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James Rovira, ed., Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2


R. Paul Yoder

At the first ever World of Bob Dylan symposium in May-June 2019 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Betsy Bowden, one of the founders of Dylan criticism, called for the development of a critical language that not only recognizes the similarities between songs and poems, but also respects their differences. Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2, edited by James Rovira, participates in this development by connecting Romantic-period poetry to rock-’n’-roll songs, although that is not its primary agenda. Instead, Rovira says that the book “seeks not only to demonstrate the influence of Romantic literature on rock, which is already the subject of much attention, but to argue that rock itself is a late-twentieth-century expression of Romanticism” (xi-xii). He grounds this argument in the work of Robert Sayre and Michael Löwy, and most of the contributors acknowledge a debt to them as well. Sayre and Löwy defined Romanticism as “‘opposition to capitalism in the name of pre-capitalist values’” (quoted in Rovira xiii), and Rovira uses this definition to describe Romanticism “not as an era but as a response to historical conditions in a condition/​response model” (xv). Liberated from the limits of a Romantic period, the essays in the collection “assume that Romanticism continues into the present as an essential feature of modern culture and takes on a specific, musical transformation in the period following World War II” (xiv). The persuasiveness of the collection depends largely on how one views the persuasiveness of that understanding of Romanticism.


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