If you’ve just stepped out of a time capsule, trapped within the folds of the space-time continuum, you’d be glad (or not) to find out that Bob Dylan was just awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The news has left the Internet divided, with some people happy that the singer/songwriter has finally got his due while others feel the Nobel Prize for Literature is not meant for musicians.
Here we’ve tried to sum up the arguments for both sides of the debate. This isn’t really a fight with a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. So here we go. Note: Both writers are Bob Dylan fans.
I Love Dylan, But I Really Don’t Think He Deserves A Nobel Prize In Literature
Nobel Prize for Literature, since 1901 has been awarded to people who have given the world a lifetime of work to the world of reading. When Bob Dylan won the same, he became the 113th person and the first musician to win the award. Even though a great admirer of all his works, I feel the place a writer deserved has been snatched away.
I admire his music tremendously. He continues to be a boon to humanity with his music. But also realise the fact that he has a very strong backbone of credibility in music. Does an award to him make any difference? Yes it does in more ways than one.
1. He’s a performer, not a writer.
Bob Dylan thrives on his music, not his lyrics alone. It’s his voice which has garnered him the appreciation that he has gotten over the years. In the field of music, he deserves every award there is, but for literature? No.
2. There is a categorical error in the whole process.
Music has an edge. It can use tools that are unavailable to an author. Sound is the thing that anchors Dylan’s entire art. You cannot recite ‘Hurricane’, you have to sing it to feel the essence. Sappho and Homer have written pieces of poetry that were performed. But unlike Homer and Sappho, his music cannot be separated from his lyrics and just read.
3. Dylan does not need this credibility, unlike many writers who do.
I mean look at the guy’s body of work! He has expertise and credibility in his favour. A Nobel laureate is minimum 60 years old. A Nobel prize for literature is a chance for non-translated authors, who have waited decades for recognition, to finally get the exaltation they deserve. Alice Munro is finally recognised as a Canonical writer, thanks to the Nobel she received three years ago.
4. There is a difference between poetry and music.
The dictionary meaning of music is vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion. Whereas poetry is a literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm. Dylan’s music cannot stand alone as poetry, it needs music. Else, it could end up sounding like third grade dictation test.
5. Dylan just got a lifetime award for something that’s not even the main achievement of his life.
He is not a poet or writer, he’s a song-writer. There’s no Nobel for music, but had there been he would have totally been a rightful owner. After Obama received a lifetime award the same year he came to power, and now a singer getting an award in literature, we can’t help but think if the Nobel is losing its sheen. But Dylan is one of the best, undoubtedly. Congratulations anyway.
6. This award is a chance to give hope to a dying art.
Music is not in anyway less important as an agent of many things revolutionary. But when a Nobel in the field of literature is something that boosts the sales for publishing houses because people wish to read this new, wonderful thing. Music remains dynamically popular, reading is a dying hobby. Nobel to an author coaxes people to read him/her, a promotion that music does not need.
Bob Dylan Absolutely Deserves The Nobel Prize For Literature In Recognition Of Everything He’s Done
Do you know who won the Nobel Prize for Literature? Well, the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. It has been given to a man born as Robert Allen Zimmerman. We’ve come to know and love him as Bob Dylan. This particular accolade has now divided the world into people who are praising the move and those who think that he hasn’t contributed enough in the field of literature to actually deserve this. I belong to former category of people.
1. Going by the definitions provided by Nobel Prize Committee’s official website, Dylan’s works are DEFINITELY fall under the ambit of literature.
According to the Nobel Prize Committee’s official website:
By the terms of Alfred Nobel’s will the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded by the Swedish Academy since 1901.
According to the Swedish Academy, Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize ‘for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.’ Now here’s the academy has distinctly provided a measure for his body of work. It doesn’t claim that Mr. Dylan’s lyrics are poetry and thus comparable to the work of Nobel Prize-winning poets T.S. Eliot, or Pablo Neruda, or W.B. Yeats. That’s where the whole argument about his lyrics not meeting the required credentials of poetry don’t hold up.
2. The whole argument about creating a new category for Music in Nobel Prize doesn’t hold ground because the Polar Music Prize already exists.
A lot of people are talking about creating a new category of Nobel Prize for Music and giving it to Dylan. That’s a flawed argument in itself because of the presence of Polar Music Prize. The Polar Music Prize is a Swedish international award founded in 1989 by Stig Anderson. The prize has been called the ‘Nobel Prize of Music’ in Sweden. In 2000, Dylan won this coveted prize and the Jury had this to say about his contributions:
His achievements encompass almost four decades of constantly changing modes of creativity, always innovative, but always based on American musical traditions and roots.
3. Literature isn’t restricted to novels or books, any written work that has truly changed and affected society is good literature.
A quick Google search about literature tells you that it encompasses written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit. So, technically speaking, every written work can be considered literature – be it songs, comics, or movie scripts. Literature isn’t restricted to novels or books; but its about any written work.
Now a lot of literature dilettante will try and justify what their idea of good literature is. To be honest, that’s subjective. If these literature enthusiasts truly believe in an ‘award’ that is being given out to the best in a category, they obviously believe in merit. But isn’t art subjective? While a lot of people might like a piece of art, there will be an equal number of guys who don’t share that feeling. So if ‘art’ is subjective, how can merit be an issue?
4. Now for the sake of the argument, let’s say that I agree with the whole merit debate. So who gets to decide whether a particular individual has enough merit to win an award?
The people who have been chosen (according to the rules I have quoted earlier in the article) democratically. They are obviously the ones who have the right to make a call here. Even when we do agree with the other more deserving guys in the list, that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that Dylan deserves it.
5. Just because some might believe that other writers deserve it more, it takes nothing away from the fact that Dylan did deserve the Nobel Prize for literature.
You can’t make an argument that hinges on ‘whataboutery’. You can’t argue that Dylan jumped the line in front of more deserving candidates, because there’s no internal logic to the process. Even when the ‘more deserving’ candidates haven’t won the award yet, it takes nothing away from the fact that Dylan deserves to win. You can’t take away something that he deservedly won just because you believe that some other writers deserve it more. And what is this whole hullabaloo about ‘deserving’ an award about?
If we can consider the poetic verses of Homer, Sappho, Pindar etc – as literature that can be sung and performed – I do not see the problem in a genuinely talented song-writer winning it. Anyone who knows Dylan’s work and its impact on his and subsequent generations of authors and composers can dispute its high quality.
6. Most critics claim that Dylan isn’t a writer in the traditional sense, but he was a storyteller and what is writing if not telling a story.
Of course it’s not poetry, not even sung poetry. It’s songwriting, it’s storytelling. Dylan was a masterful storyteller. And not just sweet love poems. Dylan challenged us again and again:
“How many deaths will it take till they know
Spoken word poetry is getting some much deserved credit now with the rise of slam poets. The thing that excites me the most about this form of poetry is the fact that it allows poets to narrate a story or an experience and blend it with poetry. It’s the performance and the overall emotional quotient of the writing that successfully makes you feel some very specific emotions. That’s the brilliance of Dylan.
When Dylan was quizzed about his image and his literary prowess, this is what he had to say:
The image of me was certainly not a songwriter or singer, it was more like a threat to society in some kind of way. It was like being in an Edgar Allen Poe story…You’re just not the person everybody thinks you are.
To be honest, Dylan’s works have revolutionised songwriting and how the general audience perceives rock music. The Independent came up with the perfect subheading about this situation:
Some might sneer at a singer-songwriter winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, but with a back catalogue that not only charts the struggle for civil rights in the US, but deals with the many afflictions of modern life, Dylan is the perfect choice.
This doesn’t mean that the Swedish academy is dumbing down. It also doesn’t mean that it has now opened its doors for the likes of Kanye West. The Swedish academy is now finally paying attention to geniuses who might not fall under the conventional idea of literature but are very much a part of it.
8. It’s not like Dylan is just another musician or just another songwriter. He’s done more for language of modern popular culture than perhaps any figure ever.
Now that we’ve discussed the whole merit argument at length, let’s get a little personal about this debacle. For me, a nobody in the humongous world of literature, Dylan’s victory is a testament to the fact that any writer, no matter how puny, is contributing to enriching the ever-evolving art-form. While Dylan hasn’t published his songs like a poem, they are no less than anything other poets have done.
And that’s precisely the reason why people like me are still so fascinated by the world of literature. Even when you scribble at a notepad, trying to give your thoughts a medium, you are contributing to literature. And that’s the kind of message that should go out to people.
9. He has enriched the lives of different generations and continues to do so with his immortal songs. About time we recognise that.
I cannot possibly tell you about the joy that some of his songs have given me. I have purposefully not named any of his songs while writing this because I myself can’t decide which songs of his deserve to be read and re-read time and again. That’s exactly what makes him such a great song-writer. His body of work is too good, even for an ardent fan like myself, to put my finger and claim that this particular song was his best.
As revealed in Chronicles, Volume One, his excellent autobiography, and also amply evident in his lyrics – Dylan is a voracious reader who appreciates story as well as wordplay and the flow of language. This fact is clearly reflected in his lyrics where he beautifully weaves stories in the form of words that are elevated by his performances.
10. When Dylan won a Pulitzer, there was a similar ruckus over his credentials only for critics to realise the overall impact of his work.
Bob Dylan earned a special award from the Pulitzer board for his “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” Yes, an institution that takes pride in acknowledging the achievements of journalists, authors and playwrights decided to award Dylan for his brilliance in song-writing.
Why not recognize a genius who is not already covered in accolades? But here’s where things get more ambiguous. Sentence by sentence and verse by verse, Dylan’s body of work is finally getting its long overdue celebration by the masses.
11. The Nobel Prize for Literature is meant to acknowledge Mr. Dylan as a poet in the sense of a visionary or paradigmatic seer.
I couldn’t imagine a better closing for my arguments than to quote Mr. Christopher Ricks, a professor of humanities at Boston University and the author of Dylan’s Visions of Sin,
It tugs back at the idea that his accomplishment can be measured purely on the page which it can’t even remotely be.