates himself in relation to tradition in the abstract, but also anticipates in the novel’s plot and structures the reactions of actual readers who share that tradition only in a problematic way. Indeed, in Reed’s fiction this problematic reception of the work becomes the primary content of the novel. The implications of this move force the reader to reconsider how one can trace the African American tradition and to what degree that tradition can remain independent of the readings given it by mainstream American literary culture. Though, to explore such rhetorical workings in one particular novel is Reckless Eyeballing.
Critics and reviewers unanimously agree that Ishmael Reed is assaulting feminism in this novel. His protagonist, Ian Ball, is called a notorious sexist, and yet readers’ are invited to suffer with Ball during his
persecution at the hands of powerful women in the theatre world. When Reed climatically summarises Ball’s victimisation by revealing him as two- headed man, he seems to be using that common African American trope of black “double-consciousness”. This trope defines black consciousness as split into two identities, one acceptable to and partially created by the white hegemony, the other more authentic but disturbing to that same mainstream society.
It is an extraordinarily timely novel that depicts in his usual complex of penetrating satire, surrealism, allegory and farce in the central sources of confusion and pain confronting black man in contemporary society. Reed has insisted here that black experience cannot be the symbols and the form. In this case, the detective formula and the search for selfhood motif (the latter virtually synonymous with serious black writing) but then demolishes these structures by introducing his own distinctive blend of discontinuity and humor. Reed, however, uses the detective story to expose the limitations of Western metaphysics. He wants the reader to know that the traditional detective story is not innocent, that it is a construct, and that it endorses Western metaphysics. In classic form the detective novel requires a concept of time and history in which past events can be frozen in order to reconstruct those events into a teleological (natural phenomena) driven narrative thread leading from a mystery – laden crime to a resolution.
Reed envisions the multi-culture as a sort of collective consciousness to be created through cultural exchanges between individuals and groups which are revitalise not only their individual experiences but their culture as well. His kaleidoscopic surveys of history, art, and religion in his literature are based on the general conviction that a diversity of realities is more of an asset than a liability in furthering self-understanding as well as tolerance of the family of men. But more specifically, those surveys are organised made by ethnic groups within the United States to the country as a whole, contributors which Reed feels have not been given the recognitions they deserve by the majority of the American populace past or present.
As an African American writer, one of his literary objectives is to present the cultural heritage of African Americans as a rich combination of traditions and influences which in turn have contributed than is traditionally recognized. But his literature also documents Asian and Indian Americans whose cultural inheritances have been largely overshadowed by the
European value system prevailing in the United States. To sum up, yet in these novels, throughout this paper, I have analysed that Reed was offering what can be called a postmodern analysis of the United States as a nation, by bringing to light the shaky foundations of the integrity. Through an analysis of the way point of view and time shape character development within the framework of the relationship posed that the novel’s structural integrity as well as its quite formidable dimension as social commentary. Reed’s novels focus most on social circumstances which inhibit the development of Blacks in American society and this chapter also analysed the characteristics of hoodoo detective in Reed’s novels.
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