Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0016278, Tue, 29 Apr 2008 01:46:19 EDT

Re: SIGNS: Paragraphs 1-3
2nd paragraph. Light does not find fault. People, or God, find fault. To
assert that light finds fault is to fall into the Pathetic Fallacy. Therefore,
if the boy is "deranged in his mind" because he attributes moral agency to
inanimate nature, so is the narrator.

It is not literalism to point this out. The question that troubles me (I
raised it, and it was discussed a little, in December 2004 -- see the Archives
of NABOKV-L -- without final resolution, I think), is this:

If the narrator were to use the first person at any point, we would feel
quite justified in attributing human fallibility and unreliability to him or
her: we would find it a challenge not to be seduced by this unreliability, an
unreliability that would consist partly in his or her blindness or blankness,
but at least partly also in his or her trying to seduce us into not seeing
that he or she was trying to seduce us, as with Hermann, Humbert, Kinbote and
others. This would be the central challenge of being a good reader.

When the narrator does not use the first person, as in "Signs and Symbols",
are we "permitted" -- do we permit ourselves -- to ask "How is this narrator
blind or blamk? How is he or she trying to mislead us, intentionally or
unwittingly?" in the same way?

I find it impossibly claustrophobic, limiting and false to read this story
without permitting myself the same questioning of the narrator as I would
permit myself if he or she explicitly used the first person. In permitting myself
this questioning, and encouraging others to engage in it too, I am arguing
for more hermeneutics, not less; less literalism, not more. Is it not
literal-minded, indeed simple-minded, to accept without question the attribution of
"fault-finding light", or "incurably deranged in his mind"?

Of course, this question of whether to go along with the Pathetic Fallacy in
the narration has been raised by others, such as William Carroll, in his
article "Nabokov's Signs and Symbols" (Proffer, C. R., A Book of Things about
Vladimir Nabokov, 1974: 203- 217), and Brian Boyd, in Vladimir Nabokov: The
American Years, 1st edition, 1991: 117-119.

Alexander Dolinin, in his essay "The Signs and Symbols in Nabokov's 'Signs
and Symbols'" (_http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/dolinin2.htm_
(http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/dolinin2.htm) ), asserts that such a dialogue, or
dialectic, or struggle between reader and narrator is not at all what Nabokov
meant when he referred to his story "Signs and Symbols" as having an
"inside", "a second (main) story ... woven into, or placed behind, the superficial
semitransparent one", as in "The Vane Sisters". But is it not precisely such a
dialectic between reader and narrator (a sorting out of who is responsible
for what) that is at the heart of "The Vane Sisters"? The primary difference is
in the narrator's use of the first person in the latter story.

I should like to know what good readers and re-readers think.

Anthony Stadlen

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