There seems to be some debate about the legendary Bob Dylan receiving the Nobel award. The purists feel that a musician should not be awarded an honour for literature.
One starts thinking of Pearl Buck, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Neruda and so many I suppose- poets, novelists, short story writers. Of course there are pure and simple literary genres, and creative writing must fit in to any one of them for literary consumption. Bob Dylan thus does not belong to this grand design, or does he, however inadvertently? So if we are spellbound by his lyrics, and moved by his ‘ poetry’ we are being unctuous towards a world power, which manipulated this award several times, they say. A song writer is a song writer, at best a singer of pop music. Nothing more, nothing less.
I have problems with such contentions. By awarding the Nobel Prize to him, the Nobel Committee has formally paid a tribute and recognition to the co existence of art forms, in this case poetry and music. Secondly as, in the words of the Committee he gave ‘new poetic expression’ to the great tradition of the song. This inter connection between poetry and song is a new challenge to the twentieth and twenty first centuries, where art and literature has shaped into protest movements. The Nobel Citation has neatly subverted traditional norms of literary genres, by refusing to straight jacket them. Last year’s awardee also got the award, not because of writing poetry or fiction, but of conducting painstaking research in war torn areas.
Secondly, memories are short. Bertrand Russell, the logical mathematician, was awarded the Nobel for literature, Winston Churchill for literature for his famed autobiography. So the decision is not new. The novelty lies in the proclamation of genre subversion, and also in the assumption that poetry and the song have likeness and are close allies since a long time.
However, if disclaimers say that the so called poetry in his lyrics is not strong, evocative or good enough, then we are entering areas of subjectivity and personal likes or dislikes. The fact that Dylan does not belong to any ideology or ism does not seem to help for searching, anatomising critics, who would like to leave him as an eccentric dilettante. Poetry they feel must be hard hitting remonstrances of the heretic. Wasn’t or isn’t Dylan one?
But rock, blues, etc, have no place for poetry. In the realm of aesthetics the world is changing. Poetry is represented with photographs and paintings. The ghazal has been re discovered as a new mode of poetic expression. Collaborative poems are also being written today. Bob Dylan’s experiments lie into raising poetry from the mundane to vigorously searching for the truth in a rapidly changing world: ”where have all the young men gone/ where have all the soldiers gone/ where have all the young girls/ flowers gone?” are not meant to be rhetorical questions, they follow one after another like hysterical soul earching in the face of universal cataclysm. There is no sign of moral edification, but taking by storm acts of purposeful retrogression.
The intrepid action of the Nobel Committee of redefining literary artefacts or canons must not only come as a surprise, but must be well appreciated for foregoing genres, which strictly speaking have becoming cliched. The parallel for the arts must be a roving and cinematic eye, the inner perception of extra sensory ability. Bob Dylan was and is not a myth creator, but a myth bashing artist arraigning citadels of hypocrisy and untruth.
Poetry, music and song are points of perpetuating reality. Rabindranath Tagore composed songs, poems and short stories with felicity, with an embedded pursuit of truth, creativity, the uniqueness of universe upheld by God’s manifestation – Hopkins like. His songs were a testament to mysteries of the universe, relationships, their intricacies, god- man/woman relationships, and the powerful attributes of the natural world. The Nobel Prize Committee should have recognised this in the first place in the early twentieth century.
There is no need for any brouhaha. Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill have already received this coveted award for non literary genres. Dylan’s contribution is his imagination, and world of the fable, or allegory. His allegorical designs impinge on his poetry- music with a power which sometimes drain senses. Poetry is innate in the arts, in painting, films as well as in music. The musicality of the written word is celebration of the senses. A new poetic expression created by a music composer is a new idiom of poetry, we have have to accept it. Whether we like the compositions or not is a ruthlessly subjective matter. For that matter every award can be debated, especially the ones in our country!
The impact of the Beatles on Indian writers in the sixties and seventies is well known. Leonard Cohen and Spike Milligan, known musicians, are poets as well. Poetry and music have been wedded in the past. The Nobel Committees assertion is a formal launching of new poetic movements, whether we as purists like it or not. The oddities of art are not at stake, but expansive, exploratory. Since the sixties to the present day the world has seen the resurgence and revival in the arts, science and technology. Nuclear capabilities have threatened to destroy a world. Racism, bigotry and religious intolerance have reached a new high. Only craftsmanship supersedes all and all forms of the much vaunted human intelligence.