Author: kanisha

When characters mean everything and nothing

So, I think I want to clarify my comments from today’s class. Upon further reflection, I think when I said “I think we’re overestimating the stakes of the book,” I mean specifically that I think there might be too much emphasis being put on trying to determine definitively whether or not Oedipa’s paranoia is justified. I think that I didn’t have a clear sight of what the stakes of the book actually were when I posed the question to the class, and agree with the answer we’ve landed on: that there’s a sort of transformation, or struggle, between modern and postmodern interrogations of selfhood being depicted. However, I think part of that journey requires as readers to accept the disorienting state of being unsure, and never gaining confirmation as to whether or not Oedipa is justified, 1) because our knowledge of events in the book are based almost solely on Oedipa’s interpretation of the world which we already interpret as potentially unstable and 2) like I said in this class, the experiences mirrors and tongue-in-cheek comments on the experience of interpreting the signs & meanings in a book and trying to realign them into a meaningful narrative.

Furthermore, I think I feel more confident in this agnosticism toward the categorization, or, rather, validation, of Oedipa’s paranoia after reading the Woloch for this week. As we reach the final chapters of the book, we see Oedipa begin to withdraw from others, become resigned in her search for understanding the mysteries of the Tristero, and ponder how valid her search is herself. I think a bit of the mission gets lost if we, pessimistically, assert that “things have to be meaningful and plot has to happen because she’s a character in a book” like we did in class. I mean, this is true, but which things are meaningful I think is the more salient point. I think that’s why, at the end of the novel, we don’t really have the mystery solved. We have a lot of historical facts about the Tristero, but we don’t know how or why Oedipa discovered it this way, or if she truly discovered it at all and hallucinated many of the coincidences. In order to effectively simulate the breakdown in communication and fragmentation of meaning—and Oedipa’s resistance to it—we first have to be convinced that meaning can be ambiguous, even in a book, or at least be convinced that Oedipa can earnestly believe that meaning is ambiguous within the diegetic world. I think this this process for the reader necessitates the dissolution of the dialectical framework that Woloch was talking about: to understand Oedipa’s transformation, we must rely “on reference [that] takes place through structure” (17, emphasis in-text).

I think Woloch’s larger point about the intersection of character-spaces also lends another way of viewing the many people there are mentioned in Lot 49. While we focalize through Oedipa, she meets so many people, some that we return to multiple times, that it becomes somewhat dizzying. The more characters the meet, the more expanded the universe of the Tristero becomes. And all that expansion feels contained or destroyed again when Oedipa has the final, crushing realization that every entryway, and note that these entryways are specifically other characters, into the Tristero also has something to do with Inverarity and his properties. By the end of the book, other people are Oedipa’s “proof,” not tangible items that she interacts with. What does this mean? Well, in order to validate, or invalidate, this Tristero business for herself, she deeply relies on her interpretation of the reactions and investment of others in the same mystery. People are rife with meaning to Oedipa because the artifacts of the Tristero mystery have loss their signification and importance. For me, to use Woloch’s terminology, every character in Lot 49 explodes. I think that this serves the purpose to distract from the mystery plot, but this form of distraction reverts to the pseudo-allegorical for both the reader and Oedipa because their sheer presence and proximity to the world of the Tristero leaves them vulnerable to an infinity of interpretation and reinterpretation that never gets legitimized in the text because the entire plot is never legitimized in a final way.

What do all the signs mean

I think one of the most helpful points from the Melley reading was his discussion of the source of paranoia is the confusion about how to interpret the meaning of any given sign and its context. He writes that it is impossible to confirm a conspiracy because of the “paradoxical assumption that any message one can easily detect must not be the truest message of the text.” This was helpful for orienting my experience of the text because, as soon as I started the book, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of information that was given to us. However, what I’ve gathered is that there’s a mystery to figure out. Which, again, is interesting because, in light of the Melley, we are now forced to interact with multiple forms of paranoia in the text and challenge whether this is actually “paranoia” in the unfounded sense or not. Not only is there the PPS, who have come up with their own mailing system through The Scope but also Oedipa herself and her quest to understand Pierce Inverarity’s belongings. We watch Oedipa’s interest pique and her slow dove-tailing of both the world of PPS and Inverarity’s estate over the course of the novel. From the stamp collection to the alternative mail system, and finally the play, The Courier’s Tragedy. We finally see Oedipa give into development by watching her gradually buy into the idea that there is a potential conspiracy. It’s really satisying to go back and read the book up through this moment at the end of chapter three when she reacts to the Trystero reveal and then goes to the director to discuss it. I think there is a clear throughline between what Oedipa interprets and finds in reality up until this point (for example, nailing the motel worker’s paranoia of showing attraction to her). We can see her challenge her interpretive skills in the scene where she believes that she may have to report Mucho’s letter to the postmaster, and finally the degradation her faith in her ability to interpret in chapter three by diving into the conspiracy.