Bob Dylan, Literature & the Bull Session

Rambling Thoughts...

In October, Bob Dylan shocked the world by winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. While many feel the honor is well-deserved, others question this recognition. If you want to see what folks are saving, check out this New York Times article, which inspired almost 2,000 comments from readers.


Whatever your thoughts on the matter, the award has found many people asking the question "What is literature?" Mr. Dylan touched on the question in his Nobel acceptance speech, but has not had the time to contemplate this himself so don't look to him if you want the answer.
Mr. Dylan's acceptance speech and his Nobel prize have left me pondering "What is literature?"  but my only response so far has been "Hmmm..."

This a deep philosophical question, one that has no right or wrong answer but an endless number of opinions. Many doctoral dissertations and academic debates revolve around this question, but beyond the world of academia, does anyone talk about such things anymore? Does engaging in lengthy philosophical discussions end with college graduation or did that concept go out with the 1990s?

Digital Comments - The Modern Day Bull Session?
The New York Times article posted above received reactions from almost 2,000 readers but how of them actually engaged in conversations with others about the topic? Perhaps it's a sign of the times; we prefer to engage digitally rather than in person. Could this be the modern day equivalent of the all-night bull session? I hope not.

With everyone so wrapped up in national politics, fretting over local (non) issues, and tethered to their devices, it would be a refreshing change to talk about literature and other weighty topics. Anyone caring to engage in the questions "What is literature?" and "Does Dylan deserve the Novel Prize?" can leave their thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Better yet, call me up and we'll head to the coffee shop or a bar for long and heated conversation.

I have copied the transcription of Mr. Dylan's speech from the Nobel Prize website and it is found below. You check it out and form your own opinions, and you can also watch the video by clicking on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bi3Ws2Qm8ck


Bob Dylan Speech

Delivered by the United States Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji, at the Nobel Banquet
December 10, 2016.

Good evening, everyone. I extend my warmest greetings to the members of the Swedish Academy and to all of the other distinguished guests in attendance tonight.

I'm sorry I can't be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize. Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming. From an early age, I've been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway. These giants of literature whose works are taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries around the world and spoken of in reverent tones have always made a deep impression. That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.

I don't know if these men and women ever thought of the Nobel honor for themselves, but I suppose that anyone writing a book, or a poem, or a play anywhere in the world might harbor that secret dream deep down inside. It's probably buried so deep that they don't even know it's there.

If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I'd have about the same odds as standing on the moon. In fact, during the year I was born and for a few years after, there wasn't anyone in the world who was considered good enough to win this Nobel Prize. So, I recognize that I am in very rare company, to say the least.

I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn't have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I'm sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: "Who're the right actors for these roles?" "How should this be staged?" "Do I really want to set this in Denmark?" His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. "Is the financing in place?" "Are there enough good seats for my patrons?" "Where am I going to get a human skull?" I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare's mind was the question "Is this literature?"

When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium. If I was really dreaming big, maybe I could imagine getting to make a record and then hearing my songs on the radio. That was really the big prize in my mind. Making records and hearing your songs on the radio meant that you were reaching a big audience and that you might get to keep doing what you had set out to do.

Well, I've been doing what I set out to do for a long time, now. I've made dozens of records and played thousands of concerts all around the world. But it's my songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do. They seemed to have found a place in the lives of many people throughout many different cultures and I'm grateful for that.

But there's one thing I must say. As a performer I've played for 50,000 people and I've played for 50 people and I can tell you that it is harder to play for 50 people. 50,000 people have a singular persona, not so with 50. Each person has an individual, separate identity, a world unto themselves. They can perceive things more clearly. Your honesty and how it relates to the depth of your talent is tried. The fact that the Nobel committee is so small is not lost on me.

But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life's mundane matters. "Who are the best musicians for these songs?" "Am I recording in the right studio?" "Is this song in the right key?" Some things never change, even in 400 years.

Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, "Are my songs literature?"

So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.

My best wishes to you all, 

Bob Dylan