Questioning Minds: The Letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner

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Product Details

Counterpoint LLC
Publish Date
6.75 X 9.5 X 5.0 inches | 7.65 pounds

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About the Author

GUY DAVENPORT (1927-2005) 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 The Geography of the Imagination, Eclogues, 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 Era, Joyce's Voices, and A Homemade World.

EDWARD M. BURNS is Professor Emeritus at William Paterson University of New Jersey. He has edited Staying on Alone: 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 Questioning Minds

Winner of the Morton N. Cohen Award for a Distinguished Edition of Letters

"The most intellectually exhilarating work published in 2018 . . . A lasting treasure." --Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"Questioning Minds, a gem of the form . . . amounts to something like an intellectual love affair, replete with moments of courtship, seduction, devotion, and, eventually, betrayal . . . We are unlikely to find a document of its like again . . . The collection is wonderfully, exhaustively annotated throughout by editor first Edward Burns . . . Questioning Minds often reads like the almanac of a brilliant and eccentric family. Beneath the heat of their native curiosity, even the most arcane subjects achieve a sudden, flaring warmth." --Dustin Illingworth, The Paris Review

"Gives readers unprecedented access to two of the greatest interpreters of the modernist legacy working parallel, both independently and jointly, like a pair of riders on a tandem bike . . . What separates the publication of these Kenner/Davenport letters from Selected Letters of John Keats, or those of Woolf or Wilde or Kafka, is that this book offers readers the back-and-forth, the conversation--not one side, but both . . . Here we get the whole exchange, or as much of it as one could ever expect to be privy to. Therein lies the marvel of a book like this: it clearly reveals the letter for the philosophical form it is--a true dialogue." --Tyler Malone, Lapham's Quarterly

"Two of the great literary polymaths of the 20th century converse about art, literature, scholarship and the life of the mind." --The Washington Post, One of the Year's 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction

"Cumulatively [the letters] contain a staggering intellectual energy and erudition. In fact, the Davenport-Kenner letters most resemble Pound's letters, with a similar telegraphic energy, erudition and bite . . . The two men occupy a cerebral, rarefied universe." --August Kleinzahler, London Review of Books

"Editor Edward M. Burns has done a monumental job assiduously annotating this vast correspondence . . . Kindred spirits reminiscent of Emerson and Thoreau, these 'questioning minds' were two of the most refined artistic sensibilities this continent has ever produced. Readers can be grateful that their complex friendship has been so beautifully enshrined in Burns's scrupulous volumes." --Greg Gerke, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Potential readers may consider the 1800-plus page length and wonder if the rewards will be worth the journey. The answer is absolutely yes." --W. C. Bamberger, Rain Taxi

"The volumes constitute the liveliest epistolary correspondence I've encountered over my life as a reader." --William H. Pritchard, The Hudson Review

"These 1,800 pages may well represent the last brilliant flowering of paper-based epistolary culture . . . Enthralling . . . A reader's delight." --Michael Dirda, National Review

"Questioning Minds deserves an audience because it allows readers the privilege of immersion in examinations of Modernist writing, in witnessing earnest and, at times, witty or humorous exchanges, and in seeing how academic (Kenner) and creative (Davenport) projects arise from chance remarks, are worked out (or abandoned), and, now and then, collaborated on . . . Any reader could profitably trace personages thanks to the index . . . and discover connections and insights on this or that artist that show the deep and broad learning these two friends had and enjoyed seeing in the other."--Jeff Bursey, The Quarterly Conversation

"The correspondence of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner is a feast . . . There is as much bromance as brilliance in Questioning Minds . . . A delight." --Tim Conley, James Joyce Quarterly

"These two massive volumes, solidly bound and with a sturdy slipcase, are the fruit of who knows how many hours (how many years) of editorial labor by Edward M. Burns, who should get the editorial equivalent of a Pulitzer or a National Book Award." --John Wilson, First Things

"These letters serve as a phenomenology of everyday life, a fascinating peek into two minds fighting the mildewed slumber of modernity by paying deep attention to the things a modern person might take for granted. To read these letters is to bear witness to how this kind of attention animates two highly eccentric thinkers." --Trevor Logan, The Curator

"Questioning Minds is a monument to the strange and wonderful relationship of two oddballs uniting to make an odd couple." --Jeet Heer, The New Republic

"The letters take us behind [Kenner and Davenport's] published writings into the preparatory questioning, discovering and drafting, and into aspects of their lives, interests and personalities that were not public . . . A major contribution to our knowledge of these two brilliant minds." --A. David Moody, The Times Literary Supplement

"Questioning Minds is essential reading for anyone interested in modernist writing in English." --Peter Quartermain, Textual Cultures

"A remarkably fruitful correspondence . . . The letters are a treasure." --Denis Donoghue, The New Criterion

"The letters are frank, candid expressions of two creative geniuses, most dating from the apex of their powers (mid-50's through the mid-70's, roughly). The personal experiences of the two men weave themselves beautifully around intense and erudite cultural observations which it takes time and attention to fully appreciate . . . Beautiful, moving, and lively . . . As Kenner and Davenport communicate to one another, the best that Western civilization has to offer speaks to us through them." --Scott Beauchamp, Claremont Review of Books

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." --The 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

"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

"As always, Kenner is original, provocative, stimulating, occasionally perverse, and immensely readable." --Library Journal

"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