Bob Dylan


The Literary society of Hindu College organised a discussion on the pop icon’s win of the Nobel Prize and how it’ll affect the contours of literature and popular culture.

The ground of discussion was the contribution of Dylan in the Counter Culture movement in the US and how his music has had a universal appeal in prompting masses to sing the same lyrics in unison. Dylan’s non affiliation to any political organisation or party gave him the license to address the excesses of the American government, be it the arms race during the cold war or the civil rights movement.

The discussion also investigated the roots of poetry and the oral tradition and the connection between the two. Dylan’s penchant to create a mix of politically critical commentary with folk music was associated with traditional forms of poetry, which employ similar instruments.

In the wake of Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich winning the prize in 2015 and Dylan following suit, the global community’s realisation to go beyond traditional definitions of literature was also discussed. Some participants also raised the fact that close to none of the popular authors have won the prize yet, making the Swedish Academy elitist in its definition of what constitutes literature. The prize given to Dylan ‘for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition’ was acknowledged by the singer – songwriter five days after the announcement, on his official website. But no sooner than the academy heaved a sigh of relief that Dylan removed the mention from his website. The mention read ‘winner of the Nobel prize in literature’. The participants also discussed the delay on the part of Dylan and his perceived unpleasant attitude.

That the prize was symbolic in the sense of giving boost to alternate forms of literature was acknowledged by the participants, who at the end of the discussion contemplated the future of the award and literature.

Featured Image Credits: The Literary Society, Hindu College

Sidharth Yadav

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Bob Dylan, the singer – songwriter won the Nobel in the Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song traditions”. With that the earth came to a halt, figuratively of course.  The Pandora’s box that opened included two important issues – limitation of the current definition of literature and lack of diversity of Nobel laureates.

The whole community had their views regarding this event, while some people like Philip Pullman, Salman Rushdie and Joyce Carol Oates welcomed the decision, others were flabbergasted at the possibility of a songwriter being placed in the category of literature. Ruskin Bond called it a “great insult to all the writers who have already received the award and also to those who rightly deserve it” Jodi Picoult tweeted “I’m happy for Bob Dylan. #ButDoesThatMeanICanWinAGrammy?”.

Did Bob Dylan really deserve the Nobel Prize for literature? The answer to this question may vary, but can a songwriter bag a prize for literature? I think yes.

What is literature? Literature, as I understand is not just written text but a combination of lyrics and art as well wrapped around in a light thread, the definition of which is still expanding. When discussing the aspects of a century or a particular time frame, the lyrics and the discourse caused by them is also discussed.

It does not have a well bounded definition and it should not. In earlier times, there was no collective definition of literature. During pre literature, literature mainly constituted of oral traditions like folklore, folk songs etc which were an amalgamation of the societies history, their culture. It is an expansive art that continues to grow in all directions as we speak.

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s song lyrics have been a part of the academic syllabus where themes, motifs, structure etc is discussed just like other literature pieces are examined and the lyrics have been a platform for research and academic papers as well.

The other, more recent conversation is questioning the whole Nobel Prize establishment itself. With 867 awards distributed since 1901, just 46 have been awarded to women. The demographics show that western countries have received a disproportionately high number of awards igniting a conversation about the lack of diversity and the reinforcement of hierarchy especially when the rumoured list of nominees for literature included Ngugi wa thiono’o from Kenya and Ali Ahmad Said Esber (Adonis) from Syria which have received one and zero Nobel Prize for Literature respectively.

The Nobel Prize this year has not been without controversy but it has opened up important discussions about the boundaries of a category, whether there is a need to have more categories, questioning of the procedure and decision making that goes on when deciding the nominee for the Nobel and why there is a large disparity in the awards.

Adarsh Yadav

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