THE SELECTED CORRESPONDENCE OF KENNETH BURKE AND MALCOLM COWLEY 1915-1981 by Paul--Ed. Jay
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THE SELECTED CORRESPONDENCE OF KENNETH BURKE AND MALCOLM COWLEY 1915-1981

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Probably the most important collection of letters between two major writers since Simon Karlinsky's The Nabokov-Wilson Letters (1979). Gruff, lewd, challenging, devoted lifelong friends, Cowley and Burke have served each other as intellectual watchdogs, conscience-pricks, comradely supporters, and editors during their stunning parallel careers. Chums at Pittsburgh's Peabody High School, Cowley went to Harvard, Burke to Columbia--then the former set out for Paris to know Bohemia and Dadaism up-close and the latter dove underground to become the next ""Flaubert."" Together, their letters, arranged chronologically into four sections by Jay (English/Univ. of Chicago), give an intellectual vision of the century: Cowley's evolution into the foremost American cultural critic of the 30's and 40's is sketched here in penetrating notes about religion, modernism, Stalin, and his own intellectual mania--while Burke is seen almost simultaneously plotting to turn American literary criticism on its head with ideas later worked into seminal literary/linguistic/philosophical works like A Grammer of Motives. Even greater insight is afforded by the chinks in the psychic armor that the letters reveal: Cowley's consternation over structuralist and post-structuralist criticism casts ironic, humorous light on his life's work, while Burke's constant struggle with melancholy, booze, and misanthropy colors his thoughts and intensity of feeling. Finally, generous, insightful gossip about contemporaries--Hart Crane, Lionel Trilling, Hemingway--provides stirring background to the warm, sparring tone of the letters. A momentous literary event, this spiritual co-autobiography dazzles with genius, love, and fire rarely seen.

Pub Date: Dec. 28th, 1988
Publisher: Viking