Bob Dy­lan’s No­bel

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPIN­ION & COM­MEN­TARY - An­nie Paul An­nie Paul is a writer and critic based at the Uni­ver­sity of the West Indies and au­thor of the blog, Ac­tive Voice (an­ Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­ or tweet @an­niepaul.

“AN ILL-CON­CEIVED nos­tal­gia award wrenched from the ran­cid prostates of se­nile, gib­ber­ing hip­pies” is what the ir­rev­er­ent Scot­tish writer, Irvine Welsh, called the award of the No­bel in Lit­er­a­ture —cov­eted by al­most every prose writer and poet alive — to Bob Dy­lan, glob­ally cel­e­brated Amer­i­can singer and song­writer. The award has set off a bar­rage of re­sponses on so­cial me­dia and else­where.

For the first time since Sal­man Rushdie’s novel was banned and a fatwa de­clared against him, ‘lit­er­a­ture’ and what it con­sti­tutes has oc­cu­pied the global time­line front and cen­tre for a few days.

As some­one who thinks main­stream print me­dia in Ja­maica needs to give more space to dis­cussing lit­er­a­ture and art, I’m de­lighted that we’re tak­ing a few min­utes to ar­gue over sub­jects like writ­ing, po­etry, pop­u­lar cul­ture, lyri­cism and oral­ity ver­sus writ­ten texts.

The prob­lem with Dy­lan’s No­bel is that I can see both sides of it. I’ve al­ways been one for break­ing con­ven­tions, and Dy­lan is in a class of his own, but I also won­der if this will be felt as a kind of death blow to the idea of lit­er­a­ture/art as we know it.

Then again, I’ve only been at­tack­ing the no­tion of an un­bridge­able di­vide be­tween ‘high’ and ‘low’ cul­ture for­ever, so at that level I love the No­bel award to Dy­lan. On the other hand, as another great Amer­i­can song­writer and singer, Leonard Co­hen says, giv­ing Bob Dy­lan the No­bel is like pin­ning a medal on Mt Ever­est. Some­what re­dun­dant and point­less. I also agree with the Face­book com­menter who said: “When Bob Dy­lan woke up to­day and re­mem­bered, oh, yeah, I won the No­bel Prize, I doubt he pinched him­self won­der­ing if it was real.”


In fact, it seems Bob Dy­lan is quite un­der­whelmed at re­ceiv­ing the No­bel in Lit­er­a­ture. It is be­ing widely re­ported that the folk singer is stick­ing to his non-con­form­ist ways and re­fus­ing to com­ment on the highly touted award. As the UK Guardian re­ported: “So far the Amer­i­can trou­ba­dour has re­sponded with si­lence since he won the prize on Thurs­day. He gave a concert in Las Ve­gas that very night, but made no men­tion of the ac­co­lade. In what may have been a veiled al­lu­sion to his long-term rep­u­ta­tion for what some have called per­ver­sity, and oth­ers an ad­mirably dogged per­sis­tence in forg­ing his own path, Dy­lan’s set ended with a cover of Frank Si­na­tra’s Why Try to Change Me Now.”

You have to ad­mire a man like that. In fact, some are sug­gest­ing that the No­bel Com­mit­tee gave the award not so much to recog­nise Dy­lan’s ex­tra­or­di­nary out­put as a writer and singer, “but to re­store some of the good old image of US by trump­ing the cur­rent-day neg­a­tiv­ity”, as an old friend, Rash Be­hari Das, put it on Face­book. The No­bel Prize has of­ten been used to make a po­lit­i­cal point, and it’s true that anti-celebrity Bob Dy­lan is the com­plete an­tithe­sis of Celebri­ties-r-us Don­ald Trump.

Chris Hardy sum­marised it well when he said: “Ask the po­ets and writ­ers who are against this great award, ‘If you were able write fine po­etry, play the gui­tar ex­pertly, turn a tune eas­ily, sing, and know a load of great play­ers, would you put the lot to­gether so your po­etry blasts into rooms, pubs, fields, cities, all over the world, so peo­ple who hate books, let alone po­etry, hear pow­er­ful, com­plex emo­tions and ideas de­liv­ered direct to their ears, or would you just write and try and find a pub­lisher?’ Dy­lan per­forms his po­etry and he re­ally knows how to do it – un­like most po­ets!”

The fi­nal word on the Dy­lan No­bel goes to the pro­gram­ming di­rec­tor of Trinidad’s lit­er­ary fes­ti­val Bo­cas, Nicholas Laughlin: “Lit­er­ary prizes: bril­liant ar­biters of tal­ent and achieve­ment, when you agree with their results; oth­er­wise ridicu­lous, ill-in­formed, pan­der­ing, de­luded, or worse. Some­how, lit­er­a­ture con­tin­ues to sur­vive them.”

And the fi­nal word on every­thing else goes to former Min­is­ter of Se­cu­rity Peter Bunt­ing who won the Internet with the fol­low­ing tweet: @PeterBunt­ingMP: Not quite what I had in mind when I said we needed divine in­ter­ven­tion ... Mon­tague: God picked me to tackle crime.


In this May 29, 2012 photo, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama pre­sents rock leg­end Bob Dy­lan with a Medal of Free­dom dur­ing a cer­e­mony at the White House in Wash­ing­ton. Dy­lan won the 2016 No­bel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture.

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