Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025173, Mon, 10 Mar 2014 13:58:45 -0400

Re: RES: [NABOKV-L] QUERY: Signs and Symbols
Jansy, I didn't conclude that the son is necessarily dead. If the dead can send messages, why not the living?

Date: Mon, 10 Mar 2014 10:27:45 -0300
From: jansy.nabokv-L@AETERN.US
Subject: Re: [NABOKV-L] RES: [NABOKV-L] QUERY: Signs and Symbols

RES: [NABOKV-L] QUERY: Signs and SymbolsJansy Mello: Following the short description sent by Y.Leving [http://bloomsburyliterarystudies.typepad.com/continuum-literary-studie/2012/05/anatomy-of-a-short-story-nabokovs-puzzles-codes-signs-and-symbols.html] 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 SENT." 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 writings)…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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