Thursday, 13 October 2016

His Bobness

I guess I'd better get my twopenn'orth in on the subject du jour - the sensational news that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. This is, if nothing else, a capital joke (who said the Swedes have no sense of humour?) and I'm sure Dylan will take it in that spirit. This particular Nobel prize has long been one kind of joke, and now it is another.
  Though I yield to no man (unless he is called Bryan Appleyard) in my admiration for Dylan's work, I have not for a very long time mistaken that work for literature. Dylan is a songwriter of rare, indeed unique, genius, but songs are what he writes - not poems, not literature (pace Christopher Ricks). It's great that he has won, but probably better to think that what he's won is the Nobel Prize for Bobness. It was high time.

13 comments:

  1. Absolutely logical and true Nige ( a perfect distinction made) but the irrational part of one can't help whooping it up. Might add a dash of something new to the business with his chaotic and uncompromising creativity and his uncompromising persona.

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  2. Oh yes I think whoops are definitely in order.

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  3. If literature is 'written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit', then I suppose Dylan qualifies - but I have always felt that his words are all of a piece with his music, and together they form a homogenious whole. Therefore, a prize that separates-out the two disciplines is rather meaningless. Anyroadup, to these ears he already stands head and shoulders above any 'popular' artist of the last 60 years, and we don't need a reminder of his greatness

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  4. Ah but he was actually awarded it for 'creating new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition' - so the issue of whether song lyrics are the same as poems is side-stepped.

    Now if anyone deserves a Nobel prize for 'new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition' then His Bobness indisputably does.

    That then leaves you with the rather futile argument about what ought or ought not come under the header 'literature' - to which the only answer is that in this case it's up to the Swedes - it's their prize after all.

    In the end, all that matters is that Bob is one of the handful of towering geniuses of late 20th Century American culture, so it's important for we humans to chuck some sort of gongs at him as a thank you for being Bob. Churlish and ungrateful to gripe over the semantics of the prize, I reckon.

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  5. Exactly - his words on their own are pretty meagre stuff, but his words+music+performance add up to something glorious (something that surely ain't Literature).

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  6. Meagre? 'Jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule' is the finest combination of words ever constructed by anyone, dammit!

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  7. Yes!! One of my favourite lines together with "ghost electricity howls in the bones of her face" from the same song.

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  8. 'Lights flicker from the opposite loft'.

    Who else in the last 60 years has written so many words that linger in the murkier parts of your brain and periodically poke you in the spine?

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  9. Yes, but they don't linger as words in isolation - you hear Dylan singing them, Dylan's unique phrasing - that's what makes them great. If we only knew those phrases on the page, if they'd never been sung, they really wouldn't amount to much. Would they?

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  10. Well that's arguable, but the point is he did - and I would say the Nobel definition is justified on the grounds that he leaves a legacy of words - a literature - of huge significance to his particular cultural (and political) times, but which also often transcends those times and is proper art in the purest idiot-savant-pulled-it-out-the-ether-Picasso sense. I don't really see why us having the benefit of his voice showing us how that body of words should be rendered disqualifies it.
    But anyway, it is a semantic argument and we all agree he is a unique thing and, as you say, fully deserves the Nobel gong for Bobness.

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