John Zilcosky

Professor, Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures
Affiliated Faculty, Centre for European and Eurasian Studies
Headshot of John Zilcosky


Main Bio

John Zilcosky is Professor of German and Comparative Literature. He writes about modern European literature and culture, psychoanalysis, trauma, the art of travel, and the history and philosophy of sports. His books include Kafka’s Travels: Exoticism, Colonialism, and the Traffic of Writing (winner of the MLA’s Scaglione Prize, awarded biennially for the best book in German Studies), Writing Travel: The Poetics and Politics of the Modern JourneyUncanny Encounters: Literature, Psychoanalysis, and the End of AlterityThe Allure of Sports in Western Culture, and The Language of Trauma: War and Technology in Hoffmann, Freud, and Kafka. Major publications such as the Times Literary Supplement and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung have reviewed his work. Zilcosky has won a Humboldt Foundation Research Fellowship, two major Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Grants, and a twelve-month National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. He is honorary president of the International Comparative Literature Association’s Research Committee on Literary Theory, where he served as president from 2011 through 2014. In 2018, the German government awarded him the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Prize for outstanding lifetime achievements in research.

Select publications


  • The Language of Trauma: War in Technology in Hoffmann, Kafka, and Freud. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2021. 200 p.
  • The Allure of Sports in Western Culture (co-edited volume). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019. 288 p.

    Reviewed in European Studies in Sport History (John McClelland) and Good Reads (Malcolm MacLean).

  • Uncanny Encounters: Literature, Psychoanalysis and the End of Alterity. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2016 (cloth and paperback). 264 pp.
    • Reviewed in Choice, “highly recommended” (John M. Jeep), Journal of European Studies (Paul Bishop), Modernism/Modernity (Dylan Trigg), The European Legacy (Joey S. Kim), Monatshefte (Caroline Rupprecht), American Imago (Maria Koundoura), Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies (Rolf J. Goebel), South Atlantic Review (Stephan K. Schindler), Psychoanalysis and History (Helen Tyson), Studies in Travel Writing (Andrew Cusack), The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory (David Wachter), and Journal of Austrian Studies (Katherine Arens).
  • Writing Travel: The Poetics and Politics of the Modern Journey (edited volume). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. 336 pp.

    See review article by Michael A. Di Giovine: “Travel, Travel Writing, and the Construct of European Identity,” Journeys: The International Journal of Travel and Travel Writing 10 (2009): 109-18.

  • Kafka’s Travels: Exoticism, Colonialism, and the Traffic of Writing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003 (paperback edition, 2004). 289 pp. Winner of the 2004 MLA Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize, awarded biennially to one outstanding monograph in the literatures and linguistics of the Germanic languages.

    Partially reprinted, with illustrations and photographs, in Mara, Marietta, a website about art.
    Reviewed in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Hanns Zischler), Times Literary Supplement (Jeremy Adler), Chronicle of Higher Education (Nina C. Ayoub), H-Net Travel (Mirjam Triendl), German Studies Review (Sheila Johnson), Germanic Review (Iris Bruce), Seminar (Rochelle Tobias), Choice (E. Williams), H-Net German (Katherine Arens), German Quarterly (Imke Meyer), Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association (Ben Hutchinson), University of Toronto Quarterly (Russell Kilbourn), Modernism/Modernity (Sabine Wilke), Germanic Notes and Reviews (Pamela Saur), The Yearbook of English Studies (John Pilling), Modern Fiction Studies (Allen Thiher), Journal of European Studies (Ritchie Robertson), The Modern Language Review (Julian Preece), Colloquia Germanica (Rolf Goebel), Monatshefte (Andreas Härter), Transit (Christina Gerhardt), Studies in Travel Writing (Elizabeth Boa), Arbitrium: Zeitschrift für Rezensionen zur germanistischen Literaturwissenschaft (Claudia Albert), and Good Reads (Alasdair Pettinger).


  • 2021. “Irrfahrten.” In Handbuch Literatur und Reise. Ed. Hansjörg Bay, Laura Beck, Christof Hamann, and Julian Osthues. Stuttgart: Metzler.
  • 2020. “Freud träumt von Rider Haggard: Psychoanalyse und Abenteuer.” In Abenteuer in der Moderne. Ed. Oliver Grill, Brigitte Obermayr, Martin von Koppenfels, and Susanne Gödde. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink. 91-104.
  • 2019. “Wrestling, or the Art of Disentangling Bodies.” In The Allure of Sports in Western Culture. Ed. John Zilcosky and Marlo Burks. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019. 79-118.
  • 2019. “The Allure of Sports.” Introduction to The Allure of Sports in Western Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019. 3-17.
  • 2018. “’The Times in Which We Live’: Freud’s The Uncanny, World War I, and the Trauma of Contagion.” Psychoanalysis and History 20 (2): 165-90.
  • 2018. “Kafka, Snowden, and the Surveillance State.” In Policing Literary Theory. Ed. Călin-Andrei Mihăilescu and Takayuki Murakami. Leiden: Brill. 166-77.
  • 2017. “Hermann Hesses unheimliches Fernweh.” In Fernweh nach der Romantik: Begriff — Diskurs — Phänomen. Ed. Irmtraud Hnilica, Malte Kleinwort, and Patrick Ramponi. Freiburg: Rombach. 75-100.
  • 2017. “Learning How to Get Lost: Goethe in Italy.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 50 (4): 417-435.
  • 2014. “Samsa était voyageur de commerce’: trains, trauma et corps illisible.” Les Cahiers de l’Herne. Special Issue on Franz Kafka (eds. Wolfgang Asholt, Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt, Jean-Pierre Morel): 138-145.
  • 2014. “Von der Überlegung: Of Wrestling and (Not) Thinking.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 41 (1): 17-27.
  • 2014. “Hermann Hesse’s Colonial Uncanny: Robert Aghion, 1913.” New German Critique 41 (3): 199-218.
  • 2013. “Samsa Was a Traveling Salesman.’” In Franz Kafka: The Metamorphosis. Trans. and ed. Stanley Corngold. New York: Modern Library. 245-271.
  • 2013. “Savage Science: Primitives, War Neurotics and Freud’s Uncanny Method.” American Imago 70: 461-486.
  • 2012. “Unheimliche Begegnungen: Abenteuerliteratur, Psychoanalyse, Moderne.” In Literarische Entdeckungsreisen: Vorfahren – Nachfahrten – Revisionen. Ed. Hans-Jörg Bay and Wolfgang Struck. Weimar: Böhlau Verlag. 203-220.
  • 2011. “Kafka’s Poetics of Indeterminacy: On Trauma, Hysteria, and Simulation at the Fin de Siècle.” Monatshefte für deutschsprachige Literatur und Kultur 103: 344-359.
  • 2011. “‘Samsa war Reisender’: Trains, Trauma, and the Unreadable Body.” In Kafka for the Twenty-First Century. Ed. Stanley Corngold and Ruth Gross. Rochester, NY: Camden House. 179-206.
  • 2010. “On Claudio Magris’ ‘Frontiers of Identity.” In Memories, Identities, Migrations. Ed. Martin Stiglio. Toronto: Istituto Italiano di Cultura. 64-70.
  • 2008. “Uncanny Encounters: Adventure Literature, Psychoanalysis, and Ethnographic Exhibitions.” In Literature and Science / Literatur und Wissenschaft. Ed. Monika Schmitz-Emans and Manfred Schmeling. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann. 139-157.
  • 2008. “Writing Travel.” Introduction to Writing Travel: The Poetics and Politics of the Modern Journey. Ed. John Zilcosky. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1-22.
  • 2007. “Inventing Reception: Genius and Judgement in Kant’s Critique of Judgement.” Neohelicon 34: 93-99.
  • 2007. “Von Zuckerbaronen und Landvermessern: Koloniale Visionen in Schaffsteins Grüne Bändchen und Kafkas Das Schloss.” In Kafkas Institutionen. Ed. Arne Höcker and Oliver Simons. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag. 119-144.
  • 2006. “Orientierungslosigkeit und Nostalgie in Sebalds Austerlitz.” Text+Kritik (Sonderband: Literatur und Migration): 120-30.
  • 2006. “Lost and Found: Disorientation, Nostalgia, and Holocaust Melodrama in Sebald’s Austerlitz.” Modern Language Notes (MLN) 121: 679-98.
  • 2005. “Poetry after Auschwitz? Celan and Adorno Revisited.” Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte 79: 670-91.
  • 2005. “Modern Monuments: Nietzsche, T.S. Eliot, and the Problem of History.” Journal of Modern Literature 29: 21-33.
  • 2004. “The Writer as Nomad? The Art of Getting Lost.” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 6: 229-41.
  • 2004. “Sebald’s Uncanny Travels.” In W.G. Sebald: A Critical Companion. Ed. Jonathan Long and Anne Whitehead. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press. 102-20.
  • 2004. “Wildes Reisen: Kolonialer Sadismus und Masochismus in Kafkas Strafkolonie.” Weimarer Beiträge 50: 33-54.
  • 2003. “Lost in America.” The New Republic 229: 38-41.
  • 2003. “Boundless Entertainment?” (review essay on Hanns Zischler’s Kafka Goes to the Movies). H-German, H-Net Reviews.
  • 2002. “Kafka’s Remains.” In Lost in the Archives. Ed. Rebecca Comay. Toronto: Alphabet City Press. 630-643.
  • 2002. “Surveying the Castle: Kafka’s Colonial Visions.” A Companion to the Works of Franz Kafka, Ed. James Rolleston. Rochester, NY: Camden House. 281-324.
  • 2002. “The End(s) of the Exotic: Franz Kafka, Modernist Inwardness, and the Travel Novel, Richard and Samuel.” La Porta D’Oriente: Viaggi e Poesia. Ed. Paola Mildonian, Maria Alzira Seixo, Lourdes Câncio Martins. Lisbon: Edições Cosmos. 165-76.
  • 1999. “The Traffic of Writing: Technologies of ‘Verkehr’ in Franz Kafka’s Briefe an Milena.” German Life and Letters 52: 365-81.
  • 1998. “The Revenge of the Author: Paul Auster’s Challenge to Theory.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 39: 195-206.
  • 1997. “Franz Kafka, Perverse Traveler: Flaubert, Kafka, and the Reiseaufzeichnungen.” Journal of the Kafka Society of America 21: 80-87.
  • 1996. “Of Sugar Barons and Banana Kings: Franz Kafka, Imperialism, and Schaffstein’s Grüne Bändchen.” Journal of the Kafka Society of America 20: 63-75.
  • 1994. “Botho Strauss.” Afterword. “Pairs, Passersby.” By Botho Strauss. Conjunctions 23: 266-267.
  • 1991. “Kafka Approaches Schopenhauer’s Castle.” German Life and Letters 44: 353-369.

Awards & recognition