Where Have All The Awards Gone?

October 19, 2016 Music , MUSIC/FILM/TV , OPINION/NEWS

John Cohen



Ananya S Guha

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.







Ananya S Guha

Ananya S Guha was born and brought up in Shillong, North East India. He has seven collections of poetry and his poems have been published worldwide. They have also been featured in several anthologies. He is also a columnist, critic and editor. He now is a Regional Director at the Indira Gandhi National Open University and holds a doctoral degree on the novels of William Golding.

1 Comment

  1. Rupen Savoulian October 19, at 07:02

    Good article - a necessary response to the unnecessarily peevish commentary denouncing the decision of the Nobel committee to award the literature prize to Bob Dylan. Poetry, music and lyricism are various ways of expressing a literary message. As you correctly pointed out, Dylan is not the first lyricist to be awarded the Nobel prize in literature. Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali writer, poet and educator, was awarded the very same prize. If we include lyricists and their work in the pantheon of world literature, Tagore is one of the giants - and it is not just me saying this. Read what this teaching professor of music from the university of Minnesota had to say on the subject; https://theconversation.com/no-bob-dylan-isnt-the-first-lyricist-to-win-the-nobel-67023 We in the West, in particular from this jumped-up penal colony called Australia, should learn more about Rabindranath Tagore. Perhaps if more of us in the penal colony read more about the non-Western civilisations and their achievements, it would free us from the prison of our Anglo-American minds. Cheers from Sydney Rupen Savoulian


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.