Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bob . . . Dylan?

Well, apparently writing literature is no longer a requirement for receiving a Nobel Prize for Literature.

Call me an old-fashioned curmudgeon if you will, but this news about Bob Dylan genuinely surprises. Sure, he's a pop culture / protest icon. Sure, give him a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys. Give him two! But the most prestigious prize for literature?  I've had arguments about this before, but singing/songwriting just doesn't qualify as "literature" (however arbitrarily you define that term) -- it's not even on the same boat. Song lyrics, bereft of their music, just aren't as good line-for-line as lyric poetry . . .  and lyric poetry is itself an inferior art to epic poetry or prose forms of literature. (Yes, William Wordsworth, I'm telling you that you can just go to hell.) No one can really say much of anything important in a few stanzas. And having lyrics bolstered by music makes writing them so much easier. You can get away with comparatively a lot more than with traditional poetry. It's the difference between sculpture and building with Legos. Some pretty amazing things can be done with legos, but sculpture takes a lot more skill.

About the only comparable incident I can recall is Neil Gaiman winning the World Fantasy Award for short story for Sandman #19. Nominating a graphic novel as a short story is kinda of silly (and a disservice to real short stories), but I'd still say that graphic novels and short stories are in the same ballpark. Giving a songwriter a Nobel Prize in Literature doesn't even belong on the same planet.

EDIT: Because I'm getting a lot of flak about this on other forums, let me clarify. In my own personal use, I define "literature" quite broadly -- any priveleging of the written word. This includes poetry (lyric, epic), drama, short stories, novels, and hybrids forms.

Because the words-element of Dylan (i.e,, his lyrics) is so obviously inferior to the best of anything produced in the above genres, there's no way he should have won a Nobel Prize. Of course, Dylan's skill as an artist is not limited to his lyrics on their own -- you can't separate that from his music. But then you get an artform that should no longer fall under the umbrella term of "literature."

Another argument I heard, which is I absolutely agree with: "Song-writing is an extremely financially lucrative artform with a high level of cultural capital, and it's wrong that a singer-songwriter, by winning the Nobel, is taking away the financial compensation and cultural capital of an artform that is much more undervalued by the bulk of society."

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