Friday, October 14, 2016

Bob Dylan wins 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

  “Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connection  than people who are most content.”  

“Dylan’s memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, jumped from No. 15,690 on Amazon’s best-seller list on Wednesday night to No. 278 in the wake of the Nobel news, and it is now out of stock. Meanwhile, a bound compilation of Dylan’s lyrics, The Lyrics: 1961-2012, hopped from No. 73,543 to No. 209 in the same time frame. (Dylan’s music also saw the effect, with Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits andBlonde on Blonde making it to Amazon’s top 25 for CDs and vinyl by Thursday night.)”  Sales are up via New York Magazine
“Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
“In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.”
right: Dylan belongs on our literary Rushmore. Highway 61, Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, Time Out of Mind, are each rivers as rich, deep, troubling, and timeless as Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Faulkner, and Morrison.

“His example has taught writers of all sorts — not merely poets and novelists—about strategies of both pinpoint clarity and anyone’s-guess free association, of telegraphic brevity and ambiguous, kaleidoscopic moods,” wrote Jon Pareles in an appreciation in The New York Times

A Literature Nobel For Songwriting? Not Quite

Bob Dylan in concert, Aug 3, 1986. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Handwringing about “what is literature?” seems inevitable after the announcement that a rock star has taken the global writing community’s biggest award. But no great existential crisis is needed. The Nobel Committeecould have decided that with this prize it wanted to expand the definition of “literature” to include recorded music, a hugely influential and relatively young art form that doesn’t have an award of Nobel-like prestige dedicated to it. 

       Bob Dylan as Nobel laureate 

       As discussed yesterday -- hey, it takes a while for the reality of this to sink in -- they named ... Bob Dylan this year's Nobel laureate.

       A few more observations now that it's (very slowly ...) sinking in:

        - I think the selection was a misstep for the Swedish Academy.
       They've made some ... unusual choices before -- but these have tended to be of the relatively obscure literary kind, say a Dario Fo or Elfriede Jelinek: only a very limited audience really has sufficient familiarity with their work to even hold an opinion as to whether or not the choice was good. (Not that that ever stopped everyone else from opining/denouncing .....) Bob Dylan isn't just well-known, he's an international superstar, a celebrity bigger than pretty much any author. The last comparably famous literature laureate was also an odd choice -- Winston Churchill, in 1953 --, but Churchill did have an impressive body of serious writing. Sure, it was almost all non-fiction, and not widely read (outside the UK), but still.
       Selecting Dylan weakens the brand the Swedish Academy had built up so carefully -- elitist and 'literary' (and, less helpfully, tending towards the male and European -- but that could be rectified by other means). As the media complained every year before a name was even announced: no popular authors if they could help it. It was a brand that was easy to criticize and/or make fun of, but, boy, they owned it. But by selecting someone more popular than pretty much any author, ever -- and someone who isn't a traditional author, but rather struts his stuff on a stage and in recording studios -- they've hopelessly confused and muddled the issue. And the brand.
       What does this prize now stand for ? Sure, great, they take the large(st) view of what 'literature' is, and can be, now -- where does that leave us, or get us ? Wasn't their (high and mighty) little niche position a better perch ? (And a lot more fun ?)

        - I can't help but wonder whether or not the somewhat rejuvenated Swedish Academy (a younger generation replacing the old fuddy-duddies who have died off) isn't simply star struck. They all are over-familiar with authors, and unimpressed by literary fame, so giving it to Philip Roth or Adonis or whoever is probably just a big yawn by now. But Dylan ... Dylan is a different kind of star, one they don't often get to mingle with. I have to wonder whether the Swedish Academy fan-boys and -girls weren't moved by nostalgia for days of youth and rock/folk abandon, and the chance to toast (and nervously giggle around) one of their big teen-idols in person (as they will have at the ceremonies in December).
       (It will be interesting to learn (in fifty years, sigh ...) whether there was a generational divide in what was surely a contentious debate among the Academicians. Though note that Dylan has been on the scene for ages -- folks now in their 70s 'grew up' with him and his music .....)

        - I could see this being an exciting choice if they had made it in, say, the mid- or late-1970s. But now ? If they just want to shock -- well, they selected a pretty tired old specimen to shock with. Yes, Dylan is a classic and an all-time great. But let's face it, his best years are quite a few decades behind him.
       (I know this could be said about many of the authors who have received the prize, but it's hard to think of any recent one that got the prize so far post-peak.)

        - The Swedish Academy can't be blamed alone: candidates have to be nominated by someone, and I really wonder who that person (or people ?) was who wasted their nomination on Dylan year after year -- because he has been rumored to be a candidate for decades. Did they mean it as a joke (which has now spectacularly backfired) ? Were theyserious ? If you could only nominate one or two candidates a year, well, who in their right mind would nominate Bob Dylan above all the other wonderful writers out there ? Someone has a lot to answer for .....

        - As to the whole debate about whether a songwriter -- and, despite Tarantula and the memoirs, let's face it, that's what Dylan is -- should be considered for a 'literature' Nobel: generally I'm not thrilled about the expansion of the term in this way. The argument would seem to me to be: if you strip away the music, do the words hold up ? Drama seems to me to qualify: I don't need it to be acted out for me to appreciate it (in fact, personally I'm more of a play-reader than -watcher), but songs ? And specifically Dylan's songs ? I'm not convinced. So that's another problem I have with him getting the prize: I think he's a great artist, but a middling writer.

        - Finally, I think it's a bit problematic that the Swedish Academy makes this sudden leap into these particular big leagues. Dylan is internationally recognized -- again, more than practically any author: there might be a handful (none of whom would ever be considered Nobel-worthy, by the way) with similar reach and name recognition (Stephen King ? Paulo Coelho ?) -- and this award, which generally goes to writers who might be lucky to sell tens of thousands of copies of their books (and often are selling far, far, far fewer) suddenly goes to an artist who has reportedly sold some 100,000,000 albums (never mind his download- and radio-reach ...). Dylan is simply in a different popularity- and recognizability-league than anyone who has ever gotten the prize (well, arguably, save Churchill -- but his renown was of a different sort (and involved far fewer swooning and/or stoned college kids, etc.)) .
       It seems a bit (or a lot) of a shame to me, to in a way waste such an opportunity and give the prize to someone who really already couldn't be more famous. (Are there people -- anywhere -- who are hearing about Dylan for the first time because he won the Nobel ? I kind of doubt it. When was the last time we could say that of a literature laureate ? (Yes, yes: 1953.)) I could accept it if Dylan's really was the apogee of art -- if he were a Shakespeare or a Goethe. But he's not. He's very, very good -- but that's about it. And I'd argue there are a ot of writers who are better at their art (even granting they do something different than songwriter Dylan does) -- a lot of them, in fact.

       So what about other reactions ?
       Well, there have been some nice multiple-brief-reaction round-ups, such as:
       There are some pro and contra discussions:
       There were a few pieces arguing that it wasn't a good choice:
       Far more, however, were pleased by the choice, and wholeheartedly endorsed it:
       There are also a few pieces that look at this selection and what it signifies for the Nobel Prize, and for literature:
       Finally, Adam Langer offers lists of The Best and Worst Things About Bob Dylan Winning the Nobel Prize atForward.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Dario Fo (1926-2016) 

       On the day they announced this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature comes word that (controversial) 1997 laureate Dario Fo has passed away; see, for example, obituaries by Michael Billington (in The Guardian) andJonathan Kandell (in The New York Times).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Monsieur de Bougrelon review 

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jean Lorrain's Monsieur de Bougrelon, a nice little fin de siècle novel set in Amsterdam, forthcoming from Spurl Editions.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

“He is the first American to win since the novelist Toni Morrison, in 1993. The announcement, Stockholm, came as something of a surprise. Although Mr. Dylan, 75, has been mentioned often as having an outside shot at the prize, his work does not fit 
into the traditional literary canons of novels, poetry and short stories that the prize has traditionally recognized.” Bob Dylan Wins Nobel Prize For Literature New  York Times

Dylan deserves the Nobel: Rob Salkowitz in Forbes magazine, who makes the argument that over six decades Dylan has channelled the voices of the marginalised. He writes

One of the primary grievances of the out-groups, whether they are Brexiters, members of the European right, or Trumpians in the US, is that their voices are not heard and respected among the elite. Their concerns about diminished social and economic status, the failure of their communities and families and the general sense of abandonment are treated as collateral damage by elites, who condescend to them without actually understanding the cause of their pain.
Bob Dylan’s art, at its finest, dignifies those voices. He is not of those communities by origin, but he has embraced them so deeply and consistently through his six-decade career that he speaks on their behalf with clarity, conviction and authenticity. At the same time, he is an advocate for social justice at the most basic, human level, and in his mature work refuses to reduce either side of a discussion to caricature.
Voice of Baby Boomers

I had heard the rumors for years, but I didn’t think it actually would happen.  My takes on a few Dylan albums:
FreeWheelin’ Bob Dylan: One of his most listenable and underrated albums, the same is true for Another Side of Bob Dylan...
Dylan is just as good as this joker: “Odysseus Elytis won in 1979 “for his poetry, which, against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clear-sightedness modern man’s struggle for freedom and creativeness”.”
C’mon, who has read Elytis? Not I, and I speak, read and write Greek (like an elementary school kid, but still). By contrast, Dylan’s music is understood by millions!

Tyler Cowen on Bob...

Bob Dylan performs during his show in Ho Chi Minh city
Bob Dylan has been mentioned in Nobel Prize speculation for years.

American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan has won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, marking the first time the prestigious award has been bestowed upon someone primarily seen as a musician.
The 75-year-old was awarded the prestigious prize by the Swedish Academy on Thursday for "having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition".
Nobel Bob

When he won the 1997 Nobel prize for Literature — which coincidentally was awarded for 2016 on the day of Fo’s death, to Bob Dylan — the Vatican newspaper said it was simply “amazed.”
Vale Nobel winner Dario Fo dead at 90

William F. Buckley, edited by James Rosen, A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century.  Obituaries penned by WFB, fascinating throughout.  One forgets what a lucid writer he was, and some of the more unsettling entries (MLK, John Lennon) are some of the most interesting.