Friday, October 14, 2016

Think positive - Bob Dylan might still refuse his Nobel Prize

I'm very much in two minds about yesterday's announcement that Bob Dylan is the winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Literature, officially "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition". The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, waxed lyrical in the official press release of the announcement, calling Dylan "a great poet in the great English tradition, stretching from Milton and Blake onwards", and even comparing him to Homer and Sappho at one point.
My first thought was: seriously? But the Nobel Prize committee is nothing if not serious. Occasionally controversial, sure (think Barack Obama, Yasser Arafat, Al Gore, etc), but never flippant or trivial.
So, I then assumed that the announcement must at least be a controversial one, at least in literature terms. But apparently not: the vast majority of comments I have read have been wildly positive, even delirious. Most people, then, seem perfectly at ease with the decision, calling it well-deserved, long overdue, even inspired.
All this has surprised me, to say the least. Am I the only person out there who thinks that Dylan is overrated? His lyrics, while admittedly well above the level of Lady Gaga or Ozzy Osbourne, are nevertheless just that, lyrics, and do not really hold up as poetry in their own right, at least not compared to the work of any number of bona fide poets. And don't get me started on his voice (I'm sure even he would admit he can't sing for toffee), although I assume that the Nobel committee do not take such non-literary aspects into account.
So, my suspicion is that the estimable committee, perhaps in a misguided attempt at appearing "relevant" or even "edgy", just decided that this year they would choose a singer-songwriter, someone well-known and commercially successful, a populist choice. Then, out of the canon of hoary mainstream old geezers of a certain age and with a sufficiently copious back catalogue (perhaps the likes of Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith and others might have been considered), they decided to  plump for a certain Robert Zimmerman.
I just kind of think that many of the top-notch authors who never won the Nobel Prize (a list, lest we forget, that includes the likes of Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, Primo Levi, W. H. Auden, John Updike, Robert Frost, Graham Greene, Chinua Achebe ... I could go on and on) might well be turning in their graves right now. And wasn't this supposed to be Philip Roth's year anyway? (Haruki Murukami was also widely touted.)
I think perhaps the best we can hope at this point is that the notoriously cantankerous Dylan might pull a Jean-Paul Sartre and refuse the accolade.

Nearly two weeks later, Mr. Dylan has still not bothered to contact the Swedish Academy or to publicly acknowledge the honour in any way. Apparently, a minor back-page of his official website did mention it briefly, but the mention soon disappeared, just as mysteriously.
The Nobel committee might just be starting to rue their decision right now...
Nearly 5 months later, Dylan has finally, almost grudgingly, deigned to accept the prize, although behind closed doors, and with absolutely no press present. He will not deliver the customary (and required) lecture in person, but will send in a taped lecture, despite the fact that he will actually be there in Stockholm for a couple of concerts.
Now, whether you see him as an old cantankerous curmudgeon or a puffed up prima donna, even his fans must see this as a graceless and boorish way to carry on. Me, I just see him as a jerk, and hopefully this might have disabused the Nobel Committee of the wisdom of granting the prize to a so-called pop-star in the future.

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