Call for Papers: Rock and Romanticism

Call for Papers

The editor of Rock and Romanticism is soliciting essays about the ways in which rock music, broadly defined, expands, interprets, restates, and conflicts with Romanticism, broadly defined. “Rock music” as a category will be extended to include all popular music since the 1950s, including but not limited to rock, varieties of metal, R&B, soul, varieties of punk, folk, techno, progressive rock, indie, new wave, alternative, psychedelic, industrial, gothic, funk, country, and blues. If the music has been written or performed since the 1950s and you’re wondering if it fits, the answer is “yes.” [1] For the purposes of this study, “Romanticism” will also be broadly defined, considering trans-European, trans-Atlantic, and global Romanticisms as well as Romanticism in literature, art, and music.

Because of the high level of interest in Rock and Romanticism (at least 40 viable essays in response to the first call), I am projecting at present that this project will run to multiple volumes. This call for papers, therefore, will remain open until an announcement has been posted to the top of this page saying that the call for papers is now closed. If you have an idea that you would like to pursue, please read the rest of this CFP and follow instructions below for submitting a proposal.

Theorizing Romanticism

Why rock and roll and Romanticism? “Romanticism” as a literary movement has traditionally been defined both thematically and as a period, with periodization usually taking priority. As a periodized trans-European phenomenon, Romanticism usually starts with either Rousseau’s writings of the 1760s-1780s, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther in 1774, or the fall of the Bastille in 1789, and it lasts until about 1850, at least in England. By this date Wordsworth, Mary Shelly, and most other first and second-generation Romantic poets had died.

Thematically, Romantic literature tends to focus on the individual over and above the state or other economic or political structures, on democracy over and above monarchy or the aristocracy, on nature over and above the urban, and on imagination and passion over and above reason and traditional moral structures. Many of us who think today that our deepest feelings represent somehow our essential selves have the Romantics to thank.

Because Romanticism is a trans-European and trans-chronological phenomenon, it is very difficult to define precisely. Scholars have been wrestling with the question “What is Romanticism?” for as long as Romanticism as been defined as a literary movement, but especially since A.O. Lovejoy’s early twentieth-century essay, “On the Discrimination of Romanticisms.” In it, he claims that the term “Romanticism” has come to mean so many different things that it has ceased to serve the function of a verbal sign.

For the sake of this work, and perhaps to the annoyance of some of my favorite Romanticists, I will probably theorize Romanticism using Sayre and Löwy’s Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity (2002). In this book, the authors develop a taxonomy of different Romanticisms (their solution to the problem Lovejoy posed) while presenting a unified definition of Romanticism as a response to the subject created by capitalism.

So theorized, Romanticism then exists as a literary mode independent of any period. I am tempted to define English Romanticism as starting with Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749). If this starting point doesn’t make sense to you, try comparing the moral reasoning of its titular character to the presentation of Blake’s Jesus at the end of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, who acted from impulse rather than rules. In this approach to Romanticism, the 1950s and certainly the 1960s are the most recent resurgence of Romanticism as a mode, one that continues into the present. If you were to reread my thematic description of literary Romanticism above, it’s not hard to read it as a simultaneous description of the major themes in a great deal of rock music. And as you’ll see from the list below, many artists from the 1960s forward drew inspiration from major figures in English Romanticism.

We need to be careful when talking about either literary modes or periods, however: it’s a mistake to think that even if we could define Romanticism as starting in 1789 and ending in 1850 that all literature and art during this period is therefore Romantic. Even periodization does not eliminate the need for attention to theme. Earlier generations of Romantic-era scholars tended to define Romanticism in opposition to Classicism, which at least allowed for two different modes of literature to co-exist within the same period (even if they tended to periodize Classicism earlier in the eighteenth century). We should do the same, at the least seeing Romanticism as a mode arising within a specific historical and social context and then continuing into the present, co-existing alongside other discursive modes arising before and after it and continuing alongside it today.

Possible Topics

Papers might consider

  • women in rock and women in Romanticism;
  • lyric poetry and song lyrics or song lyrics as lyric poetry;
  • readings of rock and Romanticism that compare
    • conditions between Europe during the Napoleonic wars and conditions in the post-McCarthy era and/or post 9-11 United States,
    • the 1960s or later Ireland or the UK, or
    • 1960s or later continental Europe, including Eastern Europe and the Baltic states (any possible essays on Rammstein and Romanticism?);
  • the gothic in literature and in music;
  • opera and the rock opera;
  • drug use, drug literature, and drug music of the eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries;
  • the pastoral in Romantic literature and in rock music;
  • adaptations, interpretations, direct responses to, and performances of Romantic-era texts by twentieth-century and later musicians;
  • the figure of Satan in Romanticism and in rock;
  • protest literature and protest music;
  • sexual identity in Romanticism and rock.

Ideal papers will theorize or historicize their subjects in a way that places rock music in a coherent dialog with Romantic-era art, literature, or music, contributing to a consideration of the boundaries or definition(s) of “Romanticism” as an artistic mode while also considering the implications of chronological, national, social, sexual, and/or economic difference. Papers from contemporary artists/musicians reflecting upon the influence of Romantic-era art, literature, or music upon their work are also welcome.

What You Need to Propose an Essay

Please email a 250-500 word proposal that includes your name, title and institutional affiliation (if applicable), mailing address, phone number, preferred email address, 100-150 word biographical statement, and a one to two page recently updated CV to jamesrovira@gmail.com. Completed papers are requested to be in the 5000 word range, including notes, and to follow Chicago endnote style. See the Nuts and Bolts for Contributors page for further information about essay submission.

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