UC Irvine

Alexander Gelley


The Director

Alexander Gelley has been occupied with the work of Walter Benjamin over the past 25 years and has published essays dealing with central aspects of this work: the theme of the city (“City Texts: Representation, Semiology, Urbanism"); the significance of the posthumous Arcades Project ("Thematics and Historical Construction in the Arcades Project”); the conception of art (“Contexts of the Aesthetic in Walter Benjamin”); commodity fetishism (“The Slippery Commodity Thing: Commodity Fetishism and the Mutation of Material Culture in Walter Benjamin”);  Benjamin's relation to Judaism (“On the Myth of the German-Jewish Dialogue”); the feuilleton writing (“Epigones in the House of Language: Benjamin on Kraus”). The scholarly work on Benjamin is, of course, enormous. This itself testifies to his continuing impact over the past few decades. What is more, his thought continually leads beyond itself into regions that may be quite remote from Benjamin’s own preoccupations but that, in diverse ways, link up with current theoretical discourses.

Before coming to the University of California, Irvine, some 40 years ago, Professor Gelley taught in a number of universities both in this country and abroad: The City College of New York (1961-65); Tel Aviv University (1965-66, Fulbright Lecturer); The Hebrew Univesity, Jerusalem (1966-67 and 1988-89, visiting lecturer); The University of Mainz (1975-76 , Fulbright Lecturer); Princeton University (1999, Old Dominion Fellow).

In 2001 Professor Gelley led an NEH Summer Seminar for College Teachers on “Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project: Commodity Fetishism and the Aesthetics of the City.” The present seminar, while in part based on this earlier one, will try to take account of newer developments both in the field of Benjamin studies and theory more generally.

Visiting Lecturer

Professor Gerhard Richter, University of California, Davis, will be a visitor for one seminar session. Professor Richter is the author of Walter Benjamin and the Corpus of Autobiography, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000; Thought-Images: Frankfurt School Writers’ Reflections from Damaged Life, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007, and other writings on Benjamin and modern literary theory.

Institutional Context

As a major research institution with strong commitment to both graduate and undergraduate teaching, The University of California, Irvine, is particularly well suited to serve as venue for this Seminar. The library has excellent holdings in modern literature and literary theory and its Reserve Book service will bring together all the works I designate for use by the Seminar. The CDL data base for the University of California provides access to the University’s collection as a whole and makes possible rapid inter-library access within the system, usually in a matter of two or three days. For those participants who want to use specialized materials, the proximity of various outstanding collections is attractive, e.g., the Huntington Library, the Clark Library, the Getty Center, the UCLA Research Library.

The UC Irvine library itself possesses the René Wellek Collection of works in literary theory and criticism, over 5000 volumes housed in the Special Collections, a non-circulating section of the library. Also, the Critical Theory Archive holds the archives of major figures, including Jacques Derrida, Wolfgang Iser, Paul de Man, Stanley Fish, Richard Rorty, J Hillis Miller, and Murray Krieger. The University Bookstore has an excellent collection of works in literary theory and criticism and is prepared to order books needed for the Seminar.