Recently, an aging American celebrity with implausibly dyed hair has caused bitter discord between his avid supporters and those who are repulsed by his undecipherable utterances (and even the sound of his voice). No, I’m not talking about the Republican Party’s candidate for President and his “bragadocious” misogyny.
Rather, it was the news that The Swedish Academy had awarded the distinguished Nobel Prize in Literature to American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan (né Robert Zimmerman), citing his creation of “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Rarely has the announcement of this award been met with such strong feelings, pro and con, particularly among the elite culturati. Why choose a singer? Why an American? Why a man? Why not an actual author? Why not? What took them so long? Was it a political statement?
The answer, my friends, is blowin’ in the 21st-century wind – the Twitterverse and Blogosphere.
Ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
Soon after the surprise announcement, poet and Buzzfeed editor Saeed Jones accurately predicted,
The Swedes are evil geniuses. Well Actually Twitter gonna be on and popping as soon as everyone finds their reading glasses.
— Saeed Jones (@theferocity) October 13, 2016
It didn’t take long for the deluge of venom to spout forth.
Russian-born American author Gary Shteyngart snarked,
I totally get the Nobel committee. Reading books is hard.
— Gary Shteyngart (@Shteyngart) October 13, 2016
Chocolat author Joanne Harris sniped,
Is this the first time that a back catalogue of song lyrics has been judged eligible for a literary prize?
— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) October 13, 2016
Feminist columnist and HuffPo editor Chloe Angyal bitched lamented,
Literally zero women were awarded Nobels this year. Maybe someone can write a poignant, gravelly, somewhat atonal folk song about that.
— Chloe Angyal (@ChloeAngyal) October 13, 2016
Before the Swedes handed down their decision, a Twitter account owned by a protagonist of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami’s stories (could this be the author’s own alter ego?) threatened
standing outside the Nobel headquarters with a baseball bat and a small bottle of beer
— Murakami Protagonist (@Murakami_Tweets) October 8, 2015
And, upon hearing their choice:
*throws bob dylan records out window of small yet functional tokyo apartment. opens small bottle of beer*
it’s fine. i’m fine.
— Murakami Protagonist (@Murakami_Tweets) October 13, 2016
Even the late author Kurt Vonnegut chimed in, as a quote resurfaced from a 1991 interview with Hustler magazine (back when authors still thought that this would be good PR):
Bob Dylan … is the worst poet alive. He can maybe get one good line in a song, and the rest is gibberish.
The context of the current political climate may have swayed some American literary notables to support the unorthodox choice. Award-winning American author Joyce Carol Oates, apparently averse to writing The Donald-devil’s name in full, felt
Bob Dylan a very welcome respite/ interregnum interrupting cascade of T***p grotesquerie. the Dylan of 1960s would’ve been scathing of T***p
— Joyce Carol Oates (@JoyceCarolOates) October 13, 2016
Broadway wunderkind, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda snapped back at the naysaying ivory tower
Novelists grousing about Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize: green looks hideous on you. #ThereMustBeSomethingHappeningButYouDontKnowWhatItIs #DoYou
— Lin-Manuel Miranda (@Lin_Manuel) October 13, 2016
I suppose, when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.
Sir Salman Rushdie may have engendered another fatwā – this one issued by his fellow intellectuals – by gushing,
From Orpheus to Faiz,song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition.Great choice. #Nobel
— Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) October 13, 2016
Rushdie’s argument – that poetry and song have long been intertwined – was echoed by the prominent French public intellectual, Bernard-Henri Lévy. Known simply as “BHL” in his home country, Lévy is not one to abbreviate his opinions to 140 characters. In his essay published on Project Syndicate, Bob Dylan and the Literary Idiot Wind, he mocks the “fuddy-duddies” of literature’s academy, though he admits, “it’s wrong to respond priggishly to priggishness.”
BHL places Dylan’s words squarely among his literary contemporaries – the Beat generation’s Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs – “but with music as well!” He asks,
Are we going to hold that against Dylan, charge him with the sin of having grafted the rhythms of the blues, soul, and country music onto those of the Bible, William Blake, and Walt Whitman? Why should we withhold from the trouper of the Never Ending Tour (more than two thousand performances!) the dignity accorded without hesitation to the author of On the Road?
And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And Dylan’s own reaction to being proclaimed a Nobel Laureate? Silence. “That’s just so Dylan,” claim his fans. While an acknowledgement was posted on his website five days later, it was scrubbed the next day. The famous froggy voice has not been heard by either the public nor the Nobel Committee, who have basically given up trying to track him down.
Will he show up in Stockholm on November 10 to accept the prize? If so, will he sing a song on the podium? Does his non-response mean the 75 year old is knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door? After all, he’s proudly accepted medals before (Kennedy Center Honors, Presidential Medal of Freedom, Légion d’Honneur, 12 Grammys, an Oscar, an honorary degree from St. Andrews…).
Perhaps the renowned anti-war hero-activist still holds a grudge that Alfred Nobel invented dynamite.