Ian Fleishman

University of Pennsylvania


Ian Fleishman is an Associate Professor (with tenure) of German and Cinema & Media Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He holds a PhD in French and German Literature from Harvard University, having previously studied at the Freie Universität in Berlin, the Sorbonne Nouvelle and the École Normale Supérieure in Paris as well as at Middlebury College in Vermont. He has published articles in Comparative Literature Studies, German Quarterly, French Studies, The Germanic Review, Mosaic, The Journal of Austrian Studies and elsewhere on subjects ranging from the Baroque to contemporary pornography.

His work focuses largely on sex and violence in order to trace the evolution of narrative form and its underlying epistemological shift from modernism to the postmodern. His first book, An Aesthetics of Injury: The Narrative Wound from Baudelaire to Tarantino, was the 2015 winner of the Northeast Modern Language Association Best Book Award. Examining representations of the open wound in the works of ten exemplary authors and filmmakers, his monograph exposes injury to be an essential aesthetic principle of twentieth-century narrative.

Among other projects, he is currently co-editing a collected volume on the cinema of Isabelle Huppert. In 2017 and 2018 he served as Visiting Professor and Academic Director for the Berlin Consortium of German Studies at the Freie Universität. For the Fall of 2019 he is an Affiliated Fellow at the Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry.

An Aesthetics of Injury

An Aesthetics Of Injury

An Aesthetics of Injury exposes wounding as a foundational principle of literary and filmic modernism. Theorizing the genre of the narrative wound—texts that aim not only to depict but also to inflict injury—Ian Fleishman reveals harm as an essential aesthetic strategy in ten exemplary authors and filmmakers: Charles Baudelaire, Franz Kafka, Georges Bataille, Jean Genet, Hélène Cixous, Ingeborg Bachmann, Elfriede Jelinek, Werner Schroeter, Michael Haneke, and Quentin Tarantino.

Violence in the modernist mode, an ostensible intrusion of raw bodily harm into the artwork, aspires to transcend its own textuality, and yet, as An Aesthetics of Injury establishes, the wound paradoxically remains the essence of inscription. Fleishman thus shows how the wound, once the modernist emblem par excellence of an immediate aesthetic experience, comes to be implicated in a postmodern understanding of reality reduced to ceaseless mediation. In so doing, he demonstrates how what we think of as the most real object, the human body, becomes indistinguishable from its 'nonreal' function as text. At stake in this tautological textual model is the heritage of narrative thought: both the narratological workings of these texts (how they tell stories) and the underlying epistemology exposed (whether these narrativists still believe in narrative at all).

With fresh and revealing readings of canonical authors and filmmakers seldom treated alongside one another, An Aesthetics of Injury is important reading for scholars working on literary or cinematic modernism and the postmodern, philosophy, narratology, body culture studies, queer and gender studies, trauma studies, and cultural theory.


“In An Aesthetics of Injury, Ian Fleishman convincingly proposes wounding as a major narrative strategy in modernist aesthetics, one that seeks to compensate for literature’s apparent powerlessness by insisting on its duty (in Kafka’s words) to 'sting' or 'stab'. [...] Fleishman's work is clear, illuminating, and deserving of a place on modernist literature syllabuses.”
French Forum

“An incisive and provocative contribution to the history and theory of modern narrative since Baudelaire. Fleishman shows that the image of an open wound, implying an allegoric dimension, or an aesthetic of injury, plays a vital and thus far neglected role in nineteenth and twentieth-century literature.”
—Johannes Türk, author of Die Immunität der Literatur

“Fleishman's book is extremely successful at bringing together a wide array of media and artists to offer us an innovative and extremely useful theorization of aesthetic violence.”
German Quarterly

An Aesthetics of Injury is insightful, beautifully written, and compelling. It will help shift many discussions in literary, film and feminist studies.”
—Kathleen Komar, author of Reclaiming Klytemenestra: Revenge or Reconciliation

“Ian Fleishman has produced a stimulating and wide-ranging book that examines a diverse set of works in terms of an aesthetics of injury. [...] The great strength of this book is its attention to textual detail [...] this is an original and engaging book of indubitable interest to those who work on these authors.”
French Studies

“Thoroughly researched with ready references to letters, interviews, and unpublished manuscripts; and written not without finesse, Fleishman's chapters are neatly connected by the authors' own elective affinities. Indeed, it is as a historian of literature and film that Fleishman excels, making plausible a partly new trajectory and taking up a couple auteurs behind whose contradictory commitments he reveals similar concerns. An Aesthetics of Injury is admirably comparative and unhindered by national limitations or generic constraints.”
Comparative Literature Studies

“Cultural diagnostician Ian Fleishman trains his writing on the incomprehensible wounding of language. With an elegant sensibility for the disruptions of narrative injury and structural disintegration, he scans the agony of essential literary despair after Baudelaire and Kafka. Poignant and incisive, alert to disavowed aspects of social existence, An Aesthetics of Injury comes up against Freudian theories of castration and political deficiency. The work collects a dossier of texts that are befallen by the oversignifying tendencies of inbound catastrophe. Cixous, Genet, Tarantino, Jelinek, and others are scanned for the rhetorical lesions and narrative loopholes that constitute our modernity.”
—Avital Ronell, author of Complaint: Grievance among Friends


Francke Foundations at Halle

View Project

“Certainty, Vision: Francke Today”

Künstlerhaus Bethanien

Recent Presentations

German Studies Association

“New Hollywood Fassbinder”

Clark University (Language, Literature and Culture)

“Camp/Abject: Queer Self-Erasure in Fassbinder”

Brown University (Department of German Studies)

“'Each man kills the thing he loves': Queer Failure in Querelle

NYU Humanities Center

Moderator for "A Coming Word: Werner Hamacher, Paul Celan"

Curriculum Vitae

You can view and download Ian's curriculum vitae here.



745 Williams Hall
255 South 36th Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Feel free to email Ian or to connect with him on social media via the links below.