Are Women in Rock Also Women in Romanticism?

So we must speak of Romanticisms in music as well, not just Romanticism, and the individuality of the composer is key. Romanticism in all of its forms is a feature of the subject, not the object, leading to our familiar emphasis on the genius of the composer parallel to the ecstatic, transfigured position of the poet in Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” or the sensitive, reflective poet of Wordsworth’s “Preface.”

James Rovira, Ch. 1 of Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism (p. 14)

This post is the first of nine summarizing individual chapters in Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism (Routledge, 2022). I won’t just be summarizing chapters, however, but adding commentary to them when appropriate, at times contributing ideas I wish I could have included in the book.

Check out the iTunes playlist for the book.

This chapter is my attempt to pull together, conceptually and philosophically, the book’s discussions of women in western culture, of music, and of Romanticism. It begins with a discussion of the definition of Romanticism, followed by a history of women’s status in western philosophy. Then it focuses on the status of music in German Romanticism, starting with E.T.A. Hoffmann’s (1776-1822) review of Beethoven’s 5th and how those ideas seemed to anticipate those in Schopenhauer’s (1788-1860) The World as Will and Representation (1818). The five points shared between these two writers include:

  1. The priority of instrumental music.
  2. The transcendence of music.
  3. Music as prerational cognition.
  4. The suppression of desire.
  5. The priority of Beethoven (not fully shared between them: both assert that Hayden, Mozart, and Beethoven are principle composers, but Hoffmann places Beethoven above them all while Schopenhauer does not).

Instrumental music, by the late eighteenth century, began to assert itself as an artform and dominate critical attention, and this shift began to change philosophic thought. The key point here is Schopenhauer’s emphasis on will as central to existence rather than reason: historically, western philosophy since Plato has asserted that reason is what humanity has in common with the gods, that reason transcends nature, and that the job of philosophy is to escape immanence and the limitations of materiality through reason.

Schopenhauer turned this system on its head: blind, unthinking will is at the center of existence, generating ideal forms that are then projected into all of material nature. Reason and the concept is on the side of nature, not above it, but still serves the function of providing access to ideal forms. Instrumental music, remarkably, is a direct expression of will in nature unmediated by ideal forms, making it the highest of all of the arts.

Schopenhauer has a number of predecessors. I only discuss Hoffmann in my chapter, but I wish I had added discussion of Schelling’s 1809 “Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom and Other Matters.” At one point, Schelling begins to grapple with Spinoza’s monist pantheism. Spinoza presents a seemingly irrefutable argument about the nature of any infinite being: for any being to be infinite, its existence cannot be bound or excluded from anything that exists. Therefore, if God is infinite, all is God.

On the one hand, Schelling’s German Lutheranism could not assimilate pantheism, but on the other, Schelling as a rigorous philosophical thinker could not so easily dismiss Spinoza’s claims either. Schelling’s solution is to claim that God, as the ground of all existence, is also the ground of His own existence, and that the ground of God’s own existence is unthinking will: “Hence, viewed in itself it is also will, but will in which there is no understanding, and which therefore is not autonomous and perfect will, since understanding is the true will in willing” (p. 238).[1] God and the ground of God’s existence are in an eternal (outside of time) relationship to one another, and are ontologically identical, but this innovation of Schelling’s provides a basis for identity and difference between Creator and creature: we are all expression of “will” as the ground of all existence, but in our reason (understanding) we give will individual direction and shape. In this way, through will, the Creator retains infinitude and the creature retains individuality.

Schopenhauer adopted this solution without feeling any need to retain Christian theological commitments: he established blind, unthinking will at the center of existence and posited a cosmos that generated understanding, reason, and the concept randomly and accidentally, one that was by necessity in continual conflict with itself.

Now why, as my friend Sherry asked me in the virtual book launch for Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism, can’t I talk about women without bringing German philosophy into it? This repositioning of will at the center of existence rather than reason has radical implications for the status of women in western philosophy: western philosophy has a long tradition of misogyny that places women in a subordinate position in relationship to reason. Women have traditionally been viewed as large children, capable of reason but possessing a rational capacity not fully formed, most commonly associated with nature and with will. Primacy of place has long been given to men on this basis. But if western philosophy moves reason onto the side of nature, and places will at the center of existence, women then occupy a privileged position in the terms established by the old misogynist system.

So I need Schopenhauer, an undeniably harsh misogynist himself, because his philosophy makes will the middle term between women and philosophy and, in the same stroke, elevates music to primacy of place. I’m not so much interested in validating Schopenhauer, or adopting his philosophy as truth, but as observing how these claims arise during the Romantic period. This discussion of philosophy allows will to be, ultimately, the connecting term binding philosophy, women, music, and Romanticism.

My chapter goes on to discuss sympathies between German and British Romanticisms because most contributors (except for Christopher Clason, who discusses Joni Mitchell in relationship to German Romanticism) are working with British Romantic figures and scholarship.

Check out my books in the Bookstore and, if you’d like to support me, order Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism directly from me using the form below.

Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism

Women in Rock. Women in Romanticism (Routledge, 2022) is the first book-length work exploring the interrelationships among contemporary women rock musicians and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art and literature, the literature of the Romantic era. LIMITED QUANTITIES ONLY available at a 37% discount.


Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone. No message, no resolutions, no promises.

Coming soon: posts about Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism, and after that, renaming this blog to Philosophy of Contemporary Song.

The idea of the renaming came from my daughter Grace (16). We were discussing (clearly) Bob Dylan’s Philosophy of Modern Song. I’ve created a spreadsheet tracking the book’s coverage: male and female singers, songwriters, and number of songs from each decade. When I mentioned that a few songs came from the 1920s, but most were from the 1950s (for an artist who started recording in the early 1960s, of course), she said, “Why does he call it modern song?” When I mentioned that nothing he wrote was actually philosophy, she commented on the deeply flawed nature of the book title.

I pointed out the difference between “modern” and “contemporary,” and then she said she wished someone would write something in depth about contemporary artists. So I promised her (not you) that I’d do just that. It’ll start with a post about the Dylan title and then move forward from there. Nicky Minaj is on the list.

Coming soon.

Full iTunes Playlist for Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism

Here’s the full iTunes playlist for Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism (Routledge 2022): click the image.

CFP: Romanticism and Heavy Metal

CFP: Romanticism and Heavy Metal

The editors Julian Knox and James Rovira welcome chapter proposals for the forthcoming anthology Romanticism and Heavy Metal. Like the collections Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (Lexington 2018), Rock and Romanticism: Post-Punk, Goth, and Metal as Dark Romanticisms (Palgrave Macmillan 2018), David Bowie and Romanticism (Palgrave Macmillan 2022), and Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism (Routledge 2022), Romanticism and Heavy Metal seeks to interpret heavy metal as a cultural, artistic, and musical phenomenon using the historical insights and theoretical tools provided by the study of Romanticism. 

As in previous collections, “Romanticism” is broadly conceived as a cultural, literary, artistic, philosophical, and musical movement first identified and named in the late eighteenth century without being limited in scope to that period. As a result, the relationship between metal and Romanticism should not be considered only in terms of influence: metal is or can be Romanticism in the present. “Heavy metal” is conceived as a late twentieth-century world musical phenomenon inclusive of a wide array of sub- and micro-genres that has its origins in the sonic and thematic innovations of 1960s and 70s bands such as Iron Butterfly, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, and Metallica that continues into the present.

Chapters considering historically significant heavy metal bands that engage with Romantic works and themes are welcome, as are analyses of Romanticism in relation to metal subgenres including, but not limited to, doom metal, black metal, death metal, thrash, grindcore, folk metal, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, power metal, and noise.

Contributors seeking to define Romanticism outside of its usual eighteenth- to nineteenth-century periodization are encouraged, but not required, to consult Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity by Robert Sayre and Michael Löwy (2001). Chapter topics might include, but are not limited to, 

  • Romantic Satanism and heavy metal
  • Romantic paganism and heavy metal
  • Green Romanticism and heavy metal
  • Brown Romanticism and heavy metal
  • Individual author / painter / musician / band / album / music video comparisons
  • Nineteenth-century musical Romanticism and heavy metal
  • Romantic folk traditions and folk metal
  • Working class Romanticism and metal
  • Romantic celebrity and heavy metal 
  • Adaptations of Romantic texts in heavy metal albums
  • Romantic visual art as album art
  • Romanticism, metal, and political/social/environmental action
  • Reception studies and fan communities
  • Representations of apocalypse, post-apocalypse, and the world without us

Chapter proposals should be approximately 500 words in length, demonstrate familiarity with scholarship in both Romanticism and heavy metal, and should be accompanied by a one-page CV. 

Please email all proposal materials by February 2023 James Rovira at jamesrovira at gmail dot com

If you need flexibility with proposal or chapter deadlines, please describe your needs in an email. 

Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism Now Available from Routledge

Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism (Routledge 2022) is the first book-length work to explore the interrelationships among contemporary female musicians and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art, music, and literature by women and men. The art, music, and videos of contemporary artists including Erykah Badu, Beyoncé, The Carters, Missy Elliot, the Indigo Girls, Janet Jackson, Janis Joplin (and Big Brother and the Holding Company), Natalie Merchant, Joni Mitchell, Janelle Monáe, Alanis Morrisette, Siouxsie Sioux, Patti Smith, St. Vincent (Annie Clark), and Alice Walker are explored through the lenses of the pastoral, Afropresentism, the Gothic, male and female Gothic, and the music and literature of Hélène Cixous, William Blake, Beethoven, Arthur Schopenhauer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charlotte Dacre, Ralph Waldo Emerson, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Ann Radcliffe, William Shakespeare, Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Shelley, Henry David Thoreau, Horace Walpole, Jane Williams, Mary Wollstonecraft, and William Wordsworth to explore how each sheds light on the other, and how women have appropriated, responded to, and been inspired by the work of authors from previous centuries.

Contributors to Women in Rock, Women in Romanticism (Routledge 2022) participated in a virtual book launch on Saturday, November 19th, 2022. You can meet the contributors and listen to them discuss their chapters here:

Table of Contents

Introduction, James Rovira

1. Are Women in Rock also Women in Romanticism?, James Rovira

2. Jane Williams, Rolling Stone: Reconstructing British Romanticism’s Guitar God(dess), Rebecca Nesvet

3. “Work Me, Lord”: Janis Joplin’s Kozmic Blues, Sasha Tamar Strelitz

4. “All Romantics Meet the Same Fate Someday”: Joni Mitchell, Blue, and Romanticism, Christopher R. Clason

5. “There is no pure evil, nor pure good, only purity”: William Blake’s and Patti Smith’s Art as Opposition to Societal Boundaries. Alicia Carpenter

6. “A Woman with an Attitude”: Male and Female Gothic in Siouxsie and the Banshees, Diana Edelman

7. “Our Generation”: Gender, Regeneration and Women in Rock, Linda C. Middleton

8. “Laughing with a Mouth of Blood”: St. Vincent’s Gothic Grotesque, Sherry R. Truffin

9. “I can’t believe we made it”: Romanticism and Afropresentism in Works of African American Female Hip Hop and R‘n’B Artists, Kirsten Zemke


If you’d like to support the author, purchase a copy directly from him through PayPal

Women In Rock, Women in Romanticism

Women in Rock. Women in Romanticism (Routledge, 2022) is the first book-length work exploring the interrelationships among contemporary women rock musicians and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art and literature, the literature of the Romantic era. LIMITED QUANTITIES ONLY available at a 37% discount.


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