So Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature? Everyone was surprised: bookies in London had put his chances at 50/1. Some were shocked:
Some merely said that the choice is only following the path the Nobel committee embarked on a few years ago in awarding the world's most prestigious literary prize to genres other than the novel or poetry. The Canadian Alice Munro who won in 2013 was the first short story writer to be so honoured, while last year Russian writer Sventlana Alexievich became the first non-fiction writer. Why not at this juncture give the prize to a bard?
But so far no one I've read has mentioned the way that Nobel prizes, particularly the ones for literature and peace, have a political subtext. Look who won the prize for Peace this year: the Colombian president who had only days before lost a referendum on a peace accord with the guerilla group FARC. Or the fact that between 1966 and 1991 no woman won the prize for literature, a 25 year period in which many women were producing fine writing and demanding a voice in all domains of society. (The story is that one of the members of the jury insisted that no woman could produce great literature, but when he died the committee played a bit of catch-up.)
As Alex Shephard wrote in The New Republic last week: "The Nobel Committee would love nothing more than to send a
passive-aggressive signal to America by awarding the prize to someone
who stands for everything Donald Trump opposes. But none of these elder
statesmen and -women (which he lists as America's finest) really fits that bill. That none of these Americans
can really claim the mantle of The One True Great American Novelist
makes it even harder."
However, the committee found a way to finesse that by thinking outside the box and giving the prize to a man who has been the conscience of his country for five decades.
Dylan's poetry? I can't judge it, I'm appreciation-impaired when it comes to that genre. Some of his songs are great, though, and I can sing a half dozen of them.
What has the Donald said about this? Probably that he wished he'd bet on Dylan. That would have been a "brilliant business move" of the sort he brags about. But I imagine he didn't, just like he didn't do so many other things he claims to have done.
Note: Shephard explains how he turned out to be so fantastically wrong here.