Alexander Zholkovsky graduated from MGU, Russia (1959), earned his Ph. D. in linguistics from the MGU Institute of Oriental Languages (1969), and worked on structural semantics and lexicography in collaboration with Professor Igor Mel'cuk (since 1977 at the University of Montreal, Canada). His major publications in these fields include Somali Syntax: Deep and Surface Structures (Moscow, 1971) and Explanatory Combinatorial Dictionary of Modern Russian (with I. A. Mel'cuk; Vienna, 1984).
Parallel to these linguistic studies, he developed an interest in poetics. He was active in the Moscow-Tartu school of semiotics and together with Yuri Shcheglov (now at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc.) developed a "poetics of expressiveness," introducing and developing the concepts of expressive device, thematic and structural invariance, and authors' poetic worlds. This "generativist" approach to literary competence and its applications in practical criticism (of Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Pasternak, among others) are reflected in numerous articles in Russian and European journals and the monographs : Themes and Texts Ithaca & London, 1984) and Poetics of Expressiveness (with Yu. Shcheglov; Amsterdam & Philadelphia, 1987).
Prior to emigrating from the Soviet Union in 1979, Alexander Zholkovsky organized and chaired the Moscow Seminar in Poetics (1976-1979), which gathered at his home, bringing together such eminent figures as Boris Gasparov, Mikhail Gasparov, Viacheslav Vs. Ivanov, Yuri Levin, Yuri Lotman, Eleazar Meletinsky, Irina Paperno, Kiril Taranovsky, Olga Sedakova, Yuri Shcheglov, Tatiana Tsiv'ian, Boris Uspensky, and others. In the West, he guest-lectured in major universities of Europe and taught at the University of Amsterdam (1979), Cornell University (1980-1983), where he chaired the Russian Department, and USC (since 1984).
The experience of emigration, teaching Russian literature to American students, and exposure to postmodern thinking led to a change in the approach to literary studies. His focus shifted to the Soviet Aesopian "art of adaptation," the poetics of "bad writing" (plokhopis'), and intertextuality. Zholkovsky's second English-language book, Text Counter Text: Rereadings in Russian Literary History (Stanford, 1994 [cloth], 1995 [paper]) is about the ways modern Russian writers (Brodsky, Limonov, Sokolov, Olesha, Bulgakov, Il'f and Petrov, Zoshchenko, Platonov, Pasternak [The window in the poetic world of Boris Pasternak, The dynamics of the second birth], Bunin) are engaged in a reinterpretive dialogue with the past masters of Russian literature (Karamzin, Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov), as well as with one another and the major co-temporary discourse: that of Soviet totalitarianism.
An intertextualist agenda underlies also his study of the Jewish-Russian writer Isaac Babel, coauthored by NYU's Mikhail Yampolsky (Babel'/Babel, Moscow, 1994). In his chapters of the book (some of which are available as articles in English), Zholkovsky traces the writer's Bloomian misreading of his Russian predecessors (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gorky) and some topoi of Russian literature, a rereading that draws on the "alien" support from Guy de Maupassant and the French literary tradition in general (in particular, Rousseau, Flaubert, and Zola).
Professor Zholkovsky's recent and current projects include (i) a demythologizing study of Anna Akhmatova's zhiznetvorcheskie ("life-creation") strategies as a sui generis obverse of Stalinism (Anna Akhmatova: scripts, not scriptures [Review Article], Anna Akhmatova piat'desiat let spustia, The obverse of Stalinism: Akhmatova's self-serving charisma of Selflessness) and (ii) a reinterpretation of Mikhail Zoshchenko's oeuvre, including his comic stories, as an expression of the author's existential anxieties (discussed in his autopsychoanalytical book Before Sunrise). The latter study has appeared in book form in Russian as Mikhail Zoshchenko: A Poetics of Mistrust (Moscow: "Shkola Iazyki Russkoi Kul'tury," 1999) and, in part, as a series of articles in English.
His recent work has focused on the phenomenon of what he termed "infinitive poetry" - verses written in sequences of (quasi)-absolute infinitive constructions and sharing a common semantic "halo", with special reference to the poetry of Pasternak, Shershenevich, and Brodsky. He is now preparing an annotated anthology of Russian infinitive poetry of the 18th--20th centuries.
Professor Zholkovsky has been a recipient of several grants and fellowships, among them those from Cornell University's Society for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, North Carolina, and the American Council of Learned Societies. He was awarded the Prize of the journal Zvezda (The Star) (1998) and USC's Raubenheimer Award (1999). He is a member of the Editorial Board of Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie ( New Literary Survey). He is a regular participant in the national conferences of Slavic scholars and national and international invited symposia and publishes activelyboth in Russia and the West. All in all, Professor Zholkovsky is the author of over 210 scholarly articles and 18 books, including two excercizes increative writing: a book of (meta)fiction: NRZB ["Illegible". Fictions] (Moscow, 1991) and two of non-fiction (Memoiristic vignettes and other non-fictions (Moscow, 2000) and Erosiped and other vignettes (Moscow 2003).