Bowie in Berlin, Part 2

The new persona that we might call “David Bowie in Berlin” was created through a turn to the art of a past era that also grappled with capitalist realism: Expressionism, an artistic movement that deepens the Romantic vein of expressing emotional experience. . . A future is mourned in the spectral fade-out that closes “Speed of Life.” Through vanishing clouds of futurity, Bowie’s unprecedented musical landscape emerges.

Paul Rowe, David Bowie and Romanticism, pp. 147, 149

Paul Rowe’s “Relics of The Future: The Melancholic Romanticism of Bowie’s Berlin Triptych,” chapter 7 of David Bowie and Romanticism, negotiates the tensions between modernism and Romanticism in Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy.” Drawing from Michael Löwy and Robert Sayre’s Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity (2001), Rowe emphasizes that Romanticism remains embedded in modernity; that it is, in fact, a modern critique of modernity, modernity’s self criticism.

Check out the iTunes playlist for David Bowie and Romanticism.

This conceptual move allows him to bring together Bowie’s modernist electronica of the Berlin albums with Romantic nostalgia, melancholy, and, in Schlegel’s words, “the willows of exile.” Rowe sees Bowie in Berlin as an exile, “an outcast in his own time who mourns the future without knowing what he has lost or will lose, a dreamer who yearns for relics of the future, powerfully prophesizing the end of history associated with the fall of the Berlin Wall” (p. 143). What’s stunning to me about Rowe’s work is not just his identification of Romantic nostalgia in Bowie’s work, but in defining that Romantic nostalgia as nostalgia for the future. What could nostalgia for the future be but a longing for lost hopes, a lost trajectory, a lost vision for the future?

You can read more in David Bowie and Romanticism. Order it from The Bookstore or have your local, college, or university library order it.

Paul Rowe teaches at Endicott College and works as a music writer for PopMatters. His work also appears in Literary Imagination and Literary Matters.

Published by James Rovira

Dr. James Rovira is higher education professional with twenty years experience in the field in teaching, administration, and advising roles. He is also an interdisciplinary scholar and writer whose works include fiction, poetry, and scholarship exploring the intersections of literature and philosophy, literature and psychology, literary theory, and music and literature.. His books include Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism (Routledge, 2023); David Bowie and Romanticism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022); Writing for College and Beyond (a first-year composition textbook (Lulu 2019)); Reading as Democracy in Crisis: Interpretation, Theory, History (Lexington Books 2019); Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (Lexington Books, 2018); Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); and Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety (Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2010). See his website at for details.

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