By Edmond Y. Azadian
Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature last week, winning accolades and stirring controversy.
“Now, Mr. Dylan, the poet laureate of the rock era, has been rewarded with the Nobel Prize in literature, an honor that elevates him to the company of T. S. Eliot, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison and Samuel Becket,” wrote the New York Times.
But the questions raised were about the definition of literature. Does songwriting amount to literature? It seems that the Swedish Academy has redefined what constitutes literature and has given a strong yes as an answer. Any means through which a creative mind touches the human soul deserves to be recognized as literature or art.
Billy Collins, the former United States Poet Laureate argued that Mr. Dylan deserved to be recognized not merely as a songwriter, but as a poet. As well, literary scholars believe that Bob Dylan is a literary stylist, especially based on the Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan, a compendium published by Cambridge University Press, with 17 essays by scholars from Yale, Carnegie-Mellon, the University of Virginia, and so on.
Throughout his career as a songwriter, Dylan has outgrown his vagabond troubadour status to elevate his art to a more sophisticated and unique level. His topics touch all aspects of the human condition and his moral strength has led him to stand up for some political causes, no matter how risky they may have proved to be for his career. He is especially celebrated for his campaign against the Vietnam War, calling it an immoral act. His erudition is revealed in deceptively simple songs in which he references French poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, as well as the American Ezra Pound. In their daily lives, Rimbaud and Verlaine were no different from vagabonds.