Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition” on October 13. However, the notoriously private singer has received some scrutiny for his failure to acknowledge the award he was presented with over a week ago.
The day it was awarded, Dylan played a show in Las Vegas and failed to mention the prize to the audience. A page on the singer’s website, which promotes his newly published collection of lyrics, was updated to include the title “Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.” The online mention was the artist’s only attempt to publicly recognize the award, and it has since been deleted from the web page.
Many fans are praising Dylan’s choice to remain silent and are suggesting he refuse the award altogether. Dylan might be following the lead of Jean-Paul Sartre, who refused the Nobel Prize in Literature prize in 1964. In justifying his refusal, Sartre stated that “a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution.”
Regardless of any potential refusal, the Nobel Prize would still print Dylan’s name as the 2016 recipient. On December 10th, Dylan and other Nobel Prize winners are invited to Stockholm to receive their award and present a speech. As of now, the Nobel Prize academy is unaware of whether the singer-songwriter plans to attend. Per Wastberg, a member of the Nobel Prize academy, said that Dylan’s lack of communication is both “impolite and arrogant.”
At the root of controversy is the pivotal question: does Bob Dylan deserve the prize? It seems that the artist has answered this question for us through his silence. In refusing to accept or deny the award, Dylan silently suggests that he should not have been put in a position to acknowledge it in the first place. Dylan’s songs undoubtedly boast moving and powerful lyrics. However, Nobel recognition begs the question of whether a songwriter can be considered a poet, and furthermore, whether or not Dylan’s songs can be considered literature. Until now, the answer to these questions was no.
However, if any artist were to change the meaning of a poet and the conventions of defining “literature,” Dylan seems an appropriate choice. Dylan’s groundbreaking musical style grew out of the counterculture and social unrest of the 1960s. It told the stories of those fighting against establishment, serving as American anthems for the anti-bourgeoisie. Perhaps this is why the award feels so wrong to Dylan and to his fans. Regardless of its literary merit, the Nobel Prize is an establishment which serves to validate artists. Dylan’s greatness grew out of the rejection of these establishments, and to accept them now could undermine the foundation of his artistry.