Saturday, October 15, 2016

Dylan the poet?

I know I should just let this go, but I am still very annoyed at the ludicrousness of giving the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan.  Not sure there is a poll on it or not, but of the people that seem to actually care (or even know about award winners), it seems to be breaking 75% in favor of Dylan with a small disgruntled group left out in the cold.  I am strongly in this rump group, which basically means I am an unremitting snob to those (mostly Boomers) who are falling over themselves to justify the award.  I don't care what Rushdie thinks or others argue, I will never agree that the balladry of song lyrics puts them in the same category as poetry.  And even if they did count as "literature," I am just not convinced that Dylan's lyrics are actually better than Joni Mitchell's or Leonard Cohen's, and in terms of storytelling, I generally find Paul Simon to be superior to Dylan.

I would have still been upset had Leonard Cohen gotten the award, but I could probably have accepted it eventually, considering the breadth of his writing.  I think more than anything, I do feel that the Nobel is supposed to go to writers (not musicians of any stripe) -- and generally to somewhat under-recognized writers* (though this in itself is contentious and certainly Alfred Nobel didn't set that out in his instructions).  Nonetheless, I think giving the award to Dylan, who has been awarded prodigiously throughout his career, is taking it away from a far more deserving novelist, poet or playwright.  Cohen himself has a somewhat different take, that Dylan is so far above us and so hard to categorize that it is "like pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain."  Pithy, though I don't really agree that in the end that Dylan is so great that he actually honors the awards committee.  (A lot of times I just don't understand all this Dylan worship.)

After the announcement, I went back and listened to a whole slew of Dylan, and honestly I found myself liking the material less and less.  I clearly am so bothered by the injustice of the award that I am taking it out on Dylan (again, not that one dog peeing on a mountain will really matter to the mountain).  So I am going to take a long break from Dylan until all this fuss dies down, since at this particular moment I don't like his music at all.

* Given that I do think the Nobel prize ought to celebrate semi-obscure writers (again not an actual requirement), I would probably give it almost exclusively to poet and playwrights.  It's too late to give it to Adrienne Rich, but Marge Piercy would be an excellent choice, who wrote a number of solid novels in addition to a long career in poetry.  (I like Sharon Olds's work, but feel she is a bit one-dimensional for the Nobel.  On the other hand, Patrick Modiano (a very poor man's Proust) got one for a series of books all about the fragmentary nature of memory.  After reading a bit of his work, I frankly think Modiano was another poor choice on the part of the committee.)  I also think Charles Simic should be in the running for the award.  In terms of playwrights, both Tom Stoppard and Tony Kushner are legitimate contenders, though it's not like either is particularly obscure. For an obscure playwright, who nonetheless has a solid body of work, you would probably have to turn to George F. Walker, who actually would not be a bad choice, though I'd personally still give the nod to Stoppard.

Edit (10/22): It is just too funny that Dylan won't even return the calls of the Nobel committee, and one of the judges is now calling him arrogant.  I think it just speaks to the fact that at least some of the members of the committee were a bit starstruck and thought this would be a great way to get the great Dylan to show up to their party.  Suckers.  I don't feel at all sorry for them, since they really did demean the awards this year.  Interestingly enough, it turns out that Leonard Cohen rejected the Governor General award in 1968 for his collection of poetry.  Cohen put forward a number of various explanations, including he was basically a separatist at that time and, a bit more snottily, that there was no one in Canada who could judge his poetry.  He mellowed out later and accepted a number of awards, including the Glenn Gould Prize in 2012 (presumably since he agreed that being linked to Gould was not a step down in any way).  At any rate, I would say Cohen has matured into quite a revered elder statesman, and I wouldn't say the same about Dylan.  I put a hold on Cohen's latest (and perhaps final) CD at the library, and I do hope he tours in support of it (Toronto and Montreal at least), and I will try to go if he does so.

No comments:

Post a Comment