Is my envy showing? I suppose it is. I know I’m still seething. About what? About Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, that’s what. Dylan? Literature? Come on!
True, I confess that I no longer polish my own acceptance speech for the Nobel Committee. Yes, I’m man enough to face the fact that I’ll likely never receive the Nobel Prize for Literature...at least not while I’m among the living. But Bob Dylan? For literature? Be real!
Maybe Bob Dylan agrees with me. That would explain his rude behavior for the last month and a half, when he failed to acknowledge the Prize and planned not to go to Stockholm to receive it...until last Saturday when his singer friend Patti Smith showed up at the last minute to accept the Prize in his stead and read for him his almost acceptable acceptance speech.
Since when do guitar-strumming troubadours long over the hill win against serious novelists, dramatists or poets, many with a voluminous life’s work behind them, in competing for what has been considered in some quarters to be the world’s top literary prize? Was Dylan’s body of songs compared to David Mitchell’s many brilliant novels, for instance? Or if you Nobel judges were dead-set on wading into the shallower water of pop culture, why not Paul Simon or Leonard Cohen over Dylan? Did you even compare them?
It is possible, of course, that Bob Dylan is not a reader and thus unaware of the gravity of winning the prize that is newly his. That would explain his inability to make it to Stockholm to claim the prize in person. Talk about your chutzpah! Something tells me he still managed somehow to collect the million dollars or thereabouts that comes with the honor.
If Dylan thought he was dissing the Nobel people with his above-it-all conduct, I have the pleasure of informing him he was beaten to that dubious achievement at least twice. Yes, two predecessors had the gall to actually decline the award. Well, it was the Soviet government, not honoree Boris Pasternak (a Russian poet and author of the novel Doctor Zhivago, 1958), that declined it for the author. (The Cold War raged then, don’t you know.)
More telling, John-Paul Sartre (yes, the world renowned philosopher, novelist and dramatist) refused it outright in 1964 because, according to the French polymath and political activist, he would lose his independence as a writer, and if his name were tethered to the Western-biased Nobel folks, it would be used against the Eastern Bloc, where his true sympathies lay. It gets pretty abstruse after that. Yes, J. P. remains his hyper-intellectual self, and reading him is just as challenging as ever.
Or maybe all this is just symptomatic of the times in which we live. Which leads me to ask the question that is becoming increasingly rhetorical. Doesn’t anybody read anymore? Does everything have to be reduced to a one-page gulp of few words to get read or heard these days? Has the tweet word limit been imposed on literature? I believe we’re all in trouble when the Swedes reading for the Nobel Committee think so.