Is Music Literature?

L. Guy '18

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This is the question that has been raised in controversially piquant tones in America after Bob Dylan, one of the most iconic singer/songwriters of the era, was awarded the Nobel Prize this fall.  The prize celebrates remarkable contributions to the world of literature, and has been awarded to such brilliant individuals as T.S. Eliot, Gabriel García Màrquez, and Samuel Beckett.

This radical decision made Dylan the first musician to win the award, which sent scholars and literature lovers into a sparking frenzy, igniting the debate over whether music holds the same value as literature and poetry.  

Several renowned authors praised Dylan and lauded his achievement, such as Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and Salman Rushdie.  However, some writers were less than pleased, shown through novelist Rabih Alameddine’s tweet saying “Bob Dylan winning a Nobel in Literature is like Mrs. Fields being awarded 3 Michelin stars”.

Bob Dylan rose to acclaim beginning the ‘60’s, when he harnessed the social unrest of the era in weaving enigmatic, profoundly poetic lyrics.  Dylan’s songs rashly defied traditional pop, rock, and folk conventions, and utilized a range of literary, social, political, and philosophical influences.  He is one of the best-selling artists of all time, having sold over 100 million records.  In addition to his newly acquired Nobel Prize, Dylan has also been awarded 11 Grammys, as well as a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.  

What has added to the controversy surrounding Dylan’s award is his failure to publicly acknowledge it, and that he refuses to speak to Nobel Committee representatives.  However, in a recent interview with the UK “Telegraph” newspaper, Dylan has said that he will in fact be attending the awards ceremony to be held in Stockholm December 10.  In the interview Dylan expressed incredulity over the whole affair, and viewed the turmoil over his silence as uncomprehendingly amusing.  He is said to have appeared humble yet aloof in his opinion on his nomination, but seems to have no thought of declining the award, as Jean-Paul Sartre did in 1964.  

Whatever, your opinion on Bob Dylan being the first musician awarded the Nobel Prize, it certainly can be said that the event has revealed a shimmering wealth of new perspectives with which to view the ethereal phenomenon of music, poetry, and literature.

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Is Music Literature?