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Kenneth Burke in the 1930s

Ann George and Jack Selzer

An invitation to mingle with Burke in the thirties and witness the development of his major works of the era

Kenneth Burke once remarked that he was "not a joiner of societies." Yet during the 1930s he affiliated himself with a range of intellectual communities—including the leftists in the League of American Writers; the activist contributors to Partisan Review, the New Masses, the Nation, and the New Republic; and the southern Agrarians and New Critics, as well as various other poets and pragmatists and thinkers. Ann George and Jack Selzer underscore the importance of these relations to Burke's development and suggest that his major writing projects of the 1930s fundamentally emerged from interactions with members of these various groups, such as writers Robert Penn Warren, Katherine Anne Porter, Allen Tate, and John Crowe Ransom; poets Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams; cutural commentators Malcolm Cowley, Mike Gold, and Edmund Wilson; and philosophers Sidney Hook and John Dewey.

George and Selzer offer a comprehensive account of four Burke texts—Auscultation, Creation, and Revision (1932), Permanence and Change (1935), Attitudes toward History (1937), and The Philosophy of Literary Form (1941)—and contend that the work from this decade is at least as compelling as his later, more widely known books. The authors examine extensive and largely unexplored archives of Burke's papers, study the magazines in which Burke's works appeared, and, most important, read him carefully in relation to the ideological conversations of the time. Offering a rich context for understanding Burke's writings from one of his most prolific periods, George and Selzer argue that significant Burkean concepts—such as identification and dramatism—found in later texts ought to be understood as rooted in his 1930s commitments.

President-elect of the Kenneth Burke Society, Ann George is an associate professor at Texas Christian University, where she teaches and writes about rhetorical theory and the culture wars of the 1930s.

Author of Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village: Conversing with the Moderns, 1915–1931, Jack Selzer has written and edited books and articles on Kenneth Burke, the rhetoric of science, and rhetorical theory. Among his other works are Rhetorical Bodies, 1977: The Cultural Moment in Composition, and Good Reasons. Selzer is a professor of English and an associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Pennsylvania State University.

"Kenneth Burke in the 1930s is the much-anticipated sequel to Jack Selzer's Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village, and it certainly does not disappoint. Selzer and Ann George have done a remarkable job placing Burke within the cultural conversations of pre-war America while providing a rich genealogy of his later work on rhetoric and symbolic action. The result is a deeper understanding of Burke as an engaged public intellectual and a significant reevaluation of the thirties in the development of his most influential thinking. This is a book not only for Burkeans and other scholars of rhetoric and communication but also for everyone interested in the complex dynamics of U.S. cultural politics."—Steven Mailloux, Chancellor's Professor of Rhetoric, University of California, Irvine, and author of Disciplinary Identities: Rhetorical Paths of English, Speech, and Composition

"The result of extraordinary archival research, this account of Kenneth Burke's work during the turbulent 1930s—work that produced in a decade five innovative books and many important shorter pieces—describes in its full social context this phase of his development as a public intellectual. George and Selzer provide a vivid and detailed portrait of a critical citizen who immerses himself in the most intense conversations and controversies of his time to shape and be shaped by them. In that process, Burke both articulates and practices his rhetorical project of teaching others to address together the political and aesthetic conflicts that prevent people from composing together a good life."—Gregory Clark, professor of English, Brigham Young University, and author of Rhetorical Landscapes in America: Variations on a Theme from Kenneth Burke



book jacket for Kenneth Burke in the 1930s


6 x 9
344 pages
2 illustrations
ISBN 978-1-57003-700-9
hardcover, $49.95s

Studies in Rhetoric/Communication

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