Burke in Greenwich Village

Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village Conversing with the Moderns, 1915-1931. Jack Selzer. Madison, Wiscomsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1st edition. 1996. 284 Pages. ISBN: 978-0299151843. $18.08 (Amazon Prime).

Summary: This text functions primarily as a historical document and seeks to locate and situate Burke in the Greenwich Village. From Towards a Better Life, this book highlights the discussions that Burke entered and influenced. Ultimately, this book highlights Burke as a significant voice amidst the avant-garde of the Greenwich Village.
• Introduction: KB both shaped and was shaped by the modernist movement (6). New York served as a location where avant-garde writers and artists such as Duchamp, Wallace Stevens, E. E. Cummings, Georgia O’Keefe(9) and others found “emancipation” in Greenwich(10).
• Overview: A Flaubert in Greenwich Village: This section, which takes up a full third of the book situates Greenwich as an “intellectual haven and artistic bohemia”(57) and describes how Burke would use this environment to go on to be called “without question, the most important living critic” by Wayne Booth (15).
• Burke among Others: The Early Poetry: KB published his first poem (in free verse) in the magazine Others in March, 1916 (63) [Poem on 67]. Burke modeled much of his early poetry off of Jules Laforgue (77). Ultimately, the modernists had a significant affect on American Poetry. Burke all bust stopped writing poetry by the 1920’s (84).
• Thomas Man, the Little Magazines and Burke’s Short Fiction: By the 1920’s Burke began to focus on fiction which he wrote for a small audience with a goal of advancing the craft of fiction writing (89). As his writing developed he began to incorporate the tools of criticism into his fiction such as Portrait of an Arrived Critic (91). Between 1918 and 1922 Burke developed this style of writing into more fantastical experiments (108). Burke’s work at The Dial was important to him in this period.
• At The Dial—and Up against Dada: Burke attributes his success to when The Dial published his short story, Mrs. Maecenas(115). During this period (circa 1922) Thayer and Watson took over The Dial and re-tooled it as a premier location for publishing short stories (e.g. The Wasteland) rather than the political essays of earlier years.
• Counter-Statement as Counter Statement: Writing Counter-Statement KB destabilized the Modernist movement from which he wrote the text (137). His major goals in writing C-S was to outline the nature of art and to differentiate it from science (137). Overall, C-S counter states itself in three ways: it counters “genteel” poetics (163), foundations of the modernist movement (163), and itself from within (164).
• Conclusion: Conversing with Modernism in Towards a Better Life: TaBL was written between 1927 and 1931. Many critics have read TaBL as a “thinly veiled autobiography” (167) or as a portrait of the product of the 1930’s(167). Also, TaBL can be read as Burke’s overall response to modernism.
Significance: Though many of the texts we are reading for this course are full-length texts, Burke also wrote poetry, short stories and a novel. Ultimately, this book serves to show the landscape (or situation) that Burke wrote in between 1915 and 1931. The anecdotes contained in this book allow for a richer appreciation of Burke as a person, and for his location in the great parlor that is the world.
Secondary Sources
• Burke, Kenneth, and Malcolm Cowley. The Selected Correspondence of Kenneth Burke and Malcolm Cowley, 1915-1981. Univ of California Press, 1988.
• Hassett, Michael. "Sophisticated Burke: Kenneth Burke as a neosophistic rhetorician." Rhetoric Review 13.2 (1995): 371-390.
• George, Ann, and Jack Selzer. Kenneth Burke in the 1930s. Univ of South Carolina Press, 2007.