This year’s Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to Bob Dylan. The announcement has some shaking their heads over a world gone wrong, where a musician, not a conventional writer, is awarded literature’s greatest prize. It ain’t me, babe, Dylan mused. But it is him — and that is profound.
Awarding Dylan the Literature Nobel makes great sense, the decision beautifully echoing Dylan’s words of why things are never gonna be the same again and all you have to do is dream, aspire to a world where words matter, their form — a bound book, an oral recitation, a story online, a poem on parchment — doesn’t. Tomorrow, Dylan says, is a long time — now is the time to ring them bells and go knocking on heaven’s door, for it to open and shine anew on a dark, divided world. It is wise of the Nobel Committee, often facing accusations of obscurantism, to step ahead and expand the idea of literature itself now, evoking Tagore honoured for Gitanjali, a songbook, not a novel. Just as great words need not be bound, great literature need not be hidebound.
Dylan himself has written insistent, stirring words like I shall be free, his writing becoming a chant alongside great political moments and movements that changed America — and the world. Dylan’s words accompanied protests for civil rights and against America’s Vietnam war, highlighting how might wasn’t right and why we must gather where teardrops fall. With Dylan’s writing, America realised it was young but daily growing, its conscience protesting to great powers — quit your low-down ways. Dylan’s tremendous commitment to equity, justice and peace — demonstrated over decades in his writing, music and thought — etched a special place for him in the darkest and brightest times. Dylan’s politics made him stand apart — and his words led forward millions, who wanted to hear the answers, he sang, that were blowing in the wind.