[KB] Burke in Chicago

David Blakesley dblakes at clemson.edu
Mon Jan 27 11:13:02 EST 2014


It was the Autumn Quarter, 1949, at the invitation of Champ Ward, who'd
received a Carnegie Foundation grant to help with Burke's salary. The
course was "Humanities III." James Beasley's excellent Purdue dissertation
covers all this in some depth ("A Prehistory of Rhetoric and Composition:
New Rhetoric and Neo-Aristotelianism at the University of Chicago,
1947-1959"). Susan Sontag was one of the students. I'll quote a few
passages below that might interest Burkeians . . .


"When Kenneth Burke joined the staff in 1949, he was a regular participant
in the weekly staff meetings. Through the course of the term, however,
Burke found these meetings tedious, particularly the propensity of several
of the staff to pontificate on matters mostly small. Burke exercised his
position as Visiting Instructor to begin opting out of these meetings."
(Beasley 62).

Susan Sontag was one of Burke's students and had this to say (qtd. in
Beasely, 114-15):

Kenneth Burke was a great influence on me. I studied with him during my
first year at Chicago, 1949-1950, when he was a visiting professor and was
teaching a section of Humanities III. That was one of the courses I was
required to take, and it was sheer luck that I was assigned to the section
he taught.

I remember the first day. The man standing in front of the class looked
ancient to me; he was probably all of forty-five. I was sixteen. He wrote
“Mr. Burke” on the blackboard. Then he began talking about the approach to
literary texts he would be using. I thought, “This sounds familiar.”

I’d already been reading Kenneth Burke on my own for several years—I read a
lot of criticism and literary quarterlies. After class I went up to him and
said, “Excuse me, Mr. Burke”—I was very shy and didn’t approach a teacher
easily—“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but could you please tell me your
first name?”

“Why do you ask?” he said. I have to explain that at that time Kenneth
Burke was not famous. I mean, he was famous to a tiny literary coterie, but
he certainly didn’t expect any undergraduate to know who he was.

                        I said, “Because I wondered if you might be Kenneth

                        He said, “How do you know who I am?”

            “And I said, “Well, I’ve read *Permanence and Change* *and The
Philosophy of Literary Form* and *A Grammar of Motives*, and I’ve read…”

                        He said, “You have?”

                        Another miracle.

            Burke was not a Chicago product—in fact, he’d never even gotten
a B.A. But his approach confirmed the Chicago method of close reading. I
remember we spent three months on one shortish novel of Conrad’s, *Victory*,
reading and discussing it line by line (164; Sontag, Susan. "A Gluttonous
Reader." *An Unsentimental Education*. Ed Molly McQuade. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1995. Pp. 159-168).

On Mon, Jan 27, 2014 at 10:52 AM, Clarke Rountree <rountrj at uah.edu> wrote:

> Dear Burkelers:
> Can someone tell me the exact semester Burke taught at the University of
> Chicago in the 1940s? And the title of his course? This is a stretch, but
> do we know who was in his seminar?
> Thanks,
> Clarke
> --
> Dr. Clarke Rountree
> Chair and Professor of Communication Arts
> 342 Morton Hall
> University of Alabama in Huntsville
> Huntsville, AL  35899
> 256-824-6646
> clarke.rountree at uah.edu
> _______________________________________________
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> KB at kbjournal.org
> http://kbjournal.org/mailman/listinfo/kb_kbjournal.org
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