Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village
Conversing with the Moderns, 1915–1931
Publication Year: 1996
Capturing the lively modernist milieu of Kenneth Burke’s early career in Greenwich Village, where Burke arrived in 1915 fresh from high school in Pittsburgh, this book discovers him as an intellectual apprentice conversing with “the moderns.” Burke found himself in the midst of an avant-garde peopled by Malcolm Cowley, Marianne Moore, Jean Toomer, Katherine Anne Porter, William Carlos Williams, Allen Tate, Hart Crane, Alfred Stieglitz, and a host of other fascinating figures.
Burke himself, who died in 1993 at the age of 96, has been hailed as America’s most brilliant and suggestive critic and the most significant theorist of rhetoric since Cicero. Many schools of thought have claimed him as their own, but Burke has defied classification and indeed has often been considered a solitary, eccentric genius immune to intellectual fashions. But Burke’s formative work of the 1920s, when he first defined himself and his work in the context of the modernist conversation, has gone relatively unexamined.
Here we see Burke living and working with the crowd of poets, painters, and dramatists affiliated with Others magazine, Stieglitz’s “291” gallery, and Eugene O’Neill’s Provincetown Players; the leftists associated with the magazines The Masses and Seven Arts; the Dadaists; and the modernist writers working on literary journals like The Dial, where Burke in his capacity as an associate editor saw T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” into print for the first time and provided other editorial services for Thomas Mann, e.e. cummings, Ezra Pound, and many other writers of note. Burke also met the iconoclasts of the older generation represented by Theodore Dreiser and H. L. Mencken, the New Humanists, and the literary nationalists who founded Contact and The New Republic. Jack Selzer shows how Burke’s own early poems, fiction, and essays emerged from and contributed to the modernist conversation in Greenwich Village. He draws on a wonderfully rich array of letters between Burke and his modernist friends and on the memoirs of his associates to create a vibrant portrait of the young Burke’s transformation from aesthete to social critic.
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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ABOOK ABOUT Kenneth Burke in the 1920s should probably be written in the form of a collage rather than as a formal academic essay. Not only would collage as form be appropriate to a discussion that centers around the concept of literary modernism, but an effective collage would...
1. Introduction [Includes Image Plates]
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AS MARJORIE PERLOFF has recently noted, "Surely no literary term has raised more controversy and misunderstanding than the modest little word modernism" (154). Perloff's comment was directed to literary scholars and critics, especially to those who have been...
2. Overview: A Flaubert in Greenwich Village
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ON SEPTEMBER 17, 1917, James Light wrote a desperate letter from Columbus, Ohio, to his close friend Kenneth Burke in Weehawken, New Jersey. "We [Light and his companion Sue Jenkins] must get to New York, and you must make it possible," he wrote. "I beg you by...
3. Burke among Others: The Early Poetry
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BURKE'S LETTER TO Cowley on January 6, 1918, was not the only place where he announced his intentions. Burke's mother was visiting relatives back in Pittsburgh at the time of his decision, and because she very much wanted her son to complete his college degree, Burke a day later...
4. Thomas Mann, the Little Magazines, and Burke's Short Fiction
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I T'S NOT THAT BURKE had never tried fiction before 1919. He wrote several stories in high school, and in 1917 he contributed "A Parabolic Tale, with Invocation," an irreverent, 300-word Aesopian parable dedicated to the wisdom of youth, to the first issue of Sansculotte. Later that...
5. At The Dial -- and Up against Dada
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BURKE'S FICTION BROUGHT him to the attention of a small group of committed modernists who were just beginning the venture of creating a new version of The Dial as a place dedicated to modern arts and letters. The publication of "Mrs. Maecenas" was an auspicious event for Burke. ...
6. Counter-Statement as Counter Statement
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COUNTER-STATEMENT, too, like many of Burke's essays in The Dial, can be seen as the product of an aesthete sensibility, as a document with clear links to the Symbolists as well as to other modernist groups and doctrines. It takes up standard modernist artists, texts, topics, and...
7. Conclusion: Conversing with Modernism in Towards a Better Life
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BURKE'S Towards a Better Life; Being a Series of Epistles, or Declamations, written over several years from 1927 to 1931 and published in the first days of 1932, is as difficult to overview as Burke's other fiction. The book jacket copy that Burke composed for his experiment...
An Informal Chronology
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Works Cited and Consulted
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Index [Includes List of other works in series and Back Cover]
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Publication Year: 1996