21 October 2016
Bob Dylan’s lyrics, while they may not always be what the college literature professor calls poetic, have hit home with millions. Photo: Reuters
Bob Dylan’s lyrics, while they may not always be what the college literature professor calls poetic, have hit home with millions. Photo: Reuters

On Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature

Much has already been written about Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature.

Some contemporary authors disagree with the award to Dylan, such as Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting, who said on Twitter that “I’m a Dylan fan, but this is an ill conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies.”

On the other hand, other literary authors praised the award, such as Salman Rushdie who said “From Orpheus to Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice.”

Jodi Picoult did say she was happy for Dylan, but joked in her hashtag if she could already win a Grammy music award.

Personally, as a writer, I do have mixed feelings. This is not to say that I disagree with the award.

Literature for me should not only stand on its own merits, but must also be weighed on the impact it has created to society.

And Dylan’s lyrics, while they may not always be what the college literature professor calls poetic, have hit home with millions, especially those who grew up during the Vietnam War years.

Inspired by musicians like Little Richard, Woody Guthrie, Robert Johnson and Hank Williams, Dylan with his guitar, vocals, harmonica and keyboards, has become an American icon, selling over 100 million records.

He has influenced many musicians, dating back from the Byrds, the Beatles, all the way to Eagles, U2, and other contemporary artists.

He has received several Grammy awards, a Golden Globe, an Oscar, and has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

He received a Pulitzer Prize special honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2012.

Another consideration is that maybe it is time for the Nobel Prize for Literature to evolve into all of the arts.

Not just books, but also songs, plays, and whatever constructs reflect societal shifts best.

There was a time of course when novels were the main form of entertainment, with serialized novels from Charles Dickens, and other novelists from long ago.

In this day and age of social media and memes, it is perhaps fitting to recognize this. Although it is hard, especially for writers.

The Nobel committee has taken away their raison d’etre, especially since being a writer can mean a hard life. Can you imagine how if feels for them?

How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be on your own, with no direction home
A complete unknown, like a rolling stone

The Nobel committee is perhaps wiser than us in that regard. Literature cannot live in a protected shell. It must seek to further enhance the craft so that on its own, it can rightfully hold off challenges from the other forms of art.

Maybe the answer to why the Nobel committee gave him the award is still blowin’ in the wind. After all:

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Maybe those who are uncomfortable with the decision can take solace with these lines:

For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

For the writers, look at it this way. At least Stephen King didn’t win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Dennis Posadas is a Manila-based author and technology consultant. He is the author of Leap: A Sustainability Fable (Singapore: Pearson, 2015) as well as various short works of fiction, and some unproduced film and stage scripts. He was never at any point, in the running for the Nobel Prize.

Lyrics quoted here are the copyrights of Bob Dylan.

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Consultant on low-carbon technology and publisher of Asian Spectator technology blog

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