Dylan Haters Rail at the Nobel Committee

Oh, my, this writer at the New York Times is unhappy.

Bob Dylan does not deserve the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Okay…

But by awarding the prize to him, the Nobel committee is choosing not to award it to a writer, and that is a disappointing choice.

Because… Those aren’t words in his song lyrics? He didn’t write them? They spawned as an emergent property of the music?

As reading declines around the world, literary prizes are more important than ever. A big prize means a jump in sales and readership even for a well-known writer.

I didn’t know that the point of prizes was to increase sales for a writer, well-known or not. I thought it was to reward a writer who writes quality work.

But more than that, awarding the Nobel to a novelist or a poet is a way of affirming that fiction and poetry still matter, that they are crucial human endeavors worthy of international recognition.

Oh. Because people think that fiction and poetry don’t matter?

By the way, what about theater? Does that not matter? A number of playrights have won this prize, including Harold Pinter, Dario Fo, Eugene O’Neill, Luigi Pirandello, George Bernard Shaw, and authors who wrote theater and fiction (as well as non-fiction, for some), such as Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus.

Oh, and the 2015 winner was Svetlana Alexievich, a journalist and essayist. Did this author complain about that prize?

The committee probably did not mean to slight fiction or poetry with its choice. By honoring a musical icon, the committee members may have wanted to bring new cultural currency to the prize and make it feel relevant to a younger generation.

Or maybe recognize that song lyrics can be poetry. Ever think of that?

And theater? Because that, too, is meant to be performed, so shouldn’t that be disqualified? Or is the fact that the author of this article does not mention theater a tacit admission that she thinks it is not literature?

But there are many ways they could have accomplished this while still honoring a writer. They could have chosen a writer who has made significant innovations in the form, like…

Now this part is weird. The author lists a number of fairly young writers. The Nobel Prize is not like the Booker Prize or the Pulitzer Prize; it rewards a body of work. I think the author of this article is missing the point here, because listing “a writer who has built an audience primarily online” shows an ignorance of what the Nobel Prize is for, because such an author cannot have been writing very long. The Nobel Prize is also designed to recompense writers of global scope, not someone who just happened to be “the first Young Poet Laureate of London in 2014.”

Bob Dylan does not need a Nobel Prize in Literature, but literature needs a Nobel Prize. This year, it won’t get one.

So instead of expanding the definition of literature, which the Nobel Prize committed did, this writer suggests it should be frozen in the past. She probably wouldn’t have wanted Homer to get the prize, because his poetry was spoken.

Anyway, it’s not up to you to decide. It’s up to the Nobel Prize committee.

24 thoughts on “Dylan Haters Rail at the Nobel Committee

  1. One doesn’t have to hate Bob Dylan to feel the award is inappropriate and misdirected. Will the next Literature Nobel go to Pink Floyd?

    • Are Pink Floyd’s lyrics as poetic as Dylan’s? If so, why not? (Personally, I don’t think so.) Dylan won the award as a poet.

      Related: if it were just a lyricist getting the award, how would you feel? In other words, someone who writes poems that are then set to songs, but does not sing them.

  2. One doesn’t have to hate Bob Dylan to feel the award is inappropriate and misdirected. Will the next Literature Nobel go to Pink Floyd?

    • Are Pink Floyd’s lyrics as poetic as Dylan’s? If so, why not? (Personally, I don’t think so.) Dylan won the award as a poet.

      Related: if it were just a lyricist getting the award, how would you feel? In other words, someone who writes poems that are then set to songs, but does not sing them.

  3. The Nobel committee need think broadly for other areas of endeavour, so why not for the Literature prize? I’m thinking of Biology, for which there is no Nobel Prize: biologists do win under Chemistry and the Physiology or Medicine Prizes.

    • I’m not sure what the rules are, but I suspect that has something to do with the original mandate from Nobel. I don’t think they are allowed to create new prizes. But it is interesting that they do allow wiggle-room on scientific prizes.

        • That sounds like someone else funding a prize “in memory of.” So technically it’s a Nobel prize, but I assume the original endowment doesn’t give them that latitude.

        • In contrast to Kirk’s statement, I would argue that “technically, the economics prize is NOT a Nobel Prize.” It’s a prize created by a different group, which attempts to benefit from the prestige of the genuine Nobel Prizes.

  4. The Nobel committee need think broadly for other areas of endeavour, so why not for the Literature prize? I’m thinking of Biology, for which there is no Nobel Prize: biologists do win under Chemistry and the Physiology or Medicine Prizes.

    • I’m not sure what the rules are, but I suspect that has something to do with the original mandate from Nobel. I don’t think they are allowed to create new prizes. But it is interesting that they do allow wiggle-room on scientific prizes.

        • That sounds like someone else funding a prize “in memory of.” So technically it’s a Nobel prize, but I assume the original endowment doesn’t give them that latitude.

        • In contrast to Kirk’s statement, I would argue that “technically, the economics prize is NOT a Nobel Prize.” It’s a prize created by a different group, which attempts to benefit from the prestige of the genuine Nobel Prizes.

  5. In reference to the Dylan haters, and especially the sentences that you selected, Kirk, I would like to quote the noted writer William Goldman, and ask, “Who are these guys?” (Applying that question to a wider circle than the specific article author that you quoted, who is apparently a woman, and singular, in several senses of that word.) The objections that you quoted are among the more silly and illogical that I have seen lately, outside of your articles on audio cables.

    Somehow, the author does not consider Dylan’s work to be either fiction or poetry, nor does she think he is a writer. Creating strings of words that frequently rhyme, while evoking images, passions, thoughts, and feelings in millions of fans is, for her, totally distinct from writing and poetry. I think she needs to consult that common writer’s aid, a dictionary.

    While the Nobel Prize is not a popularity contest, the author seems to think that it may bring more people to reading, or would have, if it hadn’t been wasted on Dylan. In fact, I’d be surprised if one person in a thousand could name any of the Literature Prize winners for the last five years. Every one of them will get more attention now, as people who know Dylan will Google the previous winners, and maybe even read something that they have written. More importantly, more of Dylan’s poetry has been appreciated and thought about, by many millions more people around the world, than any other American poet in the last hundred years. Dylan’s selection will shed vastly more attention on the Prize and on literature generally, than any other recent choice. Given the article author’s criteria, she should be thrilled.

    Perhaps most bizarre is the speculation, that Dylan was chosen to appeal to “a younger generation”. If that was there goal, they are about 50 years too late. Dylan is 75 years old. 95% of the world’s population is younger than he is, but very few of them still look to him as a trend setter.

    In one area, I can offer qualified consent with the article author: The decline of criticism, critical reading ability, and rational thought is demonstrated. Not by the selection of Dylan, but by the lame criticisms of that selection.

    • Anne Midgette (Washington Post classical music critic) just said to me, on Twitter: “But the journalist fit the writer-from-another-country-I’ve-never-heard-of mold people seem to expect from lit Nobel.”

      That’s interesting, because I think a lot of Americans look at the Nobel like that. The thing is, it’s not an American prize. It’s from a country where world literature is well represented. And not all the authors are obscure either; recently, Patrick Modiano from France won the prize, and he’s a fairly well known author in France.

  6. In reference to the Dylan haters, and especially the sentences that you selected, Kirk, I would like to quote the noted writer William Goldman, and ask, “Who are these guys?” (Applying that question to a wider circle than the specific article author that you quoted, who is apparently a woman, and singular, in several senses of that word.) The objections that you quoted are among the more silly and illogical that I have seen lately, outside of your articles on audio cables.

    Somehow, the author does not consider Dylan’s work to be either fiction or poetry, nor does she think he is a writer. Creating strings of words that frequently rhyme, while evoking images, passions, thoughts, and feelings in millions of fans is, for her, totally distinct from writing and poetry. I think she needs to consult that common writer’s aid, a dictionary.

    While the Nobel Prize is not a popularity contest, the author seems to think that it may bring more people to reading, or would have, if it hadn’t been wasted on Dylan. In fact, I’d be surprised if one person in a thousand could name any of the Literature Prize winners for the last five years. Every one of them will get more attention now, as people who know Dylan will Google the previous winners, and maybe even read something that they have written. More importantly, more of Dylan’s poetry has been appreciated and thought about, by many millions more people around the world, than any other American poet in the last hundred years. Dylan’s selection will shed vastly more attention on the Prize and on literature generally, than any other recent choice. Given the article author’s criteria, she should be thrilled.

    Perhaps most bizarre is the speculation, that Dylan was chosen to appeal to “a younger generation”. If that was there goal, they are about 50 years too late. Dylan is 75 years old. 95% of the world’s population is younger than he is, but very few of them still look to him as a trend setter.

    In one area, I can offer qualified consent with the article author: The decline of criticism, critical reading ability, and rational thought is demonstrated. Not by the selection of Dylan, but by the lame criticisms of that selection.

    • Anne Midgette (Washington Post classical music critic) just said to me, on Twitter: “But the journalist fit the writer-from-another-country-I’ve-never-heard-of mold people seem to expect from lit Nobel.”

      That’s interesting, because I think a lot of Americans look at the Nobel like that. The thing is, it’s not an American prize. It’s from a country where world literature is well represented. And not all the authors are obscure either; recently, Patrick Modiano from France won the prize, and he’s a fairly well known author in France.

  7. Sorry for the French quote, but the last 2 sentences of the following paragraph are genius. Basically, let us oppose Bob Dylan’s selection simply because any serious literary critic should preserve the uniquely obscure and sacred vision of what “real” literature is! Yet another charge from gray-haired individuals with pedantic attitudes…

    “Pour la première fois hier, ce prix a été accordé à un chanteur. Plusieurs, y compris le candidat boudé Salman Rushdie, ont applaudi. D’autres grognassaient toutefois. Une vedette au lieu d’un authentique écrivain ? Cela prouverait que la littérature ne compte plus. Avec le sous-entendu, bien sûr, que celui qui se plaint constitue un des derniers résistants de notre monde d’inculture en chute libre et accélérée dans l’insignifiance. La charge est si prévisible qu’on en bâille.”

    (From today’s editorial piece in Montreal’s LaPresse+: http://plus.lapresse.ca/screens/4de53378-f9b5-4bee-a175-ecec9dccdd15%7C_0.html)

  8. Sorry for the French quote, but the last 2 sentences of the following paragraph are genius. Basically, let us oppose Bob Dylan’s selection simply because any serious literary critic should preserve the uniquely obscure and sacred vision of what “real” literature is! Yet another charge from gray-haired individuals with pedantic attitudes…

    “Pour la première fois hier, ce prix a été accordé à un chanteur. Plusieurs, y compris le candidat boudé Salman Rushdie, ont applaudi. D’autres grognassaient toutefois. Une vedette au lieu d’un authentique écrivain ? Cela prouverait que la littérature ne compte plus. Avec le sous-entendu, bien sûr, que celui qui se plaint constitue un des derniers résistants de notre monde d’inculture en chute libre et accélérée dans l’insignifiance. La charge est si prévisible qu’on en bâille.”

    (From today’s editorial piece in Montreal’s LaPresse+: http://plus.lapresse.ca/screens/4de53378-f9b5-4bee-a175-ecec9dccdd15%7C_0.html)

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