NABOKV-L post 0010687, Thu, 2 Dec 2004 13:28:21 -0800

Subject
Dolinin reply to Staden re "Signs & Symbols"
Date
Body


----- Forwarded message from dolinin@wisc.edu -----
Date: Thu, 02 Dec 2004 13:50:35 -0600
From: dolinin <dolinin@wisc.edu>

I am immensely grateful to Dr. Staden for his comments on my article. When
I discuss "Signs and Symbols" with my American students, they often raise
similar questions about Shabbat and Saturday as the "sixth day" of the
week. It seems to me that the details noticed by Dr. Staden (the woman buys
and cooks fish when it is already dark, whereas a traditional Jewish woman
would have prepared the Sabbath meal long before dusk, etc) show that the
couple are non-practicing Jews who had actually lost their religion. It
is a phenomenon typical for educated Russian Jews of their generation. My
grandfather who was born in 1880 in a shtetl left his Jewish community
beyond the pale when he was about 20 years old, studied abroad and in St.
Petersburg, got his University degree and eventually became a free-thinker
with very strong connections to Russian culture and customs. He never
rejected (or tried to hide) his Jewish ethnic origins and because of that
was a target of numerous anti-semitic attacks in the USSR but the Jewish
religion didn't mean anything for him: he would never celebrate Shabbat and
his calendar was Christian and/or secular. Most of the Jews Nabokov knew in
the emigration, I think, belonged to the same type and, portraying the
Jewish couple in "Signs and Symbols," he was true to reality.

Alexander Dolinin


At 09:54 AM 12/2/04 -0800, you wrote:
>EDNOTE. Dr. Stadlen is a prominent psychoanalyst and academic. He offers a
>novel
>angle here that I don't recall seeing before, although Maxim Shrayer has
>done a
>lot of work on Nabokov and Jewish issues.
>
>----- Forwarded message from STADLEN@aol.com -----
> Date: Thu, 2 Dec 2004 06:21:01 EST
> From: STADLEN@aol.com
>
>Alexander Dolinin's essay on "Signs and Symbols" seems to me a real
>breakthrough.
>
>Just one point troubles me here, continuing something that always troubled me
>in the story. This Jewish couple don't behave as if Friday evening (and
>Saturday until dusk) is the Sabbath. The woman buys fish when it is already
>dark,
>whereas a traditional Jewish woman would have prepared the Sabbath meal long
>before dusk. True, they have a festive midnight tea which is a real
>celebration
>of their loving transcendence of hopelessness, and this is in the spirit, if
>not the letter, of Shabbat.
>
>But I have always wondered whether Nabokov meant his readers to register
>this. If he was simply unaware of it, or overlooked it, it seems insensitive;
>and
>that does not seem like him. I suspect that this a further problem he is
>setting for the reader. Is their assimilation and apparent alienation from
>religious roots part of the story?
>
>Despite the brilliance of Alexander Dolinin's pioneering interpretation, it,
>too, "jarred" with me when he apparently casually, unreflectingly, called
>Saturday the "sixth day" rather than the seventh (see below).
>
>I am deeply grateful to him for making such sense of this short story that
>has puzzled me so long. But I just wonder if this apparent treatment of the
>Jewish seventh day as if it were merely the Christian or post-Christian
>secular
>sixth is another deliberate device of Nabokov's intended to disconcert the
>reader into discovering a different dimension.
>
>Anthony Stadlen
>
><< In the context of "Signs and Symbols," with its emphasis on numerical
>sequences and patterning, the transmitted six acquires several meaningful
>connections and implications. It should be noted at once that the ciphered
>message
>comes after midnight, when Saturday, the sixth day of the week, has already
>begun. The Holocaust background of the story suggests an association with the
>Star
>of David, a six-pointed symbol that signifies a union of man with a divine
>principle. The cipher obviously alludes to the photo of the boy "aged six
><...>
>when he drew wonderful birds with human hands and feet and suffered from
>insomnia like a grown-up man," which not only evokes his dream of a flight
>and a
>bird-headed Sirin, but also echoes the old man's insomnia during the immediate
>present of the narration. What is even more significant, though, is the
>relation
>of the sixth slot on the ten-digit telephone dial to the set of ten jars and,
>by implication, to the future of the boy and his parents. It parallels the
>sixth, unread "eloquent label" of the series that comes after "crab apple" and
>presumably promises a sweeter continuation21--the next stage of metamorphosis
>that will follow the misery of madness, persecution, old age, and despair. The
>cipher seems to tell the old woman (and the reader) that her fears (and ours)
>for "the fate of tenderness" and love in the world are premature, and that her
>thinking of death as "monstrous darkness" is shortsighted. In other words, it
>informs her (and the reader) of the central event of the fabula--the eventual
>death of the boy, though not as annihilation, the meaningless and empty zero,
>but as transformation, the mystery of rebirth (hence the motive of birthday
>and the "conspicuous" birthmark in the final paragraph), the meaningful,
>albeit
>unnamed "sixth step" in the open, incomplete, unfolding sequence. >>
>
>----- End forwarded message -----
>Alexander Dolinin's essay on "Signs and Symbols" seems to me a real
>breakthrough.
>
>Just one point troubles me here, continuing something that always troubled
>me in the story. This Jewish couple don't behave as if Friday evening (and
>Saturday until dusk) is the Sabbath. The woman buys fish when it is
>already dark, whereas a traditional Jewish woman would have prepared the
>Sabbath meal long before dusk. True, they have a festive midnight tea
>which is a real celebration of their loving transcendence of hopelessness,
>and this is in the spirit, if not the letter, of Shabbat.
>
>But I have always wondered whether Nabokov meant his readers to register
>this. If he was simply unaware of it, or overlooked it, it seems
>insensitive; and that does not seem like him. I suspect that this a
>further problem he is setting for the reader. Is their assimilation and
>apparent alienation from religious roots part of the story?
>
>Despite the brilliance of Alexander Dolinin's pioneering interpretation,
>it, too, "jarred" with me when he apparently casually, unreflectingly,
>called Saturday the "sixth day" rather than the seventh (see below).
>
>I am deeply grateful to him for making such sense of this short story that
>has puzzled me so long. But I just wonder if this apparent treatment of
>the Jewish seventh day as if it were merely the Christian or
>post-Christian secular sixth is another deliberate device of Nabokov's
>intended to disconcert the reader into discovering a different dimension.
>
>Anthony Stadlen
>
><< In the context of "Signs and Symbols," with its emphasis on numerical
>sequences and patterning, the transmitted six acquires several meaningful
>connections and implications. It should be noted at once that the ciphered
>message comes after midnight, when Saturday, the sixth day of the week,
>has already begun. The Holocaust background of the story suggests an
>association with the Star of David, a six-pointed symbol that signifies a
>union of man with a divine principle. The cipher obviously alludes to the
>photo of the boy "aged six <...> when he drew wonderful birds with human
>hands and feet and suffered from insomnia like a grown-up man," which not
>only evokes his dream of a flight and a bird-headed Sirin, but also echoes
>the old man's insomnia during the immediate present of the narration. What
>is even more significant, though, is the relation of the sixth slot on the
>ten-digit telephone dial to the set of ten jars and, by implication, to th
>e future of the boy and his parents. It parallels the sixth, unread
>"eloquent label" of the series that comes after "crab apple" and
>presumably promises a sweeter
>continuation<http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/#FOOT21>21--the next
>stage of metamorphosis that will follow the misery of madness,
>persecution, old age, and despair. The cipher seems to tell the old woman
>(and the reader) that her fears (and ours) for "the fate of tenderness"
>and love in the world are premature, and that her thinking of death as
>"monstrous darkness" is shortsighted. In other words, it informs her (and
>the reader) of the central event of the fabula--the eventual death of the
>boy, though not as annihilation, the meaningless and empty zero, but as
>transformation, the mystery of rebirth (hence the motive of birthday and
>the "conspicuous" birthmark in the final paragraph), the meaningful,
>albeit unnamed "sixth step" in the open, incomplete, unfolding sequence. >>
>
>
>
>

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