Jay Caspian Kang appears to conclude that so-called "trigger warnings" —statements that some readers might find a particular work disturbing or traumatic—are not such a good idea in college literature courses, even suggesting they might be a "preemptive defacement" of the text, although in reaching that conclusion, she allows that there are good arguments in favor of such warnings. I myself don't particularly object to advisories to students about potentially unsettling content in assigned texts, provided they aren't expressed in an especially reductive way. The example Kang begins by considering—that Nabokov's Lolita is a book "about. . .the systematic rape of a young girl"-- is egregiously reductive, as a better description would be that in Lolita "the author wants you to remember the story is about the narrator's serial rape of a young girl, even while you might be enjoying his manner of storytelling or admiring his way with words," however much this might prematurely articulate an insight the author wants readers to come to themselves. The real issue is thus how the "trigger warning" is phrased, not whether they are ever justified.
I do challenge the assumptions about literature on which Kang's characterization of this debate is based, however. One such assumption is that with a novel like Lolita, the reader has the either/or choice of focusing on its content, in this case the controversial "subject," or its style, as Kang puts it in Nabokov's case, his "cunning, surprising games with language." Although this crude opposition is never really applicable to any well-realized novel, with Lolita it is particularly misguided. The subject of Nabokov's novel is not Humbert Humbert's sexual predation of Lolita per se, but his ability to regard his predatory behavior as just another instance of his pursuit of "beauty" (however perverted his taste in beauty has become), as well as his ability to persuade us he is sincerely motivated by this pursuit. To proceed in reading Lolita as if we could easily separate what makes us uncomfortable about its subject (including the novel's success in making us laugh despite the terrible implications of its subject) from Humbert Humbert's manner of relating it to us (by extension, Nabokov's penchant for playing "games with language") is to misread this novel almost completely. You might try to read it, in Kang's formulation, simply as a "series of sentences," but you wouldn't be reading the literary work Nabokov actually wrote.
Kang then assures us he doesn't believe "that literature should only be examined as an object unto itself, detached from time and history," but this of course implies it is possible to "examine" a work of literature "detached from time and history." It is frequently enough suggested that anyone who thinks that literary criticism should start with the formal and stylistic qualities of literature is taking such a position, but even if we were to accept "detachment" as the animating principle of formalism (which I do not), even a moment's reflection reveals the absurdity of believing such a thing as actual detachment from "time and history" is even possible in the first place. How would one reach this state of detachment? Is it in some sort of fifth dimension where one's corporeality as a human being entirely the product of time and history gets suspended? If as readers we can never ourselves escape time and history, how can our consideration of a literary text evade that condition?
But formalism in fact does not entail the attempt to detach literature from the world of experience. Formalism wants to remind us that the world is mediated through the imaginative reshaping and the stylistic redescriptions of fiction and poetry, so that direct connections between the work and the world can't easily be made without keeping in mind the mediations of form and style. Thus, Lolita does indeed attach itself to "time and history"—you can, for example, learn a great deal about backroads America in the 1950s as Humbert and Lolita make their journey from motel to motel after he has spirited her away. No one would want to read Lolita as social realism, however, just as also it is not a story about child abuse, or even, finally about one man's self-deception. It is to an extent about all of these things, but more than that it is about Nabokov's transformation of each of these subjects into literary art that encompasses them without merely serving as the vehicle for them. The subjects, rather, serve as vehicles for the art, which the novel does not present as a kind of external ornamentation to be admired but is offered as the experience of what Nabokov famously called "aesthetic bliss" (that "tingling" in the spine), all the more profound because it arises from such tawdry circumstances.
Finally there really is no reason to read Lolita except for the possibility of experiencing this aesthetic bliss. Even for would-be writers or students of literature, the real goal of considering this novel closely is to appreciate how a work of fiction can produce aesthetic bliss—beauty—out of so much apparent ugliness. In this context, trigger warnings regarding what the novel is "about" are just irrelevant. If you aren't reading (or teaching) a work of literature like Lolita as a potentially transformative reading experience, why bother? Nabokov is inimitable, so you're not going to be able to write like him. You could put the novel on the syllabus to "interrogate" its cultural assumptions, but it's not likely it will prove a particularly useful tool for this exercise, since it already interrogates most of those assumptions itself. (And students won't be "delighted" to "read a book full of graphic accounts of sexual violence and still have the book not be about sexual violence" because Lolita has no graphic accounts of sex or sexual violence at all, a mischaracterization that Kang fails to correct.) That Lolita proffers no definitive answers to the questions raised is ultimately what makes us most uncomfortable in reading it, and that is also what makes it a great work of literature.