The problem of reality
Two parts of the reading stood out to me, both of them reference reality. The first is when she encounters the uncooperative children around their imaginary fire, and the second is her husband Mucho high on LSD.
The problem of external reality is persistent and obvious within this novel. Oedipa is trying to find the truth when she stumbles upon the potential mail conspiracy (Tristero). She obsessively looks for clues and connections to make sense of the mystery, yet at the same time is suspicious of what she finds and whether it is real. The reality focused on thus far in the novel is based on a concern for objective external reality/truth: what is really happening in the world. Melley claims we do not have access to this – in this novel, it is also never confirmed for readers or Oedipa whether Oedipa has been pursuing truth or her overactive imagination.
In Chapter 5, personal reality becomes a focus. For one, Oedipa’s observations become more feverish, more signs (the muted postal horn) pop up around every corner, and it becomes increasingly hard to tell what is reality to even Oedipa who floats through the whole dream like trip around the city. She seems to hallucinate, suggesting a crisis in personal reality. The concern seems to be less what is happening externally in the world, but more what is reality for Oedipa.
The first clear indication I see of this is when stumbles upon the children in Golden Gate Park who were “dreaming the gathering” around “an imaginary fire, and needed nothing but their own unpenetrted sense of community” (96). They are engaged in a personal/ communal reality, highlighted by the “imaginary” fire that exists only to them. Oedipa does something similar when after the children shut her out, she “retaliate[s], stopped believing in them” (96). Oedipa writes off their reality in HER own reality. The less objective of wording “believing” is important because it seems to mean not a judgement on their validity in objective external reality, but what she subjectively and internally conceives as real.
There is a side mention of internal reality with the old sailor she encounters: “It astonished her to think that so much could be lost [with death], even the quantity of hallucination belonging just to the sailor that the world world bear no further trace of” (104). With death, the old sailor’s reality disappears with him. This is referencing a personal internal reality (hallucinations), they only “belong” to him.
Oedipa seems to accept this fragmented form of reality, where all has their own form of reality. She floats through the city, accepting all the different going-ons, taking them as they come. She seems very decentred, perhaps the post-modern self is emerging? It almost seems like her pursuit of conspiracy theory helps with this, as she sees the sign can mean many different things (IA), though conspiracy theory is centred on an idea of one true reality.
However, there is a limit to the fragmentation of reality it seems Oedipa can take. We see this in the form of her husband Mucho. On LSD, his identity has become blurred (as Dr. Hilarius claims happens with LSD “There is me, there are the others… with the LSD, we’re findings, the distinctions begins to vanish” (111)), he seems to take on multiple self as Funch claims: “He’s losing his identity.. is less himself and more generic… He’s a walking assembly of man” (115). Here he means that it seems like Mucho is not one self anymore but many self to the point the original Mucho is lost. As Mucho puts it “Everybody who says the same words is the same person if the spectra are the same only they happen differently in time” (116-117). Mucho has completely torn apart the idea of a personal contained internal self. Instead he has abstracted and fragmented selfhood completely to the universal and separate. He has taken to the extreme a fragmented reality. His self is completely split. Oedipa cannot accept this form of fragmented reality, giving Mucho up for lost (118 the day she left is the last she saw of him).
Why is this the case? I think it is because he has destroyed identity and selfhood. The other fragmented reality does not. There is the claim to be made that in this novel reality is central to identity, that an internal reality has to be centred, even if the external reality can be de-centred, for a coherent identity / self to persist.