An Open Letter to All the Self Righteous, Pretentious Academics Lamenting Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize Win
Dear Voices Crying Out on The Web,
When I awoke to the news that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize on Friday morning, I was overjoyed. “Finally,” I thought “lyrics will finally take their rightful place in the literary canon.” You can therefore imagine my horror and disgust when I saw not only Anna North’s New York Times article, “Why Bob Dylan Shouldn’t Have Gotten a Nobel” but also Hanson O’Haver’s piece in Vice,” Why Bob Dylan Doesn’t Need a Nobel Prize.” If the content of these articles were questioning the value of his work, I might feel that they had a leg to stand on. That however, is not the case. I came to find that these were just two of many articles refuting Dylan’s Nobel Prize and all arguments hinge on the fact that Dylan is a musician and lyricist and therefore cannot be a writer in earnest. The academic world is up in arms at the fact that a *musician* had won the Nobel Prize. The Nobel Prize in Literature should have gone to a legitimate literary figure they say.
This is nonsense. Bob Dylan is as much a literary figure as Chaucer or Shakespeare, or Billy Collins or Natasha Tretheway. The fact that he is a lyricist only adds to his legitimacy as a literary figure. Historically, storytellers were not writers. They were not literary figures. They were poets. They were singers. They were lyricist who sang the songs of great warriors and of battles waged long ago. Beowulf? It’s a poem, sure, but guess what? The scop sung it to the thanes and the Leige in the Meade Hall.
Consider the story of Caedmon as told by the Venerable Bede. Caedmon was a simple cowhand who sadly couldn’t carry a tune. This could be interpreted as he wasn’t a very good storyteller. This embarrassed him so much that one evening when the harp was being passed around the table after supper and songs of heroes were being sung that he ran out of the mead hall and into the barn in shame when it was his turn. Later, lo and behold! A man appeared to him in a dream and asked him to sing. Caedmon sadly replied that he could not sing. The man said “Try,” and Caedmon started singing a beautiful hymn that became known as Caedmon’s hymn — a song meant to be sung aloud which was only later recorded by Bede.
Most of early Anglo Saxon Literature, and World Literature for that matter was oral and it was lyrical. It was music. To dismiss Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature is nothing short of pure ignorance of the origins of literature itself and frankly, it is a disgrace to the study of literature as a whole. Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize win is quite simply a boon to the study of literature, both modern and archaic the world over. Literature is more than words written on a page and bound in a book. Literature is the conveyance of a story — of a narrative — by any means necessary. A true scholar would know that.
With a song in my heart,
Joyce Ann Underwood