- Before we start trying to decide whether to re-read the unbearable Tarantula (1971) or brilliant Chronicles (2004), a few thoughts on Dylan’s prize.
- I think the Swedish Academy wants to send two signals with this selection: both that they have an expansive view of what counts as the greatest and most influential world “literature” (see also the journalist Svetlana Alexievich who won last year) and also because elevating Dylan recalls a deeply American anti-Trump culture. He’s a figure from what Greil Marcus calls the “old, weird America.” They are right about Dylan as linguistic experimentalist, but he’s been more house of mirrors than politically progressive since the mid-80s. (Josh Marshall has a great write-up of Dylan’s non-plussed visit to the White House in 2010.)
- On the “is he literary enough?” pearl-clutching front, let’s not kid ourselves: Dylan is the most generative, chimerical, and restless American writer of the generation that’s now passing. I love Delillo, Oates, Pynchon, Roth, Atwood, and many of the other names that get bandied around each year — but in terms of global stature and an expansive sense of what linguistic invention can do, Bob’s a good choice.
- Right after I heard this news yesterday morning, I gave a short lecture to the St. John’s International Conference on Languages and Literature on the 400th deathaversary of Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare. As Facebook worried over the definition of “poet,” I remembered that both of these writers made their careers in what were then low-status, even sub-literary forms, prose fiction and the public stage. Modern novels and lyric poems do not define the entiretly of literary culture.
- A personal confession: as popular giants have been dying off and generating massive social media outflows of mourning and celebration, I’ve been hoarding a private and selfish reaction. Much as I miss Bowie and Prince, I had the same thought each time: at least it’s not Bob.
- It’ll be fun to read all the pre-written obits reshaped as Nobel celebrations over the next few days.
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow….