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The Laureation of Bob Dylan
Posted: 13 October 2016 11:40 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Like a rolling stone or blowin’ in the wind? Discuss.

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Posted: 13 October 2016 12:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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And just when I thought I’d never have to answer another question ending in “Discuss”.  :sigh:

Art isn’t quantifiable so awards for art will always be subjective.  What’s the point of awards in literature and art?  If nothing else, they focus the mind.  They attempt to set standards and therefore raise aspiration, but who’s to say the standards are the right ones anyway?  Nothing replaces individual critical evaluation.

Discuss.

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Posted: 13 October 2016 11:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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First, I’m not a great fan of prizes for art. Ranking one piece of art as greater than another is a highly subjective exercise, and prizes that award the artist, as opposed to a particular work, as the Nobel does, are especially problematic.

The Nobel Prize for literature is awarded to a writer for his/her body of work, not for just one piece of art. There are quite a few authors who have written one great novel, but never follow through with other great works. I therefore favor the Swedish Academy’s practice for awarding an author for his/her body of work as a more generous contribution to literature rather than just one great novel.

The Nobel’s focus on the “great writer” is distinctly out of step with how we read and consider literature today.

Please elaborate.

I have reservations regarding Dylan’s Nobel Prize Award. I acknowledge Dylan’s prodigious talents as a lyricist and a musician, but I don’t think that deserves the Nobel Prize for literature. Let’s be honest, if one were to read his lyrics without the accompaniment of music the artistic expression is extremely compromised.
Dylan won numerous Grammy Awards for music, and deservedly so. But music is a different art form from literature; I don’t think we should conflate the two.

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Posted: 14 October 2016 02:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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1/ This doesn’t bother me. He has written lyrics extensively and some of them are worth reading without music. I dare say he is not the least deserving Nobel Prize in Literature recipient, not to speak ill of the recently deceased.

2/ The Nobel Prize in Literature is possibly irredeemably fouled. There is a world of literature but your likelihood of winning a NPIL is very strongly correlated to how close your birthplace is to Stockholm. There have been 86 winners from Europe, including 15 winners just from Nordic countries. 11 from the USA. 4 from South America. 6 from Asia. I mean sure, some regions have a richer literary tradition than others but come on. You can do better than that to look outward.

3/ It could be seen as something of a slight that the first American-born winner since Steinbeck is not a producer of literature in the usual sense.

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Posted: 14 October 2016 05:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I agree with Logophile: Dylan is a terrific musician, but he doesn’t deserve the Nobel Prize for literature.  Furthermore, now they won’t give another to an American for 20 or 30 years, by which time all the people who should have gotten it will be dead.  Obviously it would be ridiculous to expect them to magically choose the “greatest” writer every time (whatever that might mean), but they could at least think about what they’re doing.  I might not have chosen Aleksievich out of all the world’s writers as most esthetically/literarily deserving, but I was fine with her getting the Nobel last year because she’s damn good and her work is important and worthy of the attention. Also she was barely scraping by and the object of persecution and could really use the money and fame. Dylan? He can toss the medal into his basement full of awards and give the money out in tips if he feels like it.

The uncomfortable truth is, “literature” is a contested and possibly outdated concept.

Says who?  Says Scoville.  It may be “contested,” but that’s because we live in a silly time where contesting everything is the plat du jour.  Deconstruction!  Disruption!  Whee!  In a century people will look back on this stuff and shake their heads.

Of all the commentary on social media, I haven’t seen one literature professor opine that popular music doesn’t qualify as literature.

So much the worse for literature professors.  No wonder they don’t get no respect.

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Posted: 14 October 2016 07:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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It could be seen as something of a slight that the first American-born winner since Steinbeck is not a producer of literature in the usual sense.

Actually Toni Morrison, an American, won in 1993.

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Posted: 14 October 2016 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The Nobel’s focus on the “great writer” is distinctly out of step with how we read and consider literature today.

Please elaborate.

Since the “canon wars” of the 1980s, literary scholars have moved away from thinking in terms of “great” writers. Any such laureation is inherently exclusionary and will inevitably be influenced by bias unrelated to the merits of the writing (as in OP Tipping’s pointing out the Nobels are disproportionately awarded to Europeans; Languagehat pointing out that now Dylan has won, no other American is likely to win for several decades; and OP Tipping’s forgetting that American-born Toni Morrison won the Nobel in 1993). We don’t teach literature as a succession of great writers anymore.

The Nobel Prize for literature is awarded to a writer for his/her body of work, not for just one piece of art. There are quite a few authors who have written one great novel, but never follow through with other great works.

But why shouldn’t that one great novel be honored? The Nobels don’t honor physicists or chemists or economists for their body of work. Why should the literature prize be different?

Also, by honoring the artist, as opposed to the work, we are confronted with some uncomfortable truths about the person, things that give us pause in honoring them. Hemingway was a misogynist and anti-Semite. Chaucer was (probably) a rapist. Mailer was a thoroughly disagreeable person. None of these things detract from the artistic merit of their work, but they rightly come into play when we honor the person.

Also she was barely scraping by and the object of persecution and could really use the money and fame. Dylan? He can toss the medal into his basement full of awards and give the money out in tips if he feels like it.

Yet another non-artistic factor that comes into play when we honor the person, as opposed to the work. The fact that Dylan doesn’t need the money or the fame should be irrelevant.

The uncomfortable truth is, “literature” is a contested and possibly outdated concept.

What’s contested is that there should be a separate category of art that can be considered “literary,” one that simply bestows more merit upon a work because it belongs to a privileged genre. When the rules for awarding the literature Nobel were formulated, literature consisted of novels, short stories, poems, and drama and was written by white, European/North American men. Since then, we have developed radio, film, TV, video games, multi-media works, and popular songs; and “low” forms of art, such as comics and genre-writing (e.g., SF, mysteries, bodice-ripping romances) have come into their own as quite excellent and expressive forms of art. And the fact that many of these genres are predominantly practiced by traditionally marginalized groups makes the exclusion even more problematic. To ignore the changing artistic landscape will only result in ossification and irrelevance (see “opera"). A similar factor was in play, on a smaller scale, a decade or so ago when the Grammies refused to acknowledge rap as a legitimate musical form.

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Posted: 14 October 2016 02:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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The Nobel Prize in Literature is possibly irredeemably fouled. There is a world of literature but your likelihood of winning a NPIL is very strongly correlated to how close your birthplace is to Stockholm. There have been 86 winners from Europe, including 15 winners just from Nordic countries.

as in OP Tipping’s pointing out the Nobels are disproportionately awarded to Europeans; Languagehat pointing out that now Dylan has won, no other American is likely to win for several decades

I fail to understand this imprudent reasoning.  The United States has been awarded more Nobel Prizes for literature than any other country except for France. Geographically, N.America is not that close to Sweden, which is in fourth place having won only seven.

The United States has had the most Nobel Prize winners, with 336 winners overall.
Irrespective to greediness, I really don’t think that the United States is in a position to lament about not getting more Nobel Prizes in literature, or in any other category for that matter.

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Posted: 15 October 2016 04:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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My point wasn’t that the US should get more prizes, but that the committee is biased in its selection. They tend to favor the literature that they’re used to and the nominees that look like them. The bias is a normal one, but that doesn’t make it right. The very idea that one country “deserves” or “is due” (or not) the prize is antithetical to the idea that the prize is awarded to the best. One’s country of origin is irrelevant to the question of what makes great literature.

And you can’t compare the number of prizes a country wins in the sciences with the number of literature prizes. They’re different beasts. The US has won so many science Nobels because it has a huge research infrastructure. While there are a few world-class research institutions scattered around the world and the best scientists in pretty much any country are equal to those in the US, the US has more top-notch research universities and more money devoted to science than anywhere else. That means that more discoveries are going to be made by US scientists, and the Nobel is awarded for discoveries.

To quote from the movie The Right Stuff:

Cooper: You boys know what makes this bird go up? Funding makes this bird go up.

Grissom: He’s right. No bucks, no Buck Rogers.

None of this applies to the literature prize.

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Posted: 15 October 2016 05:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I really don’t think that the United States is in a position to lament about not getting more Nobel Prizes in literature, or in any other category for that matter.

Nobody’s lamenting that; you just made that up.  Do you disagree that the prize for Dylan means it’s unlikely another will be awarded to an American anytime soon?  That’s not a bad thing for world literature, but it’s a bad thing for Philip Roth.

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Posted: 15 October 2016 01:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Damn., I did forget Toni M. Sorry about that.

Logophile - 14 October 2016 02:31 PM


I fail to understand this imprudent reasoning.  The United States has been awarded more Nobel Prizes for literature than any other country except for France. Geographically, N.America is not that close to Sweden, which is in fourth place having won only seven.

That’s not very solid thinking and I think you didn’t read me carefully. My comment was specifically about a person’s likelihood of winning a NPIL.

Going by historical form, a specific American has a 1 in 3200 million likelihood of winning this award per annum, on average.

Someone from a Nordic country has a much higher likelihood, about 1 in 150 million per annum.  A Swede, specifically, has odds of 130 million.

An Chinese person’s odds are something like 1 in 80000 million. An Indian, 1 in 140000 million.

Now I should probably scale this by number of authors but note that the USA publishes about 70 times as many books each year than Sweden.

No doubt some regions have more meritorious writers on average, but India has a long and complex literary tradition. Comparison between works of different cultures is tricky but if you are going to be a worldwide literature prize, you have to try. That is my point.

Edit: annualised

[ Edited: 15 October 2016 01:56 PM by OP Tipping ]
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Posted: 15 October 2016 01:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Going by historical form, a specific American has a 1 in 29 million likelihood of winning this award per annum, on average.

Hey, that’s better than the Powerball lottery.

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Posted: 15 October 2016 03:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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That’s not very solid thinking and I think you didn’t read me carefully. My comment was specifically about a person’s likelihood of winning a NPIL.

In addition your comment said that the “likelihood of winning a NPIL is very strongly correlated to how close your birthplace is to Stockholm.” That is the comment I questioned and found it to be inexact, because I’m assuming that you implied the closer one’s country is to Stockholm the better the chances to winning a Nobel P. in literature. This doesn’t seem to be the case because the majority of those prizes were awarded to non-Nordic countries.

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Posted: 15 October 2016 09:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Nobody’s lamenting that; you just made that up.

Why would I make that up? It’s been a constant lamentation by a few literary cognoscenti. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/11/gripes-of-roth-nobel-prize-literature

Do you disagree that the prize for Dylan means it’s unlikely another will be awarded to an American anytime soon? 

I do, there’s been much smaller gaps in the past: Saul Bello and I.Singer only a one-year gap, O’neill and Buck also only a one-year gap. The prize isn’t awarded based on a time frame.

That’s not a bad thing for world literature, but it’s a bad thing for Philip Roth.

I hope not, it certainly seems to be a deliberate snub by the Academy by giving the prize to an American musician and ignoring the veteran eighty-three-year old Philip Roth. Should he never win, however, he will be in good company with: Nabokov, Joyce, Woolf, Kafka and a few others.

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Posted: 16 October 2016 05:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Should he never win, however, he will be in good company with: Nabokov, Joyce, Woolf, Kafka and a few others.

Very true!

Geoff Pullum has an interesting take on the award.

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Posted: 16 October 2016 10:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Some accused them of ignoring Graham Greene because he was a Catholic. They sometimes award writers no one has ever heard of who may be great only no one on the awarding committee could understand the languages they were writing in (Chinese, Turkish, Japanese) which is surely a prerequisite. Traduttore traditore. IMO Dylan wrote doggerel.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/oct/13/are-these-the-lyrics-that-won-bob-dylan-a-nobel-prize

[ Edited: 16 October 2016 11:10 AM by venomousbede ]
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