I have been lax in celebrating William Blake’s birthday, which passed by recently, on Nov. 28th. A Londoner almost all of his life, he was born in 1757 and died in 1827, just short of his 70th birthday. He’s best known for The Songs of Innocence and of Experience, and within that, the poem “The Tyger,” and also for an excerpt from his long poem Milton a Poem which was set to music by Hubert Parry in a piece called “Jerusalem” (And did those feet…), a composition used as a school song for many schools around the world also famously covered by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Selections from “Auguries of Innocence” are found in the Tomb Raider movies, his art in the Hannibal Lecter movies, and his poems are probably used for lyrics by contemporary musicians more than any other poet from any time. There are book-length lists of Blake poems set to music.
I didn’t learn about Blake in school, however — I learned of him when I heard the song “William Blake,” which was written by Terry Scott Taylor for the band Daniel Amos on their Vox Humana album. Hearing that song was enough to get me to rush to — remember these? — a B. Dalton Bookseller, where I picked up a copy of the Viking Portable Blake. That started me on a journey that took me through graduate school, a dissertation, my first book, and then two Rock and Romanticism books. But it was all about music and literature from the beginning, not just the stuff they make you read in school, as it was for Blake himself, who originally sang many of those poems at dinner parties to his own original musical compositions. He was said to have a good singing voice, and scholars of music notated his compositions at the time, though those are lost to us now. Roy Starling was my first instructor in Romanticism, and he made Romantic poetry come alive for me, as he did all the literature he taught to all of his students at the college and high school levels.
I chose Blake because I wanted a subject of study that I could attend to for twenty years without getting bored, and he has not disappointed. In addition to my own writing about Blake, I was also privileged to work with Michael Phillips on three occasions for Blake printmaking demonstrations, one of these resulting in an exhibit at Rollins College and another in an exhibit curated by Lee Fearnside that consisted of contemporary artists inspired by Blake alongside Phillips’s own reproductions of Blake’s work through his reproduction of his printmaking methods.
And Blake has informed and inspired my own creative work — following in his footsteps I’m working on my own reworking of Milton’s Paradise Lost as a steampunk western as well as assorted collections of my own poetry. We will see where it all leads, but I remain grateful for what Blake has meant to me.
I should end this with Blake’s own words…
And did those feet in ancient time Walk upon Englands mountains green: And was the holy Lamb of God, On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine, Shine forth upon our clouded hills? And was Jerusalem builded here, Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold: Bring me my arrows of desire: Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold! Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight, Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand: Till we have built Jerusalem, In Englands green & pleasant Land.
Rock and Romanticism: scholarship with a soundtrack. Yes, I have two anthologies with the main title Rock and Romanticism. The first was published early February 2018 by Lexington Books, and was focused on Blake and Wordsworth and, very generally, the genre of classic rock.
This second book is Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming late May 2018) and is focused just where the title implies: on the gothic or “dark Romanticism” as it is sometimes called and on its musical counterparts in rock. The first book states a thesis about the relationship between rock and roll and Romanticism. This book restates that thesis and then extends it to different genres of music and literature.
This page provides chapter descriptions and a lot more. If you liked the first book, you’ll like this one too: those interested in one really need to get both. If you’re drawn to this project, please consider requesting that your libraries order it. A more formal description of the project follows.
Because I’ve recently published two edited anthologies with the same top title, I’ve created this video explaining the origin of these books and the differences between the two:
The edited anthology Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms(Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) is now available for preorder on the publisher’s website and will ship in late May 2018. I’m providing information here for potential readers, reviewers, and college and university librarians who may be interested in this book. If you wish to review this anthology for your publication, please contact James Rovira at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, credentials, and the name of the publication for which you wish to review this work.
But I’d like to provide a bit of personal history before I get into details about the book: my introduction to English Romanticism (my first way in to the vast labyrinth that is “Romanticism”) occurred in two stages. First, through the song “William Blake” on the Daniel Amos album Vox Humana (1984). That song made me run to the local B. Dalton Booksellers (remember those?) to pick up a copy of The Viking Portable William Blake.
Next, when my undergraduate English Romantics professor at Rollins College, Dr. Roy Starling, wanted to explain to his students what the publication of Lyrical Ballads meant to the 1790s, he compared it to this moment in rock history, the moment when Bob Dylan the folk singer plugged in and went electric:
And that was how I first understood Romanticism as a literary phenomenon. Thank you, Dr. Starling. In both cases, my way in to Romanticism was rock music from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms explores the relationships among the musical genres of post-punk, goth, and metal and seventeenth- to nineteenth-century American and European Romanticisms in their literary, artistic, and musical expressions. It argues that these contemporary forms of music are not only influenced by but are an expression of Romanticism continuous with their seventeenth- through nineteenth-century influences. Figures such as Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, Friedrich, Schlegel, Beethoven, and Hoffman are brought alongside the musical and visual aesthetics of the Rolling Stones, the New Romantics, the Pretenders, Joy Division, Nick Cave, Tom Verlaine, emo, Eminem, My Dying Bride, and Norwegian black metal to explore the ways that Romanticism continues into the present in its many varying forms and expressions. Book details:
Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms ~James Rovira, ed. ~ Hardcover ISBN 978-3-319-72687-8 ~eBook ISBN 978-3-319-72688-5 ~ DOI10.1007/978-3-319-72688-5 ~ pp. 330 ~ hardcover: $109.00 (£80.00); ebook: $84.99 (£63.99). This collection is part of the series Palgrave Studies in Music and Literature, P. Lumsden and M. Katz Montiel, editors.
Chapters are listed below. Many and profuse thanks M. Katz Montiel for being a great series editor (he made every chapter better), to Palgrave Macmillan’s editorial team, and to Dr. Mark McCutcheon (see the Nick Cave chapter description) for his work assembling these playlists. After the Preface and Introduction, songs are arranged in the order in which they appear in the chapter.
I’ve created iTunes playlists for each chapter that are linked within chapter descriptions. Also check out the iTunes Master Playlist for this anthology that combines all available songs (over 200) and the Spotify Master Playlist.
James Rovira’s Preface (pp. vii-ix) and Introduction (pp. 1-25) to Rock and Romanticism describe the origins of this project, the difficulty in defining the term “Romanticism” in reference to British literature from Byron to the present, how Sayre and Löwy’s Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity helps address these problems in a way supportive of this project, and the links between rock and Romanticism as they have surfaced in scholarship and other writing since the 1960s. His discussion then continues into an examination of the relationship between Gothic and Romantic literature, which leads to the claim that John Milton was not just a source of inspiration for English Romantic poets but was himself the first English Romantic poet (thus, “seventeenth- through nineteenth-century” Romanticisms referenced above rather than just “eighteenth- and nineteenth-century”). After that, Rovira provides chapter summaries. Within these chapter summaries, he engages some of the issues related to the female Gothic as they arise in chapter discussions.
Music (this playlist excludes mention of artists or songs discussed in other chapters)
Evan LaBuzetta’s “Empathy for the Devil: The Origins of Mick Jagger’s Devil in John Milton’s London” analyzes the political discourse and outlines the discursive practices that influenced John Milton in his development of the character of Satan in Paradise Lost. Milton’s Satan was reinterpreted by the Romantics and later appropriated by Mick Jagger in “Sympathy for the Devil.” According to LaBuzetta, the rise of personal interpretation of Scripture in an era of vicious conflict led various combatants in the English Civil Wars to identify their domestic opponents with Satan. In pamphlets, writers could insist on their opponents’ Satanic origins regardless of outward appearance—because Satan can transform himself into an “angel of light”—while at the same time positing their own demonization as a sign of the righteousness of their cause. Through the English Civil Wars, rebellion against civil authority came to be seen as different than rebellion against God, establishing a “paradox of individual authority” by the time of Milton’s writing. Once God is dethroned as a “self-justifying principle,” a writer like Shelley could thrill to the active, virile, self-confident aspects of Satan’s character and declare that Milton’s Satan is far preferable to Milton’s God. Milton anthropomorphized Satan, and later readers came to see him in personal, non-religious terms: as a heroic individual striving against a tyrannical, self-imposing force, one with whom readers or rock fans could empathize.
“‘Bliss was it in that shirt to be alive’: Connecting Romanticism and New Romanticism Through Dress” (pp. 45-59) by Emily Bernhard Jackson, Lecturer, University of Exeter.
Skipping ahead about ten years after the Stones expressed sympathy for the devil, Emily Bernhard-Jackson’s “The Semiotics of the Ruffled Shirt: Connecting Romanticism and New Romanticism” shifts focus from linguistic content to visual surfaces in her comparison of the New Romantics of the early 1980s to English Romantics such as Byron. Rejecting the assumption that the New Romantics were glib and apolitical, she asserts their carefully managed, glittering surfaces were acts of subversion within Thatcher’s England, and these rock stars’ androgyny and even specific fashion choices—such as the ruffled shirt—carefully and not just coincidentally parallel second generation English Romantics such as Byron. Fluidity of sexual identity served the purpose of resisting full industrialization during 1980s’ England in a way parallel to the poets’ resistance of incipient industrialism in Romantic England, making dandyism and glitter statements against the brutal grayness of the working-class employment described by Löwy and Sayre, a very observable “mechanized conquest of the environment” under industrialization.
“‘Crying Like a Woman ‘Cause I’m Mad Like a Man’: Chrissie Hynde, Gender, and Romantic Irony” (pp. 61-82) by Sherry R. Truffin, Associate Professor of English, Campbell University.
Sherry Truffin’s “‘Crying Like a Woman ‘Cause I’m Mad Like a Man’: Chrissie Hynde, Gender, and Romantic Irony” focuses on Chrissie Hynde as the frontwoman for the Pretenders. Truffin considers in Hynde’s lyrics, autobiography, and other resources the ways in which Hynde negotiated her rare position as a female lead singer and rhythm guitarist for an otherwise male rock band. Drawing from Löwy and Sayre, Truffin observes how Hynde resorts to Romantic irony as defined by Schlegel and Anne Mellor to negotiate tensions between the influences of the relatively undeveloped Akron, OH of her early childhood and the industrial city that Akron later became. Truffin also explores how Hynde negotiates her conflicting views of her own female identity by adopting masculine, feminine, and androgynous identities in turns. These tensions ultimately cause Gothic sensibilities to surface in many of Hynde’s songs as her female identity is expressed through Gothic tropes and situations: she suffers violent abuse from men, refuses to complain about that treatment or accept victim status, and then uses that refusal as a means of asserting her own agency.
“A Northern ‘Ode on Melancholy’?—The Music of Joy Division” (pp. 83-100) by Caroline Langhorst, Ph.D Candidate, University of Mainz.
Further complicating sexual identity, the female, and the Gothic is Caroline Langhorst’s “A Northern ‘Ode on Melancholy’?—The Music of Joy Division.” Her essay inverts the legacy of female Gothic by shifting its focus to the death of a beautiful man. It engages Joy Division’s Ian Curtis as a Romantic figure who follows the Gothic pattern of the dead, young artist, a familiar pattern established by Keats, Shelley, and Byron. Identifying industrial Manchester as the context for Joy Division’s music, Langhorst finds in it the sense of alienation and isolation Löwy and Sayre describe as the inevitable outcome of the industrialized subject. Byron and Keats are especially important as predecessors of Ian Curtis. Curtis, Byron, and Keats share in common a cult of personality inextricably bound up with their early deaths which, afterwards, came to define the reception of these artists’ creative production. Parallels with Keats are also extended to an emphasis on the necessity of suffering.
“‘Little crimeworn histories’: Nick Cave and the Roots-Raves-Rehab Story of Rock Stardom” (pp. 101-120) by Mark McCutcheon, Professor of Literary Studies, Athabasca University. Check out his blog.
Mark A. McCutcheon shifts the locus of suffering to substance abuse in “‘Little crimeworn histories’: Nick Cave and the Roots-Raves-Rehab Story of Rock Stardom.” McCutcheon examines the commodification of the Romantic tropes of drug use and of the self-destructive artist using Nick Cave as a case study. The art/commerce opposition established within Romantic texts to emphasize the authenticity of the poet/artist has, according to McCutcheon, become a part of the commerce of the music industry in the form of a Roots-Rave-Rehab narrative that governs discourse about artists’ drug use and recovery. In other words, Romantic tropes have been appropriated to serve capitalist ends. McCutcheon’s chapter considers how Nick Cave both exploits and resists this appropriation using a number of strategies, including an exploitation and modification of the traditional Gothic/Romantic trope of the dead woman.
“Postcards from Waterloo: Tom Verlaine’s Historical Constellations” (pp. 121-143) by Len von Morzé, Associate Professor of English, University of Massachusetts, Boston.
Capitalizing on the anxieties and ambivalence surrounding the figure of Napoleon, Len von Morzé’s “Postcards from Waterloo: Tom Verlaine’s Historical Constellations” explores Verlaine’s use of repetition in his appropriation of Napoleon’s Waterloo as well as Romantic-era texts in order to create contexts for his own work. Von Morzé describes how Verlaine “enframes” the past within his music to legitimate it, thus guiding his self-narrative. Comparing Verlaine to his one-time lover, collaborator, and peer Patti Smith for contrastive purposes, von Morzé emphasizes that Verlaine saw in his Romantic predecessors an “elective affinity” with the Romantics rather than the stronger sense of reenactment Smith had during this period. Ultimately, von Morzé draws out compelling parallels between the two waves of English Romanticism and the two waves of punk rock, positioning Verlaine in a space between poetry and rock because he “could not fully embrace the commercial aspects of mass culture.”
“Manner, Mood, and Message: Bowie, Morrissey, and the Complex Legacy of Frankenstein” (pp. 145-161) by Samuel Lyndon Gladden, Associate Dean of the School of Human Sciences and Humanities and Professor of Literature, University of Houston, Clear Lake.
Samuel Gladden shifts focus to monstrosity in “Manner, Mood, and Message: Bowie, Morrissey, and the Complex Legacy of Frankenstein.” He compares Bowie’s and Morrissey’s appropriations of the figure of Frankenstein’s Creature to explore their differing responses to isolation and loneliness. In Gladden’s account, Bowie focuses on the discardedness of the Creature as he adopts and discards personae just as Frankenstein abandoned his Creature. Bowie ultimately gathers up many of his previous personae in the song and video “Blackstar,” particularly his first personae, Major Tom, who allows Bowie to revisit the trope of being in an alien environment in anticipation of his own impending death. Morrissey, on the other hand, focuses his attention on the Frankensteinian themes of hybridity or bricolage in “November Spawned a Monster,” emphasizing that Morrissey adopted as his own the hybridity or bricolage associated with the Creature through a variety of personae with disabilities, all of them set within an “idealized past.” The disfigurements of the subject described by Löwy and Sayre, therefore, assume material form in Morrissey’s various personae.
“Tales of the Female Lover: the Poetics of Desire in To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire?” (pp. 163-181) by Catherine Girodet, Ph.D. candidate Université Paul Valéry – Montpellier, and faculty, English Department, Universitie De Creteil.
Returning to the female Gothic, Catherine Girodet’s “Tales of the Female Lover: the Poetics of Desire on To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire?” begins with the groundwork laid down by Mario Praz in The Romantic Agony and then continued by Abrams and Henderson and others in her exploration of dark Romantic themes in the music of P.J. Harvey. Girodet is particularly interested in the agonies of romantic love as formulated in Harvey’s third and fourth albums, which represent a change in musical direction for Harvey and her first forays into Romanticism. She also explores the implications of Harvey’s music for our consideration of the relationship between the Gothic and the Romantic and how in Harvey’s music the agony of love serves as a conduit to the sublime.
“Emocosms: Mind-Forg’d Realities in Emo(tional) Rock Music” (pp. 183-197) by Eike Träger, Ph.D. candidate, University of Cologne, Köln, Germany.
Romantic artists at times exploit dark moods for artistic purposes. Eike Träger’s “The World Is Mine: Pathetic Fallacy and Mind-Forg’d Realities in Emo(tional) Rock Music” identifies the pathetic fallacy and heterocosm as two points of affinity between English Romanticism and emo music. Relying on Sayre’s and Löwy’s “Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity,” Träger sees in emo “a Weltschmerz that literally creates a cosmos of pain in lyrical form” in the music of bands such as The Danburrys, the Deftones, AFI, and La Dispute. Setting up and then dismantling Ruskin’s theory of art as means of explaining emo music, he ultimately argues that emo bands are aligned with “resigned” Romanticism in Sayre’s and Löwy’s taxonomy: emo music is a form of Romanticism in its emphasis on affect and the individual, but because it is distinctly apolitical, it differs from both first and second generation English Romantics.
“‘I possess your soul, your mind, your heart, and your body’: External and Internal Gothic Hauntings in Eminem’s Relapse” (pp. 199-213) by Christopher Stampone, Ph.D., Southern Methodist University.
Christopher Stampone’s “‘I possess your soul, your mind, your heart, and your body’: External and Internal Gothic Hauntings in Eminem’s Relapse” focuses on Eminem’s pivotal albums Relapse (2009) and its follow-up, Relapse: Refill (2010), as instances of contemporary Romantic Gothic. Defining these albums as attacks on American consumer culture, Stampone employs Sayre and Löwy to describe the features of that attack, much of which takes the form of resigned Romanticism, so that resignation can be a form of resistance. Stampone also describes how Eminem’s alter egos, such as Slim Shady, represent his drug-ridden self, one that is implicated in capitalist-consumer culture but for which Eminem now takes responsibility. Overall, Eminem’s Relapse albums hold up a mirror to modern US consumerism in which “all become monsters whose identities are constructed by what they consume.”
“‘The Female Is Such Exquisite Hell’: The Romantic Agony of My Dying Bride” (pp. 215-233) by Matthew J. Heilman, Ph.D., Duquesne University.
Matthew Heilman’s “‘The Female Is Such Exquisite Hell’: The Romantic Agony of My Dying Bride” engages Poe’s emphasis on the “death of the beautiful woman” to evaluate My Dying Bride’s work as instances of feminist Romanticism. Through artist interviews and song analysis, Heilman explores central tropes of dark Romanticism—the dead or dying woman and the femme fatale—in both My Dying Bride’s lyrics and in the poetry of Poe, Keats, Baudelaire, and Swinburne to argue that My Dying Bride’s lyrics exploit nineteenth-century dark Romantic tropes of the woman to deconstruct them.
“Ashes Against the Grain: Black Metal and the Grim Rebirth of Romanticism” (pp. 235-257) by Julian Knox, Assistant Professor of English, Georgia College.
This collection ends with Julian Knox’s “Ashes Against the Grain: Black Metal and the Grim Rebirth of Romanticism.” The genre of rock called “heavy metal” is often said to have begun in the 1970s with the bands Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but heavy metal has since branched out into a variety of subgenres, including thrash, death, doom, and even folk metal, which blends regional folk music and traditional instrumentation with heavy metal. Knox argues that one of these subgenres, black metal, self-consciously draws from and then exceeds, sometime ironically, Gothic and dark Romantic literary tropes to promulgate an aesthetic of death and decay that one black metal musician called “Werewolf Romanticism.” Knox explores bands such as Burzum, Mayhem, Xasthur, and Varathron and their uses of Romantic-era literature and painting by figures such as Shelley, Blake, Byron, Novalis, Goëthe, and Freidrich to define Romantic rejection of the pastoral—which was seen by figures such as Novalis and Hoffmann as capitulation to power structures—as a form of inwardness or psychologizing. These figures explore Plato’s cave as the skull of the mind, the collective voices of the dead, to assert or affirm their individuality against capitalism.
Note: many passing references to music, literature, and artworks are excluded from this list. If a specific song was not available, or if an album was mentioned but not a specific song, representative examples were taken for the iTunes playlist.
Yes, blatant self-promotion here: I have a few publications coming out this year, and they’re edited anthologies, either my own or my contributions of chapters. I don’t feel too bad writing about it, as I love doing this work, so I love talking about it. But I also love hearing other people talk about the work that they’re doing, and I like promoting the work of others — I love it when people I’m connected to produce good things, and I like taking about that too.
There’s also a bit of an ethical imperative behind book promotion: if a publisher invests in your work by publishing it, you should feel obligated to promote it — to help the publisher recover that investment. On a side note, you can trust me when I say there is no real money in almost all academic publishing for the authors of these works, at least not in terms of direct compensation for the publication. I got one check a year for three years for my first book, Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety(Continuum/Bloomsbury 2010). Each check was big enough to take my wife out to dinner to an Olive Garden / Red Lobster kind of restaurant, but it wouldn’t cover the sitter too. It sold about the average number of copies for an academic book, 300-350. It’s listed in over 1000 libraries around the world, but shared databases mean that libraries don’t have to own their own copy of a book to have access to it.
But best of all, because these are all edited anthologies, I’m not only promoting my work, but the work of colleagues around the world. So what I’m really saying here is, “check out this interesting work that we’ve all come together to do.” Publications appear in the order of their release.
Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2(Lexington Books, February 2018), edited by James Rovira. Check out the book page to see descriptions of each chapter, lists of musical works discussed, lists of literary works discussed, and links to iTunes playlists associated with each chapter. Most of the music covered in this volume falls in the category of classic rock or folk/roots/country rock (Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Rush, U2, Blackberry Smoke), but we have chapters engaging acts like Lil Wayne and the 1960s’ Italian pop singer Piero Ciampi. Why I love writing about music.
Kierkegaard, Literature, and the Arts (Northwestern UP, February 2018), edited by Eric Ziolkowski. Great study of the subject under discussion edited by a leading Kierkegaard scholar — not to mention the contributor list, which is almost a who’s who of Kierkegaard scholarship. I was fortunate to contribute chapter 12, “The Moravian Origins of Kierkegaard’s and Blake’s Socratic Literature.”
Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan, April 2018), edited by James Rovira. Yes, it’s a second rock and Romanticism book released in the same year, but it’s completely different from the first with its focus on the Gothic. I’ve built a book page for this one too, which should go live either mid to late March. The book page will also have chapter descriptions, links to the music and literature under discussion, and links to iTunes and Spotify playlists. This anthology takes the thesis stated in the previous Rock and Romanticism book then narrows and focuses it upon the Gothic. After an initial discussion of Milton, Shelley, and the Rolling Stones’s “Sympathy for the Devil,” chapters focus on music from the New Romantics and the Pretenders onward, covering a variety of acts: post-punk, goth/emo, Eminem, and metal bands.
In development: Interpretation: Theory: History (under contract with Lexington Books). Really interesting project in which contributors examine a variety of reading practices from Plato to Object Oriented Ontology against their historical backgrounds to establish a dialectic between our reading practices and their social milieus. I hope to send a first full draft to the publisher by the end of March.
The next two projects are in very early stages of development and continue to narrow and focus my study of rock and Romanticism: