Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Antonio de Velasco

Committee Member

D. Gray Matthews

Committee Member

Leroy Dorsey

Committee Member

Hoke Robinson


This dissertation applies the method of influence studies to the archive of communication theorist Kenneth Burke (1897-1993) between the years 1915-1920. During this time, Burke was influenced by British and French aesthetic writers along with some philosophy and the writings of Cicero. As he was not conventionally trained in an academic discipline, this study shows how Burke’s theory of communication began to emerge from these disparate strands.The strongest influence on Burke during this time was the novel Marius the Epicurean by Walter Pater. As Harold Bloom’s theory of influence teaches, strong writers such as Burke “misread,” or willfully distort, their precursors in order to create space for themselves. Pater exalts “sensation” as the core of aesthetic experience, and Burke henceforward develops a bias against “sensation” in favor of “intelligence.”I track this bias through Burke’s encounter with American, Russian, and French novelists, mostly revealed through Burke’s letters to his friend Malcolm Cowley. I describe how Burke’s point of view was complicated by reading Arthur Schopenhauer, Henri Bergson, and Cicero, and place in this context many early texts that have not been studied: an unfinished novel, book reviews, short stories, essays, and notes. Although there is no one central document, together they show repetitive themes of sensation and intellect against backdrops of the city, country, history, and the differences between France and America. The final influence considered, Remy de Gourmont, introduces a definite historical bias that Burke maintained his whole life. Apologist for the Jesuits, Gourmont reinforced Burke’s image of a Catholic Middle Age in Europe, an era of stable and unified meanings that, if it cannot be recreated, still points to a universal promise.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.