On Thursday, Oct. 13 the 2016 Nobel prize for literature was awarded to America’s very own, Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” He is the first american laureate since Toni Morrison in 1993, only the 14th american laureate in its history, and the only ever musician. The break in tradition can be scary and awkward but in this case, I see it as refreshing and exciting. However, we’re not all on the same page with that.
The Swedish Academy, also known as the Nobel committee, have been facing so much backlash for this year’s choice. Since his win, critics and writers all over the world have been sent into a controversial cluster of confusion and offense. The basic argument being, “Bob Dylan is a musician, not a writer.” This argument is rooted from the justification that music associated with poetry diservices their validity as individual works of art. I mean I never knew art wasn’t allowed to coexist and in effect, strengthen the unique piece as a whole.
The way Dylan strings together music and words is extraordinary. He’s added another dimension to literature and the way we interpret words. He’s forced music to connect us to the words which allows us to see things from a different, total out-of-pocket perspective. Listening to music is more casual than reading a book, but neither requires any more effort to understand than the other. You can hear a song and not listen, just like you can see the words in a book and not truly read them.
There is also an argument going around that lyrics are not poetry and that completely baffles me. I don’t understand that. Strip the music, THEN will you say it’s poetry? The poetry is the words. The technical definition of the word poetry is a, “literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm.” Dylan understands and has always understood the rules of poetry. His songs are systematic and distinctive. He has form, he is vulnerable and he paints such vivid pictures. With those guidelines, he also knows how to go against them to create any desired effect he wants. He’s earned this award for a plethora of all the right reasons!
To even separate people like Bob Dylan and say, Mark Twain, simply due to their platform of communication is ridiculous. They’re both writers. He’s not a novelist but that doesn’t mean he’s not a writer. Author, Gary Shteyngart tweeted, “I totally get the Nobel committee. Reading books is hard.” It makes me wonder if he’s ever truly listened to Dylan’s lyrics. Take one of his songs, “The Man in the Long Black Coat” in which he writes, “Every man’s conscience is vile and depraved/You cannot depend on it to be your guide when it’s you who must keep it satisfied.” He’s questioning the way people have always believed the conscience works. We’ve always thought we could fall back on it in times of tough decision but really, it’s us who controls it. It’s not a separate entity with it’s own process to breaking down situations; it’s all you.
A final note to discuss is the fact that Bob Dylan has yet to officially accept or confirm his award. It’s not like Dylan has just disappeared either. The following weekend, he headlined the Desert Trip Festival in California along with The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger went on to formally congratulate Dylan on his award, “I want to thank Bob Dylan for an amazing set,” as reported by Billboard. “We have never shared the stage with a Nobel Prize winner before. Bob is like our own Walt Whitman.” Dylan had little-to-nothing to say to him. The Nobel committee was consistently reaching out to the artist for about a week before they decided to call it quits. One unnamed academy member regards his negligence as “impolite and arrogant.” However, there was a slight acknowledgement on the Bob Dylan website exactly a week later on Thursday, Oct. 20, but was taken down early Friday morning. Interesting. The award ceremony and reception is still planned to take place on Dec. 10 with or without him.
All in all, Dylan is his words, he’s not a singer. He is a musician but the words coming out of his mouth are the substance to who he is and why he’s earned himself so much appreciation and recognition over the years. I can only hope that his neglect to officially accept the award will pass soon. He’s been inducted into both the Rock & Roll and Grammy Hall of Fame, been awarded 13 Grammy’s, an academy award, a golden globe, and the presidential medal of freedom to name just a few…what’s a Nobel Prize to add onto that list?