NABOKV-L post 0010688, Thu, 2 Dec 2004 15:47:23 -0800

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


----- Forwarded message from gshiman@optonline.net -----
Date: Thu, 02 Dec 2004 18:36:52 -0500
From: George Shimanovich <gshiman@optonline.net>


> The woman buys fish when it is already dark, whereas a traditional
Jewish woman would have prepared the Sabbath meal long before dusk



>> but the Jewish religion didn't mean anything for him: he would never
celebrate Shabbat and his calendar was Christian and/or secular



For the sake of the truth (which is a remote form of 'reality') let me
comment that educated Jewish people of Russian origin have more then
'zero' connection with Jewish Religion. The characterization 'didn't
mean anything' may apply to some (in Academia?) but it is not typical -
significant number of 'educated Jews from Russia', celebrate High Jewish
Holidays and Passover quite diligently, - especially as Soviet years
wear out. Thanks to Soloveichik connection we know 1) that Sols are from
Byelorussia were entire communities were annihilated by Germans and
local population in 1941-1942, 2) that Sol's are probably Soloveichiks
themselves and daughter of Rebecca Borisovna married into Sol's family.
Let's not be too harsh on Mr. and Mrs. Sol. They did not desecrate
anything. Especially since, quite fittingly, VN placed in quotes reality
- not the truth.

-----Original Message-----
From: Vladimir Nabokov Forum [mailto:NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU] On
Behalf Of Donald B. Johnson
Sent: Thursday, December 02, 2004 4:28 PM
To: NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU
Subject: Dolinin reply to Staden re "Signs & Symbols"



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 continuation21 <http://www.libraries.psu.edu/nabokov/#FOOT21>
--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 -----