December 16, 2016

Bob Dylan, Shakespeare, Literature and the Nobel Prize

Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg - Photo by Elsa Dorfman

Bob Dylan didn't attend the ceremony to pick up his Nobel Prize for Literature. He sent Patti Smith who sang his song "‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall." 

And he sent an acceptance letter. If it doesn't bother you that he compares himself to William Shakespeare, then you might like his response. Lots of people were excited by him winning the award, but others were disappointed. Is he a poet or singer? Are they poems or songs?

Here's an excerpt of his explanation.

I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn't have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I'm sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: "Who're the right actors for these roles?" "How should this be staged?" "Do I really want to set this in Denmark?" His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. "Is the financing in place?" "Are there enough good seats for my patrons?" "Where am I going to get a human skull?" I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare's mind was the question "Is this literature?" 
...But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life's mundane matters. "Who are the best musicians for these songs?" "Am I recording in the right studio?" "Is this song in the right key?" Some things never change, even in 400 years. 
Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, "Are my songs literature?" 
So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.

Read the entire speech at nobelprize.org

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