The Nobel Prize in Literature is not an exciting eventso it's especially interesting what happened yesterday when, against all expectations, it went to writer, songwriter and artist Bob Dylan, promoted by a huge league of fans for many years. In a seemingly unequal struggle, he bypassed the long-awaited prose writers Philip Roth and Haruki Murakami, the Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiongo, the Syrian poet Adonis, the elite Spaniard Javier Marias and, finally, the favorite of criticism, John Banville. On the Internet and beyond, some people perceived the news as a real holiday, and some burst into abuse towards the Swedish academy, which presented an old man with a guitar with a literary Oscar. We decided to find out why exactly now the American legend received his prize.
The Nobel Prize in Literature is quite specific: it has a place for politics, the severity of the social issues raised by the author and other factors that have nothing to do with literature. However, the artistic skill of those who received the award is beyond question. This is an opportunity to show something certainly interesting that will interest any "highly cultured" reader, but is usually familiar only to a narrow layer of amateurs. This is not necessarily about the most influential writers or authors who will necessarily be studied in fifty or a hundred years, but about those whose work here and now symbolizes for the Nobel Committee something more than a literary experiment.
Bob Dylan is one of the key figures in modern music history, a unique example of a person who at the same time became a symbol of a generation and outlived this generation for several decades. An androgynous singer with a strange voice, socially sharp and abstractly philosophical texts with references to the Bible, then to Karl Marx, has become one of the symbols of the 20th century. Books have been written about him, films have been made, his texts are quoted, and the number of covers of his songs and tributes has long been in the thousands. This alone sets Dylan apart from most who have ever received a Nobel in literature. Long-term people's love is also unprecedented: it is difficult to imagine a Nobel laureate whose verses are inscribed on walls all over the world. Well, and one more significant point: not everyone considers the new laureate to be a writer, because songwriting and poetry, in the opinion of many, are not the same thing.
The constant appearance of Dylan on the bookmaker's lists of Nobel contenders was a kind of anecdote, because the author is, in fact, a songwriter: neither his image nor the way of presenting the text seemed to fit the standards of the Swedish academy. However, the level of the texts themselves does not raise any doubts, and the bold choice of this year, which seemed to some to be provoked by the deaths of the greats of 2016, in fact may turn out to be one of the most timely.
Back in 2007, in an article by The Telegraph, writer and journalist Sam Leith complained about Bob Dylan being ranked as a poet, because his supporters allegedly overlook the essential difference between poetry and songwriting: the presence of the inner music of the text, which does not require the music of the outer. The author quite reasonably speaks about the difference between mediums that exists between the song and poetic tradition (although it did not always exist - remember Sappho and Homer), but, apparently, does not see the most important feature of the modern state of culture. For creativity, there is no need for an exact separation, so it is perfectly logical to talk about different types of literature as intersecting planes, and not as parallel worlds in Euclidean geometry. Do not forget about the most important way of defining a poet - his self-determination.Bob Dylan has formulated the thought many times and in different ways: “I’m a poet first, musician second”, “I’m a poet and I know it”.
Over the course of dozens of albums, Dylan has managed to combine European literary tradition and genres of American music
Both Sam Leith and many of Dylan's literary critics, however, do not deny Dylan's creative genius. The poetry of the great American perfectly combines the skill of working with rhyme and rhythm and the ability to tell stories from the perspective of a wide variety of people. Dylan's lyrical heroes are many, as there are many topics of interest to him: from war and social injustice to relationships, existential issues and the work of other writers.
In his texts, Dylan mentions countless predecessors and contemporaries, often talks about them both in his interviews and in his memoirs. Here are modernists James Joyce and TS Eliot, and beatnik poets (Dylan was friends with Allen Ginsberg for many years), and Russian classics, and plot masters like Jules Verne, HG Wells and Burroughs. In general, to doubt the interest in the literary tradition of a person who officially changed his name from Robert Zimmerman to Robert Dylan after reading Dylan Thomas would be at least strange.
The singer really is not limited to the text as a medium: he writes songs that combine rock, folk, country, gospel, blues and whatnot, and musical genres affect not only the manner of performance, but also directly on the literary form: language, style, rhythm. Thus, over the course of several dozen albums, he managed to organically combine the European literary tradition and nearly all the folk genres of American music. So the short but succinct explanation of the Nobel press release for Dylan's award - for "creating a new poetic expression within the great American song tradition" - sounds perfectly legitimate. Among other things, Dylan has published a book of poetry in prose, and the second volume of his memoirs, The Chronicle, is on its way - but even without these texts, the Nobel Committee has every reason to be awarded.
Dylan's people and his undoubted artistic merits are certainly important, but it seems that it is not only about them, and certainly not about the fact that the Swedish academy was deeply moved after Bowie's death. The fact is that the 21st century is the era of the fusion of artistic disciplines and the flourishing of interdisciplinary research. Today, War and Peace is both a novel and a rich material for gender studies, and a textbook on the history of cooking or military affairs. Writers-artists and directors-composers are less and less exceptional every year and any creative person can try himself in different professions. On the other hand, the perception of art has also radically and permanently changed thanks to performance and video art, new theater and the postmodern era in general. Thus, awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature to a person whose texts we listen to rather than read is a great way to show that the prize, which is more than a hundred years old, is going to slowly but surely follow not only new in art, but also new art. … Even if he is already half a century old.
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