I think Bob Dylan’s refusal to even acknowledge his Nobel Prize for literature could be the best thing he’s done in decades. Could be that is, if his reluctance indicates embarrassed silence. As in ‘What the hell are those Swedish stiffs thinkin’? Me, the Nobel laureate for literature, it’s a joke, right? Right?’
After all back in 1965, when the adulation he received as ‘the voice of a generation’ could really have turned his head, he was asked by an adoring reporter whether he thought of himself primarily as a singer or a poet. Dylan replied with laudable self-knowledge:
‘Oh, I think of myself more as a song and dance man, y’know?’
Exactly. Bob Dylan is a talented singer-songwriter who has come up with some good tunes and a few memorable lines as well as, it has to be said, an awful lot of self-obsessed, self-indulgent bilge too.
So I’m hoping that Bob’s silence is intended to show contempt for what is an utterly inappropriate award as stupid in its way as the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama for being black and not being George W Bush. And if this is Bob’s aim, he’ll be catapulted in my estimation from the whiny warbler, the apostle of angst to the level of an avenging fury of our times.
And it’s long past the time when we desperately need one. This is evident from the creepiest aspect of the Dylan award: the reaction to it of our literary and cultural elites. Just about anybody who is anybody in Britain has hailed Dylan as unquestionably a worthy Nobel laureate. The Guardian, the British newspaper that takes culture most seriously, has published at least 10 articles on the subject without providing even one dissenting voice from its chorus of halleluiahs on the subject.
This is distinctly North Korean in its unanimity. How could so many artists who endlessly preen themselves for their independence of mind agree on this ridiculous Nobel award?
And by the way this award is not ridiculous because Dylan is a singer rather than a writer. This would be no barrier if his words were of the highest literary merit. It’s ridiculous because Dylan’s work is mostly not very good.
The Spectator’s Guy Dammann puts is very well:
In Dylan’s singer-songwriting we can apprehend with hideous clarity the easy self-satisfaction of the protestor who thinks constructive engagement is for losers and phonies. Above all, Dylan expresses our epoch’s celebration of the protraction of adolescence; a glorified refusal to be understood, because no one understands the real me. So much modern art exists to perpetuate and celebrate our facile self-regard, but Dylan’s music oozes it. Its whole texture is shot through with its insufferable smugness, from its inexplicable contentment with a handful of inanely doodled rhymes and empty riddles, to the performer’s blatant refusal even to sing it properly. His cracked vocal timbre, and habit of singing against the stress and flow of his own verses, so beloved of his millions of fans, articulates with breath-taking clarity the spirt of the adolescent’s stubborn refusal to realise his confused view of the world, and his place in it, is not a mark of genius but a waste of everybody else’s time.
So while I could understand a few deluded boomers lauding Dylan to the skies, why the unanimity over what is at the very least a highly controversial choice?
This is why Dylan’s silence could be the best thing he’s done in decades. The Swedish Academy and just about the entire cultural establishment have now firmly cast themselves in the role of toady admirers of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Now it seems just possible that Dylan has cast himself as the bright child that points out the obvious.
Positive signs that this is the case are already there. The Swedish Academy’s earlier relaxed attitude to Dylan’s silence has now cracked with at least one of its members openly calling Bob ‘impolite and arrogant’. They are clearly getting worried. Imagine how delicious it would be if Bob openly ridiculed the Academy for selecting a ‘song and dance man’ for the world’s most prestigious literary award. Imagine just how stupid all those puffed up culture vultures who lauded the emperor’s new clothes will then look.
Dylan has had the opportunity to show true greatness thrust upon him. All he has to do to is to point out the obvious.