Eklund, Erik. The Passion of Meaning: Banville’s Gods and Nabokov’s "Signs and Symbols." 2021.

Bibliographic title
The Passion of Meaning: Banville’s Gods and Nabokov’s "Signs and Symbols"
Periodical or collection
The Noesis Review
Periodical issue
v. 8
Publication year

Of all Vladimir Nabokov’s stories, John Banville considers ‘Signs and Symbols’ (1948) to be the saddest. And yet while many of Banville’s fictions abide in the aftermath of the departure of the gods, he attests to the pathos of their mischievous and imperceptible presence in Nabokov’s story, in which the gods never figure. Taking form as a close reading of ‘Signs and Symbols’, this essay offers a theological meditation upon the aporia of meaning-making figured in the reader’s ironic identification with the story’s subject, a nameless young boy whose mania and likely suicide, I argue, is in fact the passion of meaning—of having discerned that one’s life is written and so mired in an inexhaustible web of meaning and relations. The theological pathos of ‘Signs and Symbols’ thus lies in its confrontation with the possibility that our lives are borne out in the writing of the g/God(s). Or as Hölderlin, in Rousseau, more esoterically put it:

. . . Dem Sehnenden war
Der Wink genug,
und Winke sind
von Alters her die Sprache der Götter

. . . For the yearning man
the hint sufficed, because in hints
from time immemorial the gods have spoken.