NABOKV-L post 0010823, Fri, 17 Dec 2004 18:59:30 -0800

Fwd: Re: Signs and Symbols: Soloveichik

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Date: Fri, 17 Dec 2004 09:22:20 EST

> Returning back to Signs and Symbols, can anyone explain the pattern of
> names: Mrs. Sol (the next door neighbor?) and Dr. Solov (family's doctor)
> surrounding, in the story line, Soloveichik (the one whom daughter of
> Rebecca Borisovna married in Minsk)? Should we believe to scientific monthly
> article (authored by Dr. Brink) and to the parents that real people are
> excluded from the 'referential mania' conspiracy? I could almost believe it
> if not for this chain of names flagging something in the story.

Why should we believe even the first sentence of this story? What does it
mean for someone to be "incurably deranged in his mind"? I ask this in all
seriousness as a psychotherapist, so-called. Someone like Nabokov who writes
and even impersonates, as narrator, what we may loosely, or not so loosely,
call madmen, has to decide, or at least decide not to decide, whether these
persons are responsible agents subject to the moral law, or some kind of
whose actions are not, in a true sense, actions at all, but merely the outcome
of some process gone wrong in the human-looking entity that still bears a
human name. Nabokov meets this challenge magnificently, by making it crystal
clear, both within his fiction (for example, in "Despair", "Lolita" and "Pale
Fire") and outside it (for example, in his preface to "Despair" and in "Strong
Opinions"), that he sees his madmen as moral agents. It is true that, at times,
Nabokov seems less certain of this position, as when he says that Raskolnikov
should be medically examined. But Hermann, Humbert and Kinbote would be of no
interest if they were mere automatons, lacking human autonomy and

So who is this narrator who tells us at the outset that the son in "Signs and
Symbols" is "incurably deranged"? I would not believe this if told it by a
psychiatrist or psychotherapist about a real person. Why should I believe it

Similarly with the young man's allegedly being "inaccessible to normal
minds". If this were true, how could the self-styled "normal minds" know, for
instance, that the "inaccessible" one has "no desires"? Indeed, how could the
learned Dr Brink write his paper about him?

All we can say from the narrator's account is that the young man has been
deposited in the "sanatorium" -- though why, if he is "incurable"? Presumably
because he is an embarrassment (evidently "the Prince" wants him to be there and
is paying). But evidently Aunt Rosa didn't worry about him (although
admittedly this "inaccessib[ility]" is a later development, in the United
because all those she worried about were put to death by the Germans. She
about real things: train accidents, bankruptcies, cancer.

The untrustworthiness of this narrator is apparent from the contradictory
sentences: "He had no desires", and "What he really wanted to do was to tear a
hole in his world and escape".

Who is making these contradictory attributions? The first appears to be the
narrator's endorsement of an attribution by both parents. The second appears to
be the narrator's endorsement of an attribution by the mother, or perhaps the
endorsement of the mother's endorsement of an attribution by the doctor.

Such is the spell of this mere unsubstantiated assertion about the young
man's inaccessibility and incurablity that, as far as I know, nobody has
a simple possible explanation of the third telephone call. It appears to be
easier for people to envisage the young man's posthumously affecting somebody
else's telephone call than to think that he might simply make one himself,
while still alive.

These parents, who supposedly know that their son has no desires although he
is inaccessible to their normal minds, seem curiously uncurious about him.
They do not even ask the nurse how he had tried to kill himself. The mother
merely reflects on what the doctor had told her about the last attempt.

What makes readers so certain that the young man could not have been
uncertain in his "suicide attempts"? If he is such a genius, surely his second
should have succeeded, after the bad luck of a patient stopping his last

Why is it so clear that the young man does not want to come home? Why should
we accept the (unattributed) assertion that he wants to "escape" from the
"world" rather than from incarceration in a "sanatorium"?

Is it not at least possible that he can only get unobserved access to a
telephone after midnight, or that he has escaped from the "sanatorium", or that
has "telepathically" or intuitively or calculatingly realised it may have
started to dawn on his parents (after four years, and after several suicidal
gestures by himself) that he might actually be better off with them?

I know there are other dimensions and depths to this story, but let us as a
precondition "get real" about what goes on in the families of people who are
alleged to be "inaccessible" and "incurably deranged" in their minds.

For those who would like the young man not to have killed himself, and would
prefer the third telephone call still to be from the
stead-of-symbol-dialling girl, because the only alternative they can
envisage is an official
call announcing his suicide, please note that this would entail, as Alexander
Dolinin indicates but, oddly, does not mention, the girl's dialling three
uncalled-for sixes -- the ominous mark of the Beast.

Anthony Stadlen

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