Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I am as happy as one can be, as if someone who is “mine,” a close friend or a dear relative, received it. I am convinced that, from this day on, the world of literature will not be the same. But the things are, as in almost all cases of great prizes, to say the least, controversial.
Social networks are on fire. Opposed opinions and sides, pro et contra Dylan’s receiving the prize, had already been formed on Facebook. The side that is against has three main arguments: A) by giving the prize to Bob Dylan, the Nobel committee has shown some kind of hippy nostalgia, B) it is giving way to some sort of anti-intellectualism, i.e. we are lowering our criteria in order to make people read more, without thinking about the true values (whatever that may be), and C) the generic one of how a singer/songwriter could receive the prize for literature.
Being on pro side, I will try to refute all of them, and to show that the change indeed has happened, and it is a good one. First of all, what’s wrong with hippies? We should be nostalgic for an era in which young people tried to change the world, to stop war, to grow organic food. To put it shortly, they believed in something. Needless to say that much of today’s New Age hype started back in the 60s, and Dylan was the Bard of hippy movement, although he himself would never admit to something like that. In “My Back Pages” from 1964, he’d already stated that he is not interested in anything else, but playing music. Still, he has never stopped being the speaker of his generation. He just never wanted to bear the burden and responsibility, and I respect that.
His refusal to carry the flag leads us to the other argument, of anti-intellectualism, which is, to say the least, problematic. Dylan has always tried to do what he is best at, and that most certainly is not anti- anything, let alone intellectualism. Besides, in his songs, interviews, and his autobiography, Chronicles, he always quoted influences from the musical and literary worlds, both present equally in his work. If any musician can be accused of anti-intellectualism, it cannot be Bob Dylan. Even his artistic name derives from Dylan Thomas, great British poet.
The field of literature is ever changing and, by giving the Nobel Prize to a singer/songwriter, the committee has acknowledged that. To be honest, that change has already taken place at universities, ever since the old departments for literature have been changed into departments for cultural studies. There are many articles on Dylan’s poetry, on his imagery, on his narratives and so on. He is considered the heir to none other than Walt Whitman. So, not the hippies in the Nobel committee, as Irvine Welsh tweeted, raised Dylan’s work on the pedestal of literature, but the professors, who all liked his looks (to quote from “Ballad of a Thin Man.”) His work is researched, studied, and written about on academic levels, so it is no surprise that he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. If he had won the one for chemistry, only that would be strange.
Dylan is the Author, written with capital A, the one who has shown that it is dignified to be a pop singer, who turned songwriting into art by giving meaning to lyrics in pop songs, the one who changed the lives of many a young men and women around the globe, and that is what all literature is striving for, to be influential. Leonard Cohen, another great poet, singer, and songwriter gave up writing poetry, and started singing his poems after he had heard Dylan. Allen Ginsberg did that, too. In that sense, giving the prize to Dylan was not any kind of concession. Quite the opposite, it was the awareness that literature has the power to change the world. And Dylan did much more than that. For example, just in three different, very recent poems from post-Yugoslav literature there are quotations from his poetry. And, last but not the least, he stayed faithful to high standards and his artistic creed throughout his whole career, which is now longer than fifty-five years.
Because of all that, the Nobel Prize committee simply did the right thing. And long may it continue!