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Questioning Minds

Volumes I and II: The Letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner, edited by Edward Burns

List Price: $95.00

ON SALE: October 9, 2018 | Hardcover | 6 x 9, 2,000 Pages | ISBN 9781619021815
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Hugh Kenner (1923-2003) and Guy Davenport (1927-2005) first met in September 1953 when each gave a paper on Ezra Pound at Columbia University. They met again in the fall of 1957, and their correspondence begins with Kenner’s letter of March 7, 1958. In the next forty-four years, they exchanged over one thousand letters. Their correspondence about shared enthusiasm is a quarry for those interested in unique perspectives on Pound, Eliot, Joyce, Beckett, Basil Bunting, Charles Tomlinson, R. Buckminster Fuller, Stan Brakhage, Jonathan Williams, and the American modernists, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and Louis Zukofsky. The correspondence ends with Kenner’s letter of August 9, 2002 lamenting how they had drifted apart.

With his mentor, Marshall McLuhan, Kenner visited Pound at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, in June 1948. Later he visited Pound in Venice and Rapallo. Davenport also was a visitor to St. Elizabeths, and, like Kenner, visited Pound in Italy. These letters record their fascination with Pound’s intellectual journey and explore how he translated the “brutality of fact” into The Cantos.

The extensive notes and cross-referencing of archival sources in Questioning Minds are a major contribution to the study of literary modernism. The letters contained within explore how new works were conceived and developed by both writers. They record faithfully, and with candor, the urgency that each brought to his intellectual and creative pursuits. Here is singular opportunity to follow the development of their unique fictions and essays.

About Edward Burns

GUY DAVENPORT was born in South Carolina and lived for more than forty years in Lexington, Kentucky, where he died in 2005. The author of more than twenty books, including Geography of the ImaginationEclogues, and The Death of Picasso, he was also a distinguished professor at the University of Kentucky and a MacArthur Fellow in 1990.

HUGH KENNER (1923-2003), literary critic and distinguished Joyce scholar, held academic posts at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Georgia. He was the author of twenty books, including The Pound EraJoyce’s Voices and The Homemade World.

EDWARD M. BURNS is Professor Emeritus at William Paterson University of New Jersey. He has edited The Letters of Alice B. Toklas, The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten, The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder, A Tour of the Darkling Plain: The ‘Finnegans Wake’ Letters of Thornton Wilder and Adaline Glasheen, and A Passion for Joyce: The Letters of Hugh Kenner and Adaline Glasheen. He served as an editor of Text and its successor journal Textual Cultures.


Praise for Guy Davenport

“Guy Davenport seems comfortable in any genre… For whatever else he is, Davenport is an entertainer … to the point of being able to take literary dullards like Kafka and Poe and turn them, too, into charming entertainers.”—RALPH “There is no way to prepare yourself for reading Guy Davenport. You stand in awe before his knowledge of the archaic and his knowledge of the modern. Even more, you stand in awe of the connections he can make between the archaic and the modern; he makes the remote familiar and the familiar fundamental.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

“As a critic, Davenport shines as an intrepid appreciator, an ideal teacher. By preference, he likes to walk the reader through a painting or a poem, teasing out the meaning of odd details, making connections with history and other works of art. His must-have essay collections, The Geography of the Imagination and Every Force Evolves a Form, displays his range: With a rainwater clarity, he can write about the naturalistic Louis Aggassiz or ancient poetry and thought . . . He can account for the importance of prehistoric cave art to early modernism or outline the achievements of Joyce and Pound. He can make you yearn to read or look again at neglected masters like the poets Charles Olson and Louis Zukofsky and the painters Balthus and Charles Burchfield. He can send you out eagerly searching for C. M. Doughty’s six-volume epic poem, The Dawn in Britain, and for the works of Ronald Johnson, Jonathan Williams and Paul Metcalf. In all this, his method is nothing other than the deep attentiveness engendered by love; that and a firm faith in simply knowing things. He conveys, to adopt his own words about painter Paul Cadmus, ‘a perfect balance of spirit and information.'” —Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

“One of our most gifted and versatile men of letters.” —New York Times

“If the language of fiction is to be of any lasting use . . . it must struggle to define—and, in so doing, attain—moments of liberty. Davenport has succeeded in that regard, finding new ways to dramatize one, suggestive question: What if we were free? In their language and form, their intelligence and art, his stories remain some of our most eloquent, individual, and lasting answers to that inexhaustible question.” —Harper’s

“Encountering his work one is reminded of how exciting literary modernism can be, how much pleasure it can afford, and how far from moribund are the concerns and methods of Joyce, Pound, and the rest of the modernist gang. . . . And, for those who have yet to discover and jubilate in Davenport’s work, this collection superseded earlier anthologies as the most convenient place to start.” —The Three Penny Review

“Unquestionably brilliant . . .” —Library Journal

“A stellar stylist with a tantalizingly light touch, rarefied yet relaxed sense of humor, and deep insights into the literary and artistic greats he transforms into fictional characters or boon imaginary companions, Davenport writes with equal imagination and verve about the tanginess of an orange, the mystery of love, quantum physics, music, and a lashing rainstorm.” —Booklist

Praise for Hugh Kenner

“As always, Kenner is original, provocative, stimulating, occasionally perverse, and immensely readable.” —Library Journal

“There is no critic who has more firmly established his claim to valuable literary property than has Kenner to the first three decades of the twentieth century in England. Author of previous studies of Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis and Pound (to name a few), Kenner bestrides modern literature if not like a colossus then at least a presence of formidable proportions.” —The New York Times

“It’s always an unexpected pleasure to find serious literary criticism written as if the English language still mattered, as Hugh Kenner’s writing insists that it does.” —T. R. Edwards, The New York Times Book Review

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