Does the Nobel Prize Award deserve a Bob Dylan?

Written by Frank Calviño

October 13, 2016 will pass into the history as the day the western literary world was shocked at the discovery that a troubadour, a musician of folk rhythms and contestatory lyrics, became the newest Nobel Prize laureate in Literature. Yes, in Literature. 

To say that the entire world was in shock will be a hypocritical lie, a lie like the ones Bob Dylan has denounced using his music through his entire life. A cheap favor and a terrible way to honour the legacy that Dylan, thanks to his poetic work, has pass on to the future generations. No, indeed this Nobel Prize thing is only “a thing” in a very reduced spectrum of our watery planet. 

How reduced you say? Well for instance, the asian world does not recognizes or even cares about the western “Nobel” laureates. China has blatantly despise the award for political reasons and Bangladesh for religious. In the rest of the asian countries many believe that their intellectuals, artists and writers, have no real opportunity of being even considered for the nominations, while others believe the prize is “biased” by the western cultural influence -Japan and the Haruki Murakami issue- a thought that, at least on the literary and economic fields, could be arguably supported by a disproportionated list of western culture laureated exposing western values through their western culture works and being recognized by western judges in a western academy approach. 

The same issue, with a predominantly increase of the religious factor, happens in the Middle East and in the arabian Africa. On the other hand the Eurasian countries also have their own issues with the Nobel. The russian propaganda has effectively prevented the award from becoming even close to the prestige that other institutions and local awards held in every country that once was behind the so called “Iron Curtain”.

In short, the Nobel Prize is “a thing” mostly in North America and Europe. Because even in Latin America is “not so cool” as many nations have tried for ages to be recognized, promoting its brightest citizen, only to be discarded year after year after year. Sometimes without any God given logical explanation. Jorge Luis Borges deserved the Nobel, period. Argentinians know that, Chileans know that, Venezuelans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, Peruvians, Spanish, Indians, Canadians, Americans, Mexicans, even martians know that. Every bloody soul that has read spanish literature knows that. Yet, the Academy refused Borges, A LOT of times, fanning the scorn and hatred of an entire sub-continent.

At this point, dear reader, you must be questioning what is the objective of saying all this? Well it’s pretty simply: you need to understand this to actually understand the reasons behind Dylan’s Nobel, and the real scope behind the award. The real “prestige” behind the Nobel. 

The Ivory Tower where the sages preach

The literary western world -bear with me for a little longer- is raising all hell over Dylan’s award. Mainly because Dylan is “not a writer” but a musician, a “folk musician”. The first musician ever to have received a Nobel Prize for Literature, and perhaps the only musician ever in the modern history to receive any major literary award not being a writer or a poet. But let us delve deeper into this first issue and actually explore the facts behind the “Dylan Dilemma”.

Bob Dylan writes, that is a fact. Bob Dylan writes beautifully and masterfully, exposing ideas and scenes, feelings and concepts, in the form of a poetry that is directly associated with music. That is also a fact. He writes lyrics. Another fact. Bob Dylan does not writes lengthy tomes, nor even single page stories. That is a fact. Neither he writes anything remotely related to the literary world: reports, essays, novels, news stories, not even Hallmark postcards. Bob Dylan only writes folk songs. And this is the biggest fattest fact in the factbook, and the main reason behind the ruckus created by him being the 2016 Literature Nobel laureate.

Ergo, can you say that Bob Dylan is a writer? No, he is not a writer. Not at least what we understand as a writer nowadays. He is not a writer as much as Homer was not a writer per se. In fact, Homer was a troubadour. Lo and behold! Perhaps the greatest father of western literary tradition, was indeed a Bob Dylan of his age. Or it will be more appropriated to say that Dylan is a modern Homer?

Homer’s works, The Iliad and The Odyssey, were written translation of songs. Epic songs. That was the predominant cultural mechanism to pass on to the younger generations the knowledge, social heritage, history and values during the ancient Greece. They sang their history. That is why the fable Troyan War narrated in the Iliad is composed in verses, and it’s meant to be sung not to be read. It is a “chant”, and epic song.

So, in a strictly historical and factual sense, Dylan work is closer to the roots of western literary tradition than that of Mark Twain or Bram Stoker. Shocking isn’t it? Bob Dylan approach to literature, his job as a modern troubadour, is so fundamental to the western civilization, that not a single soul will dare to refute that Homer work was the beginning of western literature. Having explain all this, two things can be said. Does Bob Dylan deserves to be a Literature Nobel laureate? Yes. Does he deserves that more than, let say, Murakami? Maybe. 

And here comes the second big issue with Dylan’s award. Many people from the literary and academic world felt insulted by the decision of granting a Nobel prize to a mere “folk singer”. In both the regular media and social media, the commentaries of the “educated” western world pointed towards the fact that Bob Dylan is “a mere contemporary phenomena of the musical world” meaning that his work will not survive the inexorable scrutiny of the ages. But, is this true? 

If you go to anywhere in the United States and asks to ten people who is Toni Morrison, the most likely answer will be a baffle look. Will happen the same if you were to ask who is Bob Dylan? I bet it won’t. Morrison, besides being a magnificent lady and an exceptional writer, is also an american contemporary Pulitzer and Nobel award winner. Se received the Nobel in Literature in 1993, not so long. Yet you can bet your all your money on the fact that Dylan is far more well known than her. And what is more important, than Dylan work is far more known, listen and read, than Morrison literary works, even when they are truly sublime.    

To put this point more poignantly, please do go to Iran and ask a regular citizen if they know or have heard something about Rudyard Kipling, Wislawa Szymborska, Svetlana Alexievich or Sully Prudhomme, most likely they won’t be able to answer. Ask now who is Bob Dylan, and you can bet you have a far bigger chance to get a positive answer. Dylan has transcended the boundaries of western civilization far, far more, than many previous Nobel laureates. 

So, granting Bob Dylan a Literature Nobel, besides the common jokes that are impossible to refrain, it’s perhaps the best decision taken by the Norwegian Academy since they gave Marie Curie her two, bloody well deserved, Nobel Prizes. A decision that may bring some light on the Nobel institution, specially after granting Santos the Peace Nobel for NOT ending a Guerrilla War but rather “pay his way out of it” and have a failed referendum contradicting his “Nobel Award lifetime achievement”. In short, the real question here is not if the Nobel Prize prestige is “marred” by choosing Bob Dylan as a Literature laureate, but if Bob Dylan Prestige is marred by accepting an award that refused to recognize Mahatma Gandhi and was instead granted to Yasser Arafat and Barak Obama “as exemplary leaders in procure of world peace”. 

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About the author

Frank Calviño

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