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The Laureation of Bob Dylan
Posted: 18 October 2016 12:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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Should they have given the award to Picasso because his paintings occasionally included words?

No. That’s why I referred to the formalist definition of literature, art which foregrounds the language. The language has to be central to the art for it to qualify. But that doesn’t mean you strip away else and only consider the language.

Of course, the Nobel committee can define it whatever way suits their purposes. That’s their prerogative, just as it’s ours to agree or disagree with it.

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Posted: 18 October 2016 01:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Of course, the Nobel committee can define it whatever way suits their purposes. That’s their prerogative, just as it’s ours to agree or disagree with it

If that is true, I find it quite shocking that an award that to all intents and purposes sets itself, and is regarded, as the most prestigious internationally, has such arbitrary and contrived standards. 

I return to my original post #1 in this thread:

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.

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Posted: 18 October 2016 01:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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You, I presume, have read it in the original Russian.  How about English translations, if you can speak to that?

I’m not familiar with the range of translations, since I do read it in the original, but I’ve done some looking and not been impressed.  I’ve done some translations of Mandelstam I’m happy with, but I find myself unable to even begin with Pasternak.  I wrote about it here; the conclusion: “Pasternak boils down the resources of Russian too idiosyncratically and completely; there’s not enough that can be carried over in the leaky bucket of translation.”

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Posted: 18 October 2016 10:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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I agree; nevertheless, literature is about the written word not about audio or videos. In my opinion it’s a lowering of standards.

That’s precisely the snobbish attitude that needs to be eradicated.

Am I a snob because I don’t think that Bob Dylan should have been awarded the NPIL or because I think that it lowers the standards?
Many pundits think that Dylan’s lyrics, without the complement of music and song, are not nearly as compelling. In other words the literary standard is not as high as it should be to qualify for the Nobel literary Prize. If this is snobbism then we are all, at various separate occasions, guilty. Let’s be honest if Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) were awarded the NPIL we would all think that the Swedish Academy lowered its standards.

Restricting the award to writing alone isn’t a lowering of standards, it’s simply an arbitrary decision to exclude certain genres. It may be reasonable arbitrariness, but it has nothing to do with standards or quality.

Actually, I countenanced the restriction to writing alone. I thought I conveyed that quite clearly, I should have rephrased my last two sentences
.

I would say the opposite. We read these plays because until the twentieth century there was no way to record the other aspects of the performance. I don’t know a single Shakespeare scholar today who would teach the plays without taking performance into account. A formalist would have defined literature as works that foreground language, which does not mean that visual and aural elements are excluded from consideration. Now the formalists were full of it in many respects, but if even they have a definition expansive enough to take in song lyrics, that says something about what can be considered to be “literature.”

I disagree. A video, an audio, or a musical performance is not Literature, and it’s not defined as such in a dictionary.

And the course requirements for the intro to literature course I’m teaching next semester includes film, television,
and graphic novels as genres that can be taught..

Film and television have the Oscar and Emmy awards and a slew of other hyped-up insignificant awards. Are you suggesting that they should also be considered for the Nobel Prize for literature?

We’re moving away from the written-text-only idea

Algebra was my least favorite subject in school, but it was my favorite class because that’s where I secretly read Huckleberry Finn.
Because of a very unobservant professor I was able to sit at the back of the class with my algebra book as a prop for Twain’s great novel.
I was immediately transported as I started reading his book. I was on the Mississippi River and on the raft with Huck and Jim; it is an indelible memory.
That is the power of words as it stimulates the imagination, but without videos, audio, music or graphics, just great literature.

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Posted: 19 October 2016 05:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Film and television have the Oscar and Emmy awards and a slew of other hyped-up insignificant awards. Are you suggesting that they should also be considered for the Nobel Prize for literature?

An excellent question.  I would think there’s no principled way to include songwriting and exclude them.

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Posted: 19 October 2016 06:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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LH, where did you acquire your Russian? Russian-speaking parent? Minor subject for two years at university with further study after? That was my point about the Nobel committee awarding prizes to Chinese, etc writers. If the former, you’re sound.

Eliza. you missed my link to some of Bob’s ‘deathless’ lyrics ~

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

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Posted: 19 October 2016 08:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Am I a snob because I don’t think that Bob Dylan should have been awarded the NPIL or because I think that it lowers the standards?

No. The implication that songwriting is a lesser genre and undeserving of consideration is what is snobbish. And it’s just incorrect. Many of the “great” poems of literature were originally intended to be set to music. That’s why we call it “lyric poetry,” after all. In some cases we don’t know what the music was because no musical notation existed or survives. (Which is the case with much Old English poetry. We’re reasonably sure it was performed to music, but no one has a clue what it sounded like.) In other cases, we know the music, but because the most common means of transmission was lyrics-only, so it’s the lyrics, and not the music, that makes it into the literary anthologies.

One can certainly claim that there are many better lyricists alive than Bob Dylan. That’s a judgment call. What I find problematic is the idea that stripping away the musical performance and considering the lyrics alone is a valid form of artistic assessment. That would be like considering a painter’s brushstrokes but ignoring the use of color. The words-only mode may have made sense when the Nobel was created at the turn of the twentieth century, but it makes little sense now.

Film and television have the Oscar and Emmy awards and a slew of other hyped-up insignificant awards. Are you suggesting that they should also be considered for the Nobel Prize for literature?

An excellent question.  I would think there’s no principled way to include songwriting and exclude them.

Drama has always been in the running for the Nobel. Why should television or film be different than the stage? And I fail to see what the existence of other awards has to do with the question.

My only real point in all this is that the inclusion or exclusion of particular genres from consideration is an entirely arbitrary decision. It has nothing to do with the merits of the work. And to exclude genres from a prestigious prize carries the implication that such genres are a lesser form of art. And that last is what I vehemently object to.

[ Edited: 19 October 2016 08:08 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 19 October 2016 08:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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Sorry, vb, I did miss that link. Thanks for resending.

I can’t help but be reminded of this.

Ducks and runs for cover.

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Posted: 19 October 2016 09:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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Throughout this conversation about Dylan’s Nobel I keep thinking of Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist and graphic novelist. As Dylan’s songs combine both lyrics and music, so Bechdel’s work combines illustrations with words. Her work is excellent, and she has been suggested as a person who would be a radical choice for the Nobel. (And like Dylan, one could debate whether or not her work is good enough to deserve this particular honor, but for our purposes assume that it is.) Had Bechdel gotten the prize, I think the reaction would have been a giant shrug, with some grumbling on the sidelines about the Nobel going to a “comic book,” even though she would be a far more daring choice than Dylan.

The difference between Dylan and Bechdel is that Dylan is famous, far more famous than anyone else who has won in recent years. And he’s a commercial success. Artists aren’t supposed to be famous or commercially successful until after they’re dead. I think a lot of the criticism of and hype about the choice really isn’t about the quality of Dylan’s work or whether or not it meets the definition of literature, but that it goes against the idea of the poor, struggling artist laboring in obscurity. The plebs like Dylan, therefore he can’t be any good.

(Bechdel is moderately famous for the “Bechdel test” to determine the degree of sexism in films. That “test” came from one of her comics, but the rest of her work is relatively unknown to the general public. The Bechdel test poses three questions, and the answer to all three must be yes for a film to “pass”: 1) Does the film have more than one female character? 2) Do the female characters talk to one another? 3) When they talk, are they talking about something other than a man? Very few films pass.)

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Posted: 19 October 2016 01:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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LH, where did you acquire your Russian? Russian-speaking parent? Minor subject for two years at university with further study after? That was my point about the Nobel committee awarding prizes to Chinese, etc writers. If the former, you’re sound.

When I was in high school in Buenos Aires (my father was in the foreign service), I worked in a library during the summer, an extremely dull job that mostly involved shelving but surrounded me with my favorite things, books.  One day I was looking at a multivolume collection of international treaties in English, French, German, and Russian (if I remember correctly).  I could read the French and at least sound out the German, but the Russian was a complete mystery to me, which was very annoying.  So on my lunch break I went to a bookstore and bought the Collins Russian Gem Dictionary by Waldemar Schapiro so I could learn the alphabet.  But of course just being able to sound out the words wasn’t enough for me—I wanted to know what they meant as well, and to understand at least a little of the grammar.  So I bought Russian for Beginners by Charles Duff and began teaching myself, muttering Russian sentences to myself constantly (and doubtless annoying my family).  When I went to college I started out as a math major, but eventually became a Russian major.  I went on a summer tour of the Soviet Union, which enabled me to use the language, though I was still not very good.  In graduate school I concentrated on Indo-European historical linguistics, so my Russian was occasionally helpful but not central, and it gradually slipped away until the 1990s, when I renewed my acquaintance with the language; since then I’ve been immersing myself in it every day, and I read freely (though I can’t really converse).

That’s the story of my Russian; I’m not sure you mean about the Nobel committee or about my being “sound,” but for what it’s worth, there it is.

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Posted: 04 November 2016 11:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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Fair play and kudos to you, LH. I’d always assumed you were linguistics through and through, academically. The problems of translation have always interested me and the interviews with translators here surprised me. They are doing prose fiction, however, and the publishers surely get a true bilingual who can’t translate but is literary to comment on both versions?

You rascal, Eliza.

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