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Kenneth Burke (Kenneth Duva Burke) Biography

(1897–93), (Kenneth Duva Burke), The White Oxen, Dial, Counter-Statement

American critic, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, educated at Ohio State and Columbia Universities. Having established a reputation with his exotic short stories in The White Oxen (1924), during the late 1920s he gained wide notice for the critical articles containing his innovative theories of literary form which appeared in the Dial and elsewhere. He subsequently held numerous posts as a lecturer, notably at Bennington College, where he taught literary theory from 1943 to 1961. Counter-Statement (1931) and Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose (1935) won acclaim for the remarkable scope of his philosophical explications of the socio-cultural significance of artistic creation. Attitudes towards History (two volumes, 1937), an ambitious psychological and ethical evaluation of historical developments, was followed by The Philosophy of Literary Form (1941), A Grammar of Motives (1945), and A Rhetoric of Motives (1950); in these works Burke's proposition that ‘man is a symbol-using animal’ forms a basis for linguistic, philosophical, and psychological analyses of the interactions between literature, language, belief, and action. His later publications include The Rhetoric of Religion (1961), the collected essays of Language as Symbolic Form (1966), Dramatism and Development (1972), and On Symbols and Society (edited by J. R. Gusfield, 1989), a selection from Burke's more sociologically oriented writings. Collected Poems (1968) includes many of Burke's ‘flowerishes’, provocatively aphoristic pieces presented in extravagantly inventive calligraphic forms. In his poetry the energetic idiosyncrasy characterizing his other works is unbridled. Among his other books are Towards a Better Life (1932), a ‘series of declamations or epistles’ in fictional forms, and the collected short stories of The Complete White Oxen (1968).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Burghers of Calais to Peter Carey Biography