Skip to main content


Office Hours Summer 2024: by appointment.


On June 19, 2024, my new monograph Kafka und das Problem der Endlichkeit (“Kafka and the Problem of Finitude”) was presented at the University of Vienna. The event was cosponsored by aka: Arbeitskreis Kulturanalyse, Sonderzahl Verlag, the City of Vienna, and the German Department at the University of Vienna. I am thankful to everyone who participated!

On May 31, 2024, my book The Violence of Reading: Literature & Philosophy at the Threshold of Pain was the subject of a virtual roundtable featuring speakers Ian Fleishman (Penn), Michael Levine (Rutgers), Kristina Mendicino (Brown), Jan Mieszkowski (Reed), and Emily Trujillo (Rutgers).

I am very excited to announce that my monograph The Violence of Reading: Literature & Philosophy at the Threshold of Pain has been published! The book puts the reader’s body under duress as it explores various forms of linguistic pain.


“This book is provocative, compelling, and beautifully written. Zechner has transformed the pain of reading into a very pleasurable experience.”
—Elissa Marder, Professor of Comparative Literature and French, Emory University

“Dominik Zechner writes: ‘Instead of putting up a resistance to language as such, pain divests linguistic structures of their unreliable secondary functions’ – communication, representation, etc. – ‘and discloses an occurrence of language divided from the constraints that subjugate its experience under the supremacy of phenomenal representation.’ In other words, pain is poetry. As every Tumblr girl already knows.”
—Olivia Kan-Sperling, Assistant Editor, The Paris Review

On April 5, 2024, I facilitated the workshop “Justice in Language: Literature and the Construction of Race,” together with Stephanie Galasso, in which we discussed the relationship between race and language in texts by Toni Morrison and Sharon Dodua Otoo.

Fall 2024 Course Offerings:

Capitalism and Its Discontents [01:470:393:01 | M 3:50–6:50pm | SC 221]: This course expounds the ways in which the logic of capitalism shapes our experience of reality. Probing capitalism’s promise of unending enjoyment – what David Foster Wallace, borrowing from Shakespeare, has called “infinite jest” – we seek to discern the abject discontent on the other side of consumerist abandon. With a special emphasis on the cultural dominance of late-stage capitalism, we will confront a variety of media – theory, prose, music, TV, and the cinema – in an attempt to gauge the impact of what philosophers have termed “the culture industry” on the desiring subject. In addition to thinkers from the Frankfurt School, we will discuss works by Wendy Brown, Todd McGowan, Neil Postman, and Slavoj Žižek; literary works by Elfriede Jelinek and Charles Yu; David Fincher’s filmography; and indie music by Mitski and others.

The Problem of Language [16:470:672:01 | T 3:50-6:150pm | AB 4050]: William Burroughs considered language to be a virus from outer space. If man is the “animal in possession of language,” as a more grounded Aristotelian lineage has affirmed, our relation to this possession may well be one of estrangement rather than familiarity. Is language at all something that can be attributed and possessed? Or is the human being called into the precinct of language by an apostrophe that radically antecedes both notions of property and human grammars of articulation? These questions will guide our inquiry into language as the most fundamental concept in literary studies and philology. The course trajectory contains contributions to philosophy, literary studies, modern poetry, prose, and drama, penned by the likes of Herder, Benjamin, Heidegger, Beckett, Handke, Lacan, Derrida, Butler, and Cixous.

My article “Törleß and the Scene of Reading” appeared in a special issue on Literature, Philosophy, and Psychoanalysis with the journal humanities.

The article reads Robert Musil’s debut novel Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß (The Confusions of Young Törless, 1906) as a novel of the institution (Campe) in which diverse forms of violence are intertwined. Contrary to the assumption that Musil’s novel aims at the depiction of sado-masochistic transgressions, my argument focuses on a reading scene that mediates the novel’s various potentials of violence: only when Törleß reads Kant does it become clear which violence and which pain are meant by Musil’s text. The experience of reading becomes a masochistic act in the course of which the pleasure of the text is recast in terms of a negative textual jouissance. Musil’s novel, in turn, becomes readable not as an exhibition of schoolboys in disgrace, but as an exploration of the violent structure of practical reason itself.

The extended German version of this essay has recently been published in the collected volume Robert Musil im Spannungsfeld zwischen Psychologie und Phänomenologie, edited by Artur R. Boelderl and Barbara Neymeyr.

Out now: Thresholds, Encounters: Paul Celan and the Claim of Philology
co-edited with Kristina Mendicino, with contributions by Michael Auer, Christine Frank, Irina Kogan, Michael G. Levine, Natalie Lozinski-Veach, Kristina Mendicino, Jan Mieszkowski, Pasqual Solass, Simone Stirner, Sarah Stoll, Naomi Waltham-Smith, and Dominik Zechner.

Paul Celan’s works dwell on the threshold between the extremes of poetic expression and philosophical reflection. The divergent literary and critical idioms that have marked Celan’s writing—and that Celan’s writing has come to mark for others (Hamacher, Derrida, Szondi)—thus call for a new philology. This philology cannot be situated within presupposed genres or fields but rather explores the ways in which poetic and philosophical ambitions meet in texts by, and on, Celan. The first part of Thresholds, Encounters (“Ex-posing the Poem”) speaks to issues of history, ecology, and aurality; the second part (“Language Dislodged”) delves into Celan’s articulations of encounter, positionality, and translation. Throughout, contributors probe the consequences of Celan’s poetry for thinking and writing, while inviting readers from different disciplinary spaces to further pace out the liminal zones opened by his oeuvre.


“This book stakes its ‘claim of philology’ by estranging preexisting critical positions on Celan and fathoming his multivocal idioms as if for the first time.”
—Critical Inquiry

“Beautiful and very open in its structure, Thresholds, Encounters is an invitation to dialogue.”
Ilit Ferber, author of Language Pangs: On Pain and the Origin of Language

“The volume demonstrates an exemplary fidelity to a practice of philology that is attentive to language’s capacity for ungrounding its propositions. It would not be an exaggeration to describe these performances of reading as tours de force.”
Jason Groves, author of The Geological Unconscious: German Literature and the Mineral Imaginary

Out now: parallax 28.3 “Initiations: The Pitfalls of Beginning”
co-edited with Kristina Mendicino, with essays by Saul Anton, Ian Balfour, Jörg Kreienbrock,
Kristina Mendicino, Jan Mieszkowski, Charles de Roche, Adam R. Rosenthal, & Dominik Zechner