Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village by Jack Selzer
Conversing with the Moderns, 1915-1931 (Wisconsin Project on American Writers)

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Synopsis

Capturing the lively modernist milieu of Kenneth Burkes 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 Americas 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 Burkes 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, Stieglitzs 291 gallery, and Eugene ONeills 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. Eliots 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 Burkes 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 Burkes transformation from aesthete to social critic.

 

About Jack Selzer

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Selzer teaches in the English Department at Pennsylvania State University.
 
Published December 1, 1996 by University of Wisconsin Press. 254 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village

Publishers Weekly

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The contributions of literary critic and rhetorician Kenneth Burke (1897-1993) to the avant-garde modernist movement in Greenwich Village after WWI would seem to be an acquired, rather esoteric taste.

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London Review of Books

I want to be a – yes – a genius.’ Greenwich Village was full of young men determined to be geniuses – young women, too.

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Project MUSE

Ross Wolin's The Rhetorical Imagination of Kenneth Burke offers its readers an interesting mix of intellectual history and conceptual explication, along with an element of biography, which Wolin performs in an effort to trace the movements of Burke's thought as it developed over time within parti...

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