Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize takes Literature back to its Roots

Why critics of the Nobel Committee’s nomination are missing the point
Bob Dylan in the 1960s.
Bob Dylan in the 1960s.

On 13 October, I was surprised and delighted to hear that Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Nobel Committee selected Dylan ‘for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition’. Few would question the songwriter’s contribution to the cultural landscape of the twentieth-century. His albums for Columbia Records in the 1960s document a deep knowledge and respect for American folk music, blues music, and poetry; Dylan adapted and reworked these forms to forge a compelling picaresque of the post-war American landscape.

“[…] literature, when traced back to its earliest forms, began as a poetic oral tradition frequently linked to rhythm, music, and song.”

There have been some who have responded to Dylan’s Nobel nomination with dismay, even anger. Some cite that his status as a songwriter might justify a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but is not a ticket into the literary canon. Such detractors often fail to acknowledge that in addition to his music, Bob Dylan has also published poetry, experimental prose, and even a memoir. That’s to say nothing of his influence on countless more traditional literary figures. But this kind of categorization seems to miss the point. Those who reject Dylan’s candidacy for the Nobel forget that literature, when traced back to its earliest forms, began as a poetic oral tradition frequently linked to rhythm, music, and song.

Bob Dylan has not yet commented on the award in public, and took to the stage in Las Vegas on Thursday as though it was any other night. As the audience chanted for an encore he reappeared briefly, according to The Guardian, to sing a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s ‘Why Try To Change Me Now’.

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