The Increasing Commodification of Literature & Bob Dylan Winning the Nobel Prize

There is no denying Bob Dylan is one of the few mortal gods left on this earth. He is an icon, a genius, a force to be reckoned with, etc. That being said, he has no place as a nominee for, and now winner of, the Nobel Prize in Literature. Even if one made the standard argument about how his songwriting is poetry or storytelling at its finest and most evocative, it still can’t be said that he was more deserving of the award than other speculative nominees, including the likes of Julian Barnes, Tom Stoppard, Adonis, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Jon Fosse.

What separates them from him, those in defense of Dylan’s win might ask? Well, it’s that they’ve spent most of their lives creating genuine works of literature. They are not known for influencing the entire landscape of rock and roll, sure, but maybe that’s because they were using their time to actually write epically long and/or pithy tomes worth the amount of prize money given out by the Nobel Committee.

And what does this say, really, about the necessity for the increased commodification of literature in the twenty-first century? Quite simply, it’s that you’re fucked if you’re not already a huge name in some other industry already, and have managed to use your legendary status to parlay your way into the avenue of respected author.

Dylan has just three major “works” to choose from: TarantulaChronicles: Volume 1 and a collection of his lyrics gathered into one opus. Thus, the committee’s explanation for selecting him–“for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”–opens up a Pandora’s box of opportunities for other less purely authorial, literature-driven nominees to be considered in subsequent years, thereby further tainting the nature of what we perceive as “fiction” and “poetry” in the modern era.

The fact that it takes a juggernaut of a “brand” to catch the eye of the Nobel Committee now is telling of a certain desperation to make reading palatable to an evermore illiterate horde of masses. Generationally speaking, however, the committee might want to next time consider awarding the prize to Courtney Love for her manga book, Princess Ai, to attract a younger demographic’s interest. Or better yet, Ryan Adams, for his poetry collection, Infinity Blues. The sky is really the limit now that we’ve opened up the parameters of what literature means in the current epoch.

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2 Comments

  1. I consider Dylan America’s Shakespeare (I know The Bard is as ‘out of style’ as Homer and Sappho). His songs literally changed my life all the way back in the 1960s. I taught a course on him at the Free University of Georgia Tech in 1972 and named one of the alternative newspapers I started Expecting Rain (“everybody’s making love or else…”). While I agree with your complaints about commodification and the Nobel committee, this prize is based on the body of his work (each of his more than 30 albums is certainly a distinct volume of poetry in itself, and he has enough unpublished material to put out a new album every year for the next forty years). Literature began as an oral tradition passed along from generation to generation — printed literature is relatively quite new. The significance of this award is that Dylan is the first oral poet to be recognized by Nobel. I’m delighted they did it before he was gone.

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  2. […] so, perhaps not so coincidentally, Cohen, another modern poet in addition to, according to the Nobel Committee, Bob Dylan, died on November 7, the day before the election. A wise man indeed to evade knowing what the […]

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