cover image Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village: Conversing with the Moderns, 1915-1931

Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village: Conversing with the Moderns, 1915-1931

Jack Selzer. University of Wisconsin Press, $19.95 (254pp) ISBN 978-0-299-15184-3

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. But Selzer, himself an English professor and rhetorician at Penn State, provides the interested general reader with intelligible background material sufficient to acquire the taste and satisfies the appetites of those already knowledgeable by presenting some new discoveries. The two chapters of introduction and overview (about a third of the text) make up a masterful survey of the many-sided nature of literary modernism and the rich cultural milieu peopled by figures like Eugene O'Neill, Alfred Stieglitz, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore and others. In subsequent chapters, Selzer uses a study of Burke's poetry, short stories and novels as starting points for deeper discussions of relevant modernist trends such as the rise of free verse, the rejection of plot and the growing focus in fiction on associational rather than sequential thought. Selzer's new discoveries about Burke's contributions to modernism reside in his reading of Burke's creative works and letters. The chapter about Burke's 15 months as associate editor of The Dial exemplifies the book's larger merits by exploring that renowned literary periodical, which published among other works T. S. Eliot's ""The Waste Land."" Assimilating complex material and presenting it in a style free of jargon, Selzer has written an accessible, interesting book. Photos not seen by PW. (Feb.)