Bob Dylan is the first to win the Nobel Prize for Literature who is primarily a musician (1913 winner Rabindranath Tagore also wrote songs). Finally highly recognized as a writer, he was recently awarded ‘for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.’ The announcement of the Literature prize was actually delayed and Dylan was not even on the list of the literary betting public over at Ladbrokes, with Haruki Murakami and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o as some of the favorites.
There were criticisms about awarding the Nobel Prize to Dylan, (1) being a musician among a sea of literary figures whom others think are more deserving, and (2) being another white male to receive such honor. Here’s an excerpt from Alfred Nobel’s will, describing the Nobel Prize for Literature winner:
“The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: /- – -/ one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction …”
The five fields are physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace, and economic science. It was said that Bob Dylan was not the best choice for the award. (“But he is a musician.” “Recognizing writers who have achieved enormous feats would have been much more exciting to see. Celebrate someone whose work the world may not know…”) Well, I don’t think Alfred Nobel required that you must be some underdog, or an unknown writer, and/or just a writer. I thought I might be missing something but I can’t help but to just go back to how Alfred Nobel put it in his will – and folks, it is what it is. If people think his work of literature is not outstanding enough for the honor, then that is the argument. But to reduce his worthiness only because he is a famous musician is flawed. Ridiculous. Unfair. Ignoratio elenchi.
After all, literature comes in oral and written forms. So stop caging literature in books, ranting that “Dylan’s Nobel Prize is proof that no one cares about books.” Harsh, just harsh. And Simon Armitage’s statement that, “Songwriters are not poets. Or songs are not poems” is exactly the point. It isn’t called Nobel Prize specifically for Fiction or Prose or Poetry or Haiku or whatever.
Taking it from Britannica (because what else can be more unbiased than a damn encyclopedia, or I can also give something from the dictionary), “literature is a form of human expression. Certain forms of writing, however, are universally regarded as belonging to literature as an art. Individual attempts within these forms are said to succeed if they possess something called artistic merit and to fail if they do not.” Also worth noting is that, “the art of literature is not reducible to the words on the page; they are there solely because of the craft of writing. As an art, literature might be described as the organization of words to give pleasure.” So I think we can agree that we should not assess his song lyrics the way we would do for a poem that’s not meant to be sung. Evaluate Bob Dylan’s work within the context of lyric poetry or ballad (narrative song), whichever you fvcking prefer, which are both within the art of literature.
Additionally, I am a female of another race and I find this unreasonable. Why are people quick to zero in on Bob Dylan in the year that the prize was not awarded to any woman across any of its fields? I respect the rest of the brilliant writers who were considered (Was Margaret Atwood included? Because hell yeah she also deserves it!). All of them deserve to win. But to deny the contributions of Dylan to literature (among other things) because of his celebrity status, in my opinion, is unfair, especially when we have not combed through everything that he has accomplished.
Yes it will be great to have someone from an underrepresented group to bring home the award, with a big and inspiring back story to his or her achievement, or to have a very diverse list of Nobel Laureates. But is Dylan not deserving? Say it in reference to his capacity in the field of literature (and let’s get our shit together about what literature is) and not his fame or uninteresting background compared to other contenders. They all produce exemplary work and I believe that is what the organization is focused on. Let us not translate his victory into a bad thing for those who failed to receive the award, because I don’t believe it elevates their success that way.
I guess the bottom line here is:
literature > books
monumental contributions to literature ≠ gender or race
Note: I am just stating my opinion and I am not anti-anything on this matter (anti-negativity maybe). Thank you for reading! (:
Like it? Share this post so your friends can also rekindle (or get introduced to) the great music of Bob Dylan! Thank you for reading. (: Here’s a virtual donut as a token of my appreciation: