John Zilcosky

Professor of Comparative Literature and German

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Bio & Research

I teach and write about European literature and culture from 1750 to the present—concentrating on modernism, exoticism, theories of travel and tourism, ethnography, psychoanalysis, and the intersection of aesthetics and politics. My first book, Kafka’s Travels: Exoticism, Colonialism, and the Traffic of Writing, examines Kafka’s surprising love of adventure literature and argues that this biographical eccentricity forces us to reconsider his oeuvre. Making use of travel diaries, train schedules, tour guides, and colonial novels, Kafka’s Travels reveals how Kafka’s modern metaphorics of alienation emerged out of his encounter with the utopian fantasies of his day. This work piqued my curiosity about travel writing, leading me to write essays on the “art” of getting lost and on W.G. Sebald’s travels, and to edit a book about European voyages from the Enlightenment to today: Writing Travel: The Poetics and Politics of the Modern JourneyIn addition to my research on German literature and European travel, I maintain strong intellectual investments in comparative literature, philosophy, and literary theory (articles on Kant, Flaubert, Nietzsche, Freud, Adorno, Celan, Hesse, T.S. Eliot, Botho Strauss, Paul Auster). I recently won grants from the US National Endowment for the Humanities (Jan. – Dec. 2014) and the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (2013-2017) to complete my book—Uncanny Encounters: Literature, Psychoanalysis and the End of Alterity—which investigates European anxieties about the disappearance of the “other” during the first great globalization around 1900. In addition to serving on the editorial board for the German Studies series at Continuum Press and Legenda Books, I am on the advisory board of the Oxford Kafka Research Centre and am Honorary President of the International Comparative Literature Association’s Research Committee on Literary Theory.


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