The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind, sang Bob Dylan — (and is thereby ripe for anyone to pick, we add). His ballads won Dylan the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, an announcement greeted with consternation and applause. Dylan himself seemed taken aback, reportedly musing that even he didn’t think of his work as literature. But after an awkward pause, Dylan finally accepted the prize.
However, with each passing month, despite the committee’s entreaties, the bard showed no desire to attend a Nobel ceremony. Finally, a somewhat petulant committee announced that Dylan would forfeit the prize amount of $9,00,000 if he didn’t deliver a Nobel lecture. The bard appeared in Stockholm, but Dylan’s acceptance speech, in a private event, was a poem he recited, as he teased a piano’s keys. What made Dylan’s speech even more unconventional were the accusations of plagiarism that followed, with striking similarities drawn between his description of Moby Dick, a book that influenced him, and that found on the website Sparknotes. Further accusations have since tumbled out, with critics finding some of Dylan’s numbers to be reworked versions of other songs, a British photographer even finding a parallel between Dylan’s painting and his own shots.
But Dylan himself brushes off the charges with the airiness of his songs — charmingly, he accepts that he may well have been, as we put in India, “inspired by” several different sources. Folk, as Dylan describes it, is not an original work of art but rather, a rich melting pot where numerous strains of human life — from great literature to flimsy comics, Biblical verse to trivial jokes, classical paintings to film scenes, harvest chants to the sounds of big, bad cities, the little tragedies of personal love to the grand hopes for a nation — all mingle into a whole. This isn’t plagiarism, argues Dylan, it is the creative form itself. Indeed, to add to another of his songs: It Aint’ Me, Babe — it’s the art.