Professor of Comparative Literature Peter J. Rabinowitz presented a lecture titled “Out of Context, In Your Heart: Some Thoughts on Narratology of the Moment” at Coastal Carolina University on April 5. The talk was the latest in a series of papers and articles developing what Rabinowitz calls “narratology of the moment.
Starting from the “Marseillaise” scene in Casablanca, Rabinowitz argued that we all have favorite moments in novels (and films and music, too)—parts we return to again and again, skipping through the work until we find the right place.
But traditional academic practice, he said, insists on the priority of the whole—a moment, we’re sternly told, only has value in terms of its contribution to a larger structure. As a result, at least in academic settings, we tend to treat these favorite bits as guilty pleasures and keep them to ourselves.
In the past few years, Rabinowitz has tried to liberate some of those beloved passages by exploring what he calls “narrative flavor” as part of a project to help us understand why certain moments have an emotional and aesthetic pull far in excess of its formal role. His emphasis in this talk was on a group of moments—taken from mainly from Russian texts but also from Proust—that provide a special kind of temporal flavor, but he touched on other kinds of momentary effects as well.