Popular Culture Review Vol. 28, No. 2, Summer 2017 - Page 13

anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss refers to in The Savage Mind (1962) as “bricolage” and which Reed famously defined in his 1970 literary manifesto as Neo-Hoodooism. Often cited as a defining trait of postmodernist fiction, bricolage is the practice of using whatever is at hand--in Reed’s case seemingly any facet of U.S. or global culture--and putting them together to create a new cultural (literary) artifact. According to Levi-Strauss, the practitioner of this process, the “bricoleur,” embodies the “savage mind,” one who cleverly and cobbles together pre-existing things to improvise something new and unique. While Levi-Strauss’s concept does suggest the convoluted amalgamation of cultural influences in The Terrible Twos, in his 1970 “Neo-Hoodoo Manifesto” Reed formulated his own “postmodernist” aesthetic, rooted not in French structuralist theory, but rather in the history and culture of the African Caribbean. Neo-Hoodooism de-centers European and U.S. literary and cultural histories by foregrounding the syncretic cultures of African Caribbean, a “contact zone” which Reed identifies with spirits (loas), magic, nature, music, history, freedom and creativity. Just as Alejo Carpentier, in his 1949 literary manifesto “On the Marvelous Real in America,” rejects European surrealism in favor of the organic “magical reality” of the African Caribbean, Reed’s aesthetic highlights the reified and monolithic nature of Euro-centric U.S. cultural traditions. But Reed, again much like Carpentier, does not simplistically reject European and Euro-American cultural traditions; rather, he “calls for the creation of a new cultural field at once appropriative and multivocal and constantly in flux.” 4 While Neo-Hoodoo emerged at the “confluence of African-Haitian vodoun and the music and dance of slave culture,” Reed envisions it in 1970 as a cultural movement through which new artist-priests “are building our own American ‘pantheon’” or “loas (Spirits)” from the resources of all people, not just African Americans. 5 In The Terrible Twos, the character Black Peter, an African American street performer who joins the Nicholites, embodies this syncretic, multicultural and historically- informed ethos. The is character is based on a Moorish assistant to St. Nicholas first introduced to the St. Nicholas legend in the mid-nineteenth century. The original Black Peter was drawn from earlier versions of the St. Nicholas legend which alluded to a companion, possibly the Devil as slave, who accompanied Nicholas. Although Black Peter still plays a prominent role 4 Mielke, 4. This essay provides an illuminating examination of the Neo-Hoodoo aesthetic in relation to women characters in Reed’s novel Flight to Canada (1976). 5 Mielke, 4. 8