Bob Dylan

When the Swedish Academy got to meet Bob Dylan

April 21st, 2017 by anna-corrine_egermo | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on When the Swedish Academy got to meet Bob Dylan
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Only half a year has passed since Bob Dylan was announced winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature and he has already managed to go pick it up. This past weekend he had a concert at Waterfront in Stockholm so on Saturday evening, before the concert, he had a private meeting with twelve of the Swedish Academy members. According to attending sources they drank champagne and spent some time looking at the back of the prize medal. It’s all hush-hush and no media was invited. Personally I think a sense of mystery is the best marketing strategy one can use, under the right circumstances, and I even imagine Dylan might have watched some The Young Pope.

Modern version

Another student already wrote about the prize when Dylan was announced winner; and there was a lot of opinions going around in general. There is nothing we love as we love some controversy. Hence, as a publishing student I still feel the need to think about the questions his win raises.

First of all: what is literature? Dylan does not write what we commonly associate with literature – he writes songs. The Swedish Academy acknowledges as much, and this is what they rewarded. On the one hand, one could argue that they take the sense of tradition to an extreme, considering that my education in literature taught me that the troubadour tradition belongs within literature. It is basically poems about love with music composed to it, and some people do like to argue that the same goes for contemporary lyrics.

Less modern version (Guillaume IX d’Aquitaine)

Without going into detail, this is an argument which could be made and it may be convincing. But why is it so upsetting? For one of our recent seminars we read an article by the sociologist Joel Best called “Prize Proliferation”  (Sociological Forum, 2008), on the topic of the title. Best states that award giving is the “want to recognize and reward exceptional performance, to bestow esteem on the deserving”. It “affirms and embodies the group’s values”, meaning that we as a social group are affirming Dylan as the most deserving within the category of ‘people making literature’. Subsequently, we have a problem with our collective values not being reinforced if we don’t agree on the basic premise that Dylan is, in fact, making literature. Do we even belong together? Can the Nobel Prize continue to represent our collective idea of literary taste?

Since Dylan never used to be seriously considered to be making literature, the debate was easy to predict. Some people called the Academy’s choice “brave”, but I am not convinced bravery is what it took. Rather, we got a wonderful show in the media and all over Twitter which implanted the Nobel Prize in the minds of millions of people. This will not be forgotten, it will be written about and remembered as a highlight in the history of the prize. We will see it on encyclopedia pages forever after and ride off into the sunset. It is hard to imagine that for example Herta Müller’s win in 2009 will be remembered as a landmark, but this might.

So when Vanity Fair wrote that “Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize has been something of a saga”, I agree. It has been a wonderfully entertaining marketing trick allowing us all to be more emotional this year than usual (at least in Sweden), and publishers got to sell more books. But most important of all: the Swedish Academy finally got to meet Bob Dylan.

Let’s toast to that!

Bob Dylan wins the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature

October 14th, 2016 by Soraya Belkhiria | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Bob Dylan wins the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature
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I never thought a day would come when a Nobel Prize announcement would feel Rock and Roll, but it is definitely the case today! Sure Bob Dylan is known primarily as a folk, blues, and country singer, but the mere fact that a musician’s work is acknowledged by the Academy is quite revolutionary in itself…because it is the very first time in the history of the Nobel Prize in Literature that this has happened. Dylan is also the first American to win the Nobel Prize since Toni Morrisson in 1993.

However, this is far from being the first award he has won for his work, as he already can count one Academy Award, one Golden Globe Award and no less than 11 Grammy Awards in his collection.

The Nobel Academy crowned his achievements by awarding him “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”, preferring him to the famous Japanese novelist Murakami or this year favourite, the Kenyan author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o.

Once the initial surprise has passed though, the decision of the Academy definitely doesn’t seem unjustified. Even if Bob Dylan’s voice defied conventions and rallied counterculture in the sixties, he is now 75 years old and the cultural moment he marked now belongs to the classical heritage of American Literature.

Bob Dylan had solid footing into the literary world already. He and the famous poet Allan Ginsberg were very close friends. Here is what Ginsberg had to say about his cultural impact and aura:

“His image was undercurrent, underground, unconscious in people…something a little more mysterious, poetic, a little more Dada, more where people’s hearts and heads actually were rather than where they ‘should be’ according to some ideological angry theory.” San Francisco, 1965 (Excerpt from Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays, 1952-1995, A. Ginsberg)

Several clips featuring Bob Dylan were indeed playing at the Beat Generation Exhibition in the Centre Pompidou this summer in Paris, presenting him as a major actor of the American avant-garde of the sixties. Here are some great lyrics that let you see his poetic talent even without the accompaniment of the music (even if you won’t get the whole experience without listening to the songs!):

From Subterraneans Homesick Blues (you can see Ginsberg in the background of the video; this video clip was playing at the Pompidou exhibition):

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” (1963)


From The times They Are A-changing:

“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land,

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command” (1964)


From Mr Tambourine Man

“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.” (1965)


From It’s alright, Ma (I’m only bleeding):

“Temptation’s page flies out the door

You follow, find yourself at war

Watch waterfalls of pity roar

You feel to moan but unlike before

You discover

That you’d just be

One more person crying.”


And a personal favourite from Maggie’s farm:

“Well, I try my best,

To be just like I am,

But everybody wants you,

To be just like them.” (1965)


It might be time for a Bob Dylan songbook leaving the lyrics in their bare beauty! And now, time to enjoy even more good music to celebrate!



Bob Dylan and Ginsberg in front of Kerouac’s grave

By Soraya Belkhiria