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Assistant Professor
Area of Study/Expertise
Philology, Philosophy, Literary Theory
Office Location
AB West Wing 4128

Dominik Zechner

Assistant Professor

M.A. University of Vienna, 2013
M.phil. New York University, 2018
Ph.D. New York University, 2019

Dominik Zechner studied philosophy, film, and media studies in Vienna before pursuing a Ph.D. in German literature at New York University, where he completed a Mellon-funded dissertation on Franz Kafka. Before joining Rutgers, he was the Artemis A.W. and Martha Joukowsky Postdoctoral Fellow at Brown University’s Pembroke Center. His teaching and research focus on literary theory and philology, psychoanalysis, poetry post-1945 (Celan, Brinkmann, Jandl), modern prose (from Kafka to Don DeLillo), and theories of pedagogy and pedagogical narratives. His wider interests include 19th to 21st century philosophy; German-speaking and comparative literature; literary criticism; philosophy of language; rhetoric, hermeneutics, and deconstruction; pop culture, pop music, pop literature; and contemporary literature.

He is currently finishing a book dedicated to the centenary of Frank Kafka’s death in June 2024, titled Kafka und das Problem der Endlichkeit (“Kafka and the Problem of Finitude”). Departing from the observation that whenever Kafka attempts narratively to convey an event of dying, there is an element of survival that interferes with the stipulated termination, the book probes the relationship between language and death in Kafka’s works. Exploring a wide range of textual evidence, including famous titles such as The TrialThe Castle, and The Metamorphosis, but also lesser known fragments, diary and notebook entries, as well as letters, the argument unfolds the many ways in which, for Kafka, finitude remains an open problem. The unachievability of closure becomes recognizable as an ontological premise of his writerly project, which time and again bears witness to the precarious persistence of linguistic survival. Kafka und das Problem der Endlichkeit is planned to appear with Sonderzahl Verlag in 2024.

His monograph The Violence of Reading: Literature & Philosophy at the Threshold of Pain, forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan, expounds the scene of reading as one that produces overwhelmed bodies exposed to uncontainable forms of violence. The book argues that the act of reading induces an ontological instability that causes the referential function of language to collapse. This breakdown releases a type of “linguistic pain” (Scarry; Butler; Hamacher) that indicates a constitutive wounding of the reading body. The wound of language signals a rupture between linguistic reality and the phenomenal world. Exploring this rupture in various ways, the book brings together texts and genres from diverse traditions and offers close examinations of the rhetoric of masochism (Sacher-Masoch; Deleuze), the relation between reading and abuse (Nietzsche; Proust; Jelinek), the sublime pain of reading (Kant; Kafka; de Man), the “novel of the institution” (Musil; Campe), and literary suicide (Bachmann; Berryman; Okkervil River).

Prof. Zechner is also the co-editor of two collected volumes. Forces of Education: Walter Benjamin and the Politics of Pedagogy (Bloomsbury 2023) comprehensively investigates Benjamin’s early writings on school reform and educational critique. A second collection, Thresholds, Encounters: Paul Celan and the Claim of Philology (SUNY 2023), is dedicated to the relationship between Celan’s poetry and the Western philosophical tradition. In addition, Zechner is the editor of a special issue of Modern Language Notes (“What is a Prize?” vol. 131.5, 2016), which analyzes the rhetoric of literary prizes and their surrounding economy of prestige, and the co-editor of a special issue of parallax (“Initiations: The Pitfalls of Beginning,” vol. 28.3, 2022), dedicated to the problem of textual openings and first lines.

His research has appeared in differences, humanities, Journal of Romance Studies, Oxford Literary Review, parallax, The German Quarterly, The Yearbook of Comparative Literature, Translation & Literature, Triëdere, Zeitschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Linguistik, and other venues.