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Signs and Symbols

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Maya W.

on 2 June 2014

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Transcript of Signs and Symbols

Signs and Symbols
The meaning and stylistic prose of Nabokov's short story transcends the writing and makes you into a referential maniac yourself.
Signs, Symbols, Ciphers and Codes
Within his short story, Nabokov layers multiple symbolic images, motifs and hidden "clues" which suggest to the reader that they may some how be able to "crack the code" of this story if only they interpret them in the right manner.
Referential Mania in the Medical World
Human Pattern recognition
Is there meaning?
Discussion Questions
Are all humans referential maniacs? Is there meaning in things? How is meaning justified?
Layer 2:
Numerical Sequence of 3
THREE setbacks on the way to the santitorium
THREE bad omens on the way home
THREE derivatives of the name "Soloveichik"
THREE bird references
THREE cards
THREE phone calls
Layer 1:
The Obviously Ominous
a power outage on the subway
a late and overcrowded bus
getting caught in the rain
a broken bird in a puddle
a crying train patron
lost keys
"The problem is that although true pattern recognition helps us survive, false pattern recognition does not necessarily get us killed, and so the overall phenomenon has endured the winnowing process of natural selection.” - Micheal Shermer, Scientific American
Our innate human need for meaning and familiarity causes our brain to see patterns when they aren’t really there.

We all have a mild case of Nabokov’s referential mania. It’s in our brains.
Is being a sort of referential maniac part of being human?
What signs and symbols did you find in the story?
Layer 3:
Numerical Sequence of 5
Soloveichik is the Russian word for Nightingale ergo, THREE references to Nightingale + TWO references to birds = FIVE
THREE cards + TWO photographs falling to the floor = FIVE
the father spelling out FIVE of the jar labels prior to the THIRD phone and unanswered phone call

When we critique art we try to study the piece to find meaning within

Symbols and allegories within this piece

Mythological figures, mask,dove, serpent

Tasseography (Tea leaf reading)

fortune telling by interpreting patterns or images left behind by tea leaves

shamrock: good luck
raven: death/bad news
dog: loyalty
candle: enlightenment
birds flying: good news
cat: deceit


stars grouped together forming constellations

These groups of stars form what we know to be our horoscopes

Nihilism is a school of thought that questions the validity of human belief systems and values. It refers to the belief that “nothing can be known or communicated”. It is considered to be very pessimistic. It is often associated with Friedrich Nietzche who believed Nihilism would completely corrupt and destroy all human values and moral codes and eventually lead to some sort of great human crisis. Nihilism was a theme often explored by artists, writers, and philosophers during the 20th century. (Pratt 1)

Friedrich Nietzche
Existential Nihilism is a strand of Nihilism that addresses the ways that humans find meaning in life. In Existential Nihilism, it is believed that there is no inherent meaning in life. Instead, humans are forced to make meaning with out ever having the true meaning of life revealed to them. This is often compared to the story of Sisyphus that we have discussed in class. Nihilists saw the human condition as being similar to Sisyphus’ fate. (Pratt 3)

Solipsism refers to the belief that one’s own reality is the only thing that is real. This means that everything we interact with is a construct of our mind and contributes to our consciousness. The people and objects that we are surrounded by exist only to us and are created by ourselves, for ourselves, in our minds. A Solipsist would believe that he/she is the only mind in the world. As a result, he/she can only understand language as it applies to his/herself and cannot imagine how words could be applied to another being. (Thornton 1)

In Solipsism, any meaning that could be found in life could only come from one’s own mind, as it is the only thing that exists. According to Solipsism, life is meaningless as nothing is real except for that which exists within the Solipsist’s mind. In order for there to be meaning in human existence from an external source, there would have to be other people or a higher power to create it, but these do not exist in Solipsism. (Thornton 7)

Acosmism is the belief that God is the only real and true being and nothing else really exists. It also refers to the belief that nothing can exist outside of God. The phrase “Everything is God” comes from this school of thought.

According to Acosmism, meaning in human existence comes from God. Nothing can exist outside of God, thus God gives life meaning. Humans could not exist with out God and humans could not find meaning in life with out God. This is similar to referential mania, however, instead of interpreting every aspect of life to be a sign related to one’s own experience, Acosmism would attribute every aspect of life to the existence of God. Acosmism would perhaps read these signs as a message from God (as opposed to a message about oneself as the son in Signs and Symbols believes). (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Do you think that Nabokov's story would have been successful if humans didn't have a tendency to see meaning in things?
Existentialism and Subjective Meaning
If x is of great importance to someone, then x becomes meaningful.
For existential philosophers like Soren Kierkegaard, there can be meaning in life, but it’s subjective to what every person believes is meaningful.
Human Progress
Georg Hegel argued that if an individual person could contribute to human progress, then their life must have meaning.
If history is no longer progressing towards an specific goal? Or what if we reach all our goals?
Absurdism is the conflict between the natural human tendency to seek meaning in things and the discordance in not finding any meaning?
Perhaps it is the hunt for meaning itself that makes us human.
Stress And
Mental Health
Humans sense patterns in situations where they feel as though they have no control
Ex: conspiracy theories after 9/11, rituals, superstitions, astrology, lucky articles of clothing
Feeling in control of a situation includes mental health and may actually prolong life, according to a study in a retirement home
The natural and inevitable experience of sensing patterns in everyday life
From a Darwinian perspective, a survival tactic
Ex: sensing a pattern of change around your home after being away and coming to the conclusion of an intruder, thus potentially saving your life
We overcompensate for this by seeing patterns elsewhere when there is no danger present
Delusions of Reference
Referential mania is not a real mental illness
Instead, it is a major symptom of other existing mental illnesses
Refered to as "delusions of reference" or "ideas of reference"
Commonly exhibited by those suffering with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders
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