Kenneth Burke

Topics: Kenneth Burke, Rhetoric, Literary theory Pages: 5 (1575 words) Published: May 15, 2013
Kenneth Burke
Kenneth Duva Burke (May 5, 1897 – November 19, 1993) was an American literary theorist and philosopher. Burke's primary interests were in rhetoric and aesthetics. Burke became a highly distinguished writer after getting out of college, and starting off serving as an editor and critic instead, while he developed his relationships with other successful writers. He would later return to the university to lecture and teach. He was born on May 5 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Peabody High School, where his friend Malcolm Cowley was also a student. Burke attended Ohio State University for only a semester, then studied at Columbia University in 1916-1917 before dropping out to be a writer. In Greenwich Village he kept company with avant-garde writers such as Hart Crane, Malcolm Cowley, Gorham Munson, and later Allen Tate. Raised Roman Catholic, Burke later became an avowed agnostic. In 1919, he married Lily Mary Batterham, with whom he had three daughters: the late feminist, Marxist anthropologist Eleanor Leacock (1922–1987); musician (Jeanne) Elspeth Chapin Hart (b. 1920); and writer and poet France Burke (b. ~1925). He would later marry her sister Elizabeth Batterham in 1933 and have two sons, Michael and Anthony. Burke served as the editor of the modernist literary magazine The Dial in 1923, and as its music critic from 1927-1929. Kenneth himself was an avid player of the saxophone and flute. He received the Dial Award in 1928 for distinguished service to American literature. He was the music critic of The Nation from 1934–1936, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1935. His work on criticism was a driving force for placing him back into the university spotlight. As a result, he was able to teach and lecture at various colleges, including Bennington College, while continuing his literary work. Many of Kenneth Burke's personal papers and correspondence are housed at Pennsylvania State University's Special Collections Library. In later life, his New Jersey farm was a popular summer retreat for his extended family, as reported by his grandson Harry Chapin, a contemporary popular song artist. He died of heart failure at his home in Andover, New Jersey. Burke, like many twentieth century theorists and critics, was heavily influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche. He was a lifelong interpreter of Shakespeare, and was also significantly influenced by Thorstein Veblen. He resisted being pigeonholed as a follower of any philosophical or political school of thought, and had a notable and very public break with the Marxists who dominated the literary criticism set in the 1930s. Burke corresponded with a number of literary critics, thinkers, and writers over the years, including William Carlos Williams, Malcolm Cowley, Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, Ralph Ellison,Katherine Anne Porter, Jean Toomer, Hart Crane, and Marianne Moore. Later thinkers who have acknowledged Burke's influence include Harold Bloom, Stanley Cavell, Susan Sontag (his student at the University of Chicago), Erving Goffman, Geoffrey Hartman, Edward Said, René Girard, Fredric Jameson, Michael Calvin McGee, Dell Hymes and Clifford Geertz. Burke was one of the first prominent American critics to appreciate and articulate the importance of Thomas Mann and André Gide; Burke produced the first English translation of "Death in Venice", which first appeared in The Dial in 1924. It is now considered to be much more faithful and explicit than H. T. Lowe-Porter's more famous 1930 translation. Burke's political engagement is evident, for example, A Grammar of Motives takes as its epigraph, ad bellum purificandum — toward the purification of (the human spirit from) war. American literary critic Harold Bloom singled out Burke's Counterstatement and A Rhetoric of Motives for inclusion in his "Western Canon". The political and social power...
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