On Tuesday, October 11th, American singer/song-writer Bob Dylan was awarded Nobel Prize in Literature. From there it gets extremely complicated. Dylan receiving the award has drawn both criticism and applause from the literary community. The likes of Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and Salman Rushdie have all offered their support for the Nobel Committee and its decision. Others, like Rabih Alameddine and the incomparable Jodi Picoult have been more skeptical of the now Nobel Laureate Dylan.
You get the idea, some people like a thing and other people do not like the thing. As someone who usually has a pretty firm opinion on pretty much everything, I was confused when I first heard the news of Dylan winning the award and had no idea how to feel about the subject. Really? A musician? Bob Dylan is one of the great artists of the last century, at the very least in musical terms. Blonde On Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited are two of my favorite albums. I listen to Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright and get pissed off about ex-girlfriends I’ve never even had. But does Bob Dylan being great in his medium mean he should be awarded in this one? Is the line so blurred between literature, poetry, and music that this is a totally fair judgement? And if it is, why is Dylan the only musician, after over one hundred years of Nobel Prizes in Literature, to receive the honor? I have no idea.
On top of all this controversy, or, more accurately, the largest amount of controversy you can get within the literary community, it seems pretty fair to say that Bob Dylan could not care less about winning this award. Dylan didn’t acknowledge winning the Nobel for over a week, ignoring phone calls and emails from the Nobel Committee. Eventually his website recognized the Nobel awarded, and then proceeded to take it off of the site! Bob Dylan is touring the country right now doing what he does best, playing music. If his reaction is indicative of his feelings about receiving the award, this Nobel means nothing to him. And that truly is disappointing. Because while Dylan may ride around with a cool leather jacket and his awesome guitar collection and at 75 be infinitely cooler than you and I will ever be, there are millions of writers who would do anything to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Good for Bob Dylan for being ‘above it all’ or too cool for awards or whatever, but it is a fact that there is no group of people on this Earth more desperate and needing of outside reassurance than writers.
As an English Major and inherent literary snob, a large part of me wants to say that Bob Dylan does not deserve to win this award. As a music lover and a realist who understands that there is nothing about Dylan’s career and work that makes him ineligible to win it, I’m more inclined to say “He’s a legend. Good for him.” Either way I look at it, I’m still almost completely unsure how to feel about it, which is odd fr me. I hold stances on things I know nothing about, things that I’m wrong about, and I cannot seem to wrap my head around the fact that Bob Dylan just won the Nobel Prize in Literature. This is the marriage of two things that I love more than anything, music and books, and I’m honestly not sure if I’m ready for it. . . It’s like gazpacho, I’ve heard it’s good and it probably wouldn’t be served universally if it was this disgusting dish, but I still kind of hold it at arm’s length. Eh, I don’t know, it’s soup but it’s cold? I don’t really like soup when it’s warm, what are the chances of me liking this abomination.
Another part of me wants to play the Bob Dylan card and just not care about all of this. Whatever. People just create this arbitrary mechanism for essentially patting themselves on the back for being better than everyone else. Awards blow. But that can’t be true. The Nobel Prize isn’t just a justification of literary brilliance, it’s also a financial tool for furthering the art form. Samuel Beckett and Saul Bellow and Toni Morrison are literary titans. How can we not care if there’s even a possibility of elevating someone to those heights that might not deserve it? This is one of those rare cases where there really is no clear answer. What is a human being? What is ethical behavior? Does Dylan deserve the Nobel? I don’t know. At its minimum, the news and this article can just be an excuse to go back and listen to the Dylan library, and maybe that’s the answer. Go listen to the Basement Tapes or Freewheelin’ and see for yourself. There’s no wrong answer here.