Andrej Belyj’s and Vladimir Nabokov’s novels of childhood are analyzed in my research as narratives about the entry of language into the human consciousness. Using the Lacanian version of psychoanalysis and the semiotic apparatus, I delineate the role played by the unconscious in Belyj’s and Nabokov’s portrayals of a child’s psyche, and emphasize the transformation of traditional novelistic poetics performed by Belyj. The comparison of Belyj’s Kotik Letaev and Nabokov’s Speak, Memory! highlights the innovative character of Belyj’s prose and the “semiotic” nature of his poetics which can be looked at as a meta-narrative about the functioning of language in a literary text.
The central question addressed is what are these innovative principles in the construction of the text? In Kotik Letaev, the hierarchy of traditional narration is reversed: the language and linguistic tropes abandon their conventional function of narrative and rhetorical means, and assume – as they do in unconscious discourse – the role of the protagonists and of the driving forces of narration. In Belyj’s book, the linguistic associations acquire the status of a narrative subject, while the referential sequence is reduced to a category of auxiliary means. The story of childhood appears to be not anything more than the motivation for the play of signifiers which constitute the principal narrative sequence. My paper demonstrates how suspension and deferral of signification are accomplished by the specific use of metaphoric and metonymic mechanisms that provoke the effect of “the removal of exterior objects,” or the content, (Jakobson, Language in Literature) and the production of “peu de sens [a little meaning]” (Lacan, Écrits I) which is purely linguistic.