Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025171, Mon, 10 Mar 2014 10:27:45 -0300

Re: RES: [NABOKV-L] QUERY: Signs and Symbols
Jansy Mello: Following the short description sent by Y.Leving
I extracted the following: "Why, we wonder, fruit jellies for a 'deranged'
son? Given the story's title, naturally we might take a seemingly random
detail like fruit jellies to symbolize something greater in the story."

Frances Assa went after this greater hidden sense: "I think none of us can
get away from the sense that there is a message imbedded in the names of the
jellies in "Signs and Symbols." The mistaken telephone call for "Charlie"
and the mother's response (turn 0 not O) gives us more clues[ ]The
correspondence between Nabokov and Edmund Wilson show that both were
intensely interested in the "beat" of words. Morse code is also a kind of
beat. Using an on-line Morse Code translator I entered the dot or dash sound
of the beat of each jelly.
(http://morsecode.scphillips.com/jtranslator.html) Thus, for the word
"apricot" the "a" syllable, the "pri" syllable and the "cot" syllable of
"apricot" can be sounded out as three longish equal beats (dash dash dash)
or possibly three short equal beats (dot dot dot). 3 dashes translates from
Morse to English as the letter O, while 3 dots translates as S. If we heed
the mother in the story the O should cancel out to zero, leaving only the S
option. Similarly, "grape" translates to either T (dash) or E (dot). "beech
plum" , as dash dot becomes N "quince" as dot becomes E, as dash, T "crab
apple" , dash dot dot, is D, or as two words, crab is O which cancels out,
leaving Apple which is I. One obvious reading of these 5 letters is "I

What an amazing result: "I sent" - since it seems to fit perfectly into the
young man's illness: his communication is absolutely self-referential and it
brings no other message besides the message. The (1964) phrase by Marshall
McLuhan that "the medium is the message" is perfectly rendered in this case
(and, in part, also in "The Vane Sisters" and in many other Nabokov

Y.Leving's excellent link proceeds as follows: "As Nabokov's tale unravels,
it is revealed that the son is in the sanatorium for his "Referential
mania," an invented term described by a fictional doctor as causing a
patient to imagine "that everything happening around him is a veiled
reference to his personality and existence." For a person suffering
Referential mania, "Pebbles or stains or sun flecks form patterns
representing in some awful way messages which he must intercept. Everything
is a cipher and of everything he is the theme." Nabokov's inclusion of an
illness symptomatized by over-analysis calls to mind the reader's search for
deeper meaning and symbolism in literature. Are we, as careful readers
searching for the meaning in a detail like "fruit jellies," suffering from
our own literary form of Referential mania, the search for symbolic meaning
in everything around us? [ ] Nabokov leaves it up to us to determine the
outcome of the call, whether we decide the follow his symbols, and how
symbols in the text may or may not be interpreted depending on our own
degree of 'Referential mania'."

Prompted by E. Hyman's conjectures relating S&S and "The Vane Sisters," I
was led to the impression that, if there are any spiritual messages in S&S,
these must not be searched as signals between the son and his parents. Now,
after reading the paragraphs reproduced above, I was even more convinced
about that. Few commentators stress the fact that 'referential mania' is
"an invented term described by a fictional doctor." But it was this fact
that convinced me that readers shouldn't at all suffer from "different
degrees of it" in their interpretation, unless they were unduly absorbed
into the author's short-story (thereby suffering from a "literary form of
referential mania".).

Besides, the author is quite insistent that this illness (as in the
delusions of persecution) forces the patient to interpret everything by
placing himself in the central point of the entire universe. If we are after
indications of spirit communication from the afterlife, this boy wouldn't be
our wisest choice to start our investigation - unless we change our
perspective. Instead of considering that he is dead and sending messages to
his parents from the spirit world (although "synchronicity" can explain the
ringing phone at the time of his death), we might examine what might have
been true spiritual manifestations among the signs and symbols that plagued
him in his illness.

What do you, Fran, and other Nablers think about this suggestion?

Jansy Mello

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