Philip Roth’s Complaint About The Bob Dylan Nobel Prize for Literature

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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Bob Dylan 1974

By Stephen Pate – While many congratulated Bob Dylan on the announcement of his 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, some of Philip Roth’s fans were outraged.

“The Nobel Prize in Literature 2016 was awarded to Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.” said the august Nobel Prize site.

“He can be read and should be read, and is a great poet in the English tradition” said Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, was interviewed by freelance journalist Sven Hugo Persson about the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan. You can watch her interview on YouTube.

The Twitterverse went wildly opining that Philip Roth, the US novelist who’s early success was plying the Jewish consciousness, was more worthy than Dylan. 27 Tweets That Perfectly Capture How Baffling Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize Win Is.

For a more complete read of what people say Roth is or should be thinking, see Twitter.
philip roth’s complaint about the bob dylan nobel prize for literature
As one wag, put it “Phillip Roth could not be reached for comment.”

Awards always bring out the accolades and detractors. It’s the way criticism works.

Notwithstanding the critics, sour grapes or otherwise, Bob Dylan is highly acclaimed with more than 1,000 books published discussing his works. Dylan as a literary creator is taught at more than 250 universities.

“His song “Desolation Row” is in the 2006 Oxford Book of American Poetry, and “Mr. Tambourine Man” is in the tenth edition of The Norton Introduction to Literature. Quartz

“Packed with allusion and multi-layered meaning, songs like “Desolation Row” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” are fodder for critics like the legendary Christopher Ricks, who argued for Dylan’s status as a poet in Lyrics: 1962-2001. “A day doesn’t go by when I don’t listen to Dylan or at least think about him and his art,” Ricks told The New York Times when his 2003 book Dylan’s Visions of Sin came out.”

Christopher Ricks is “the Professor of the Humanities at Boston University (US) and Co-Director of the Editorial Institute at Boston University, and was Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford (England) from 2004 to 2009. He is the immediate past-president of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics.“ Wikipedia.

Ricks knows his poetry.  He has published works on Milton, T.S. Elliot, Keats and Tennyson among dozens of other major poets. He is past editor of the Oxford Book of English Verse,  The New Oxford Book of Victorian Verse, and his own book dissecting Bob Dylan’s literary output Visions of Sin.  I covered “Visions of Sin”  in an earlier article – The Poetry of Bob Dylan Christopher Ricks: Dylan’s Vision of Sin

Other scholars weigh in to the discussion. “He’s a historical magician — a writer who’s capable of creating this zone where it’s 1935 and 1835 and right now and tomorrow,” said Sean Wilentz. “That’s his genius.” Los Angeles Times

“Wilentz also pointed to “Dylan’s Visions of Sin,” a weighty exegesis by British literary scholar Christopher Ricks, as a driver of the star’s growing recognition as an important arranger of words.”

Even the British give Dylan high credentials. “If the former professor of poetry at Oxford University Christopher Ricks’s interest in Dylan has been treated with a certain bemusement, it might have less to do with its subject than the fact that his books on Dylan occasionally seem a bit barmy.”

“Anyone who’s dutifully struggled through the bit in Dylan’s Visions of Sin where he spends four pages dissecting the lyrics of All the Tired Horses, which consist in their entirety of “two lines of words followed by a musing hmmm sound that might be one line or two”, will concur. The Guardian

None of this will, of course, silence the critics which makes no difference to Bob Dylan’s tens of millions of fans.  Despite being in his 70’s, Dylan has almost 7 million followers on Facebook.

By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

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