Peter Rabinowitz

Peter J. Rabinowitz, the Carolyn C. and David M. Ellis ’38 Distinguished Teaching Professor of Comparative Literature, delivered the keynote address for “The Book and the Body,” an interdisciplinary symposium held at the National University of Ireland Galway, and supported by the Arts Council of Ireland.

Rabinowitz began his talk, “Losing Control of Lolita,” with the observation that even 70 years after the novel’s publication, readers have trouble getting a fix on its ethical center.

That’s not, he argued, because of readers’ failures; nor is it that the novel’s ethical issues are especially complex. Rather, he said, it’s because Nabokov has consciously designed Lolita to block our confidence in our ethical judgments about the novel and its characters.

More specifically, holding the novel up to Grace Metalious’s Peyton Place, Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and Nabokov’s own essay “On a Book Entitled Lolita,” Rabinowitz showed three different ways in which the novel reduces what he calls “ethical legibility.”

The symposium helped pave the way for an upcoming performance of “Dolores,” a new dance-theater piece by the Junk Ensemble, directed by Jessica and Megan Kennedy, based on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.

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