NABOKV-L post 0010682, Thu, 2 Dec 2004 09:42:19 -0800

Fwd: Re: Dolinin's article on "Signs & Symbols"
Dear Don and list,

I've read A. Dolinin's article on "Signs and Symbols" on Zembla and have
a few remarks concerning this interesting reading of the story as
another version of the "otherworld message" (among similar messages,
abounding in Nabokov's fiction).

A. Dolinin's reading is based on the Russian Formalists's distinction
between the "siuzhet" and "fabula", which means that the hidden, "main"
story (i.e. "fabula") is the "true" story, or, otherwise, "the sum total
of interconnected textual events (or motifs) in chronological and causal
order". First, the very relevance of the distinction has been put
under question many times by now. Could it be that Nabokov's story just
exemplifies the dichotomy? Second, Russian Formalists' views on siuzhet
and fabula are more complicated and less clear than Tomahsevsky's
pedagogical definition.

I used V. Shklovsky's article "Roman tajn" (The Mystery Novel) in my
own text on Nabokov's visual poetics (Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, N
54, 2002, pp. ; the early version
<>) to explain the relations
between the "implicit" and the "explicit" story (the stories which often
change places) in Nabokov's mature fiction. According to Shklovsky,
multiple divergencies and convergencies in parallel PLOT LINES produce
a "mystery" in the mystery novel (e.g. in Radcliffe or in Dickens). The
denouement reveals the whole network of these connections.

There is a similar construction in many Nabokov's texts, yet the final
"explanation" or "fabula" is missing, whereas the classical mystery or
detective novel discloses at least some part of the "fabula". Actually a
text, which would reveal "the sum total of interconnected textual
events (or motifs) in chronological and causal order", does not exist in
the world literature.

Of course, the "hidden story" has a special status thanks to its
implicit nature. Bitsilli and E. Naiman call it "allegory", G.
Barabtarlo calls it "an invisible over-plot", P. Tammi and L. Toker
speak of the author's control over the text (or, following in D. Cohn's
footsteps, the "struggle over narrative control"), I wrote about the
metanarrative status of the hidden plot line. Yet I don't think the
critics who "deny the existence of the main story of question its
relevance" are absolutely wrong: an uncertainty and oscillation between
several plot lines make a charm of Nabokov's fiction. By the way, the
very narrative form of the "circle" Nabokov mentions in his letter to K.
A. White points at the potential "infinity" of reading.

What is wrong, I think, is an intention to produce a "monopolistic
interpretation". Thus, according to Dolinin, "the idea of seeing a
model for the reader's response in the boy's pan-semiotic approach to
reality [...] should be rejected from the very start" since "referential
mania" is limited to natural phenomena (clouds, trees, sun flecks,
pools, air, mountains) and random artifacts (glass surfaces, coats in
store windows) but "excludes real people from the conspiracy". This kind
of "pan-semiotic" interpretation has a long tradition. I don't see why
should it be rejected. I've touched upon a possibility of reading "Signs
and Symbols" in the light of the "Umwelt" theory in my article on the
observer (Sign Systems Studies 30.2). The "Umwelt" (as well as Leibniz'
/monad/) is a closed individual world inaccessible to other similar
worlds (i.e. beings): the surrounding world enters the Umwelt only in
the semiotic guise,i.e. the difference between "natural" and the
"unnatural" is erased.
In conclusion: I think reading is a "jouissance" and knowledge grows
through accumulation.

Best wishes,
Marina Grishakova,
Tartu University

Donald B. Johnson wrote:

>EDNOTE. "Signs & Symbols" has been the topic of more articles than any other VN
>story. Now Alexander Dolinin, one of Nabokov's most acute scholars, offers a
>new treatment. Highly recommended.
>----- Forwarded message from -----
> Date: Fri, 26 Nov 2004 09:46:31 -0800
> From: "Donald B. Johnson" <>
>Quoting Jeff Edmunds <>:
>> From Jeff Edmunds <>:
>>Dolinin, Alexander. "The Signs and Symbols in Nabokov's 'Signs and Symbols.'"
>>See the news page for the link.
>>Thank you.
>----- End forwarded message -----

----- End forwarded message -----