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Expert comment: Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan

Dr Veronica Skrimsjö Tuesday 18 October 2016

Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellow in Popular Music Dr Veronica Skrimsjö comments on the decision to award the Nobel Prize in Literature to the elusive Bob Dylan.

At the end of last week, the announcement was finally made – Bob Dylan was to receive the Nobel Prize in literature. Media – Swedish media in particular – and the Nobel committee was sure he would be delighted and expected interviews. Whilst I can’t comment on his delight (although I’m assured his on-stage dancing was more energetic in the days following the news), there is no sign of any comments or interviews and the Nobel committee have given up trying to reach him. I can’t imagine a more suitable response from Dylan.

As an academic I feel very ambivalent towards Dylan’s Nobel Prize. I’m glad popular culture is being recognised, and agree that Dylan is a good representative - although probably not for the same reasons as the Nobel committee. I also believe this kind of acknowledgement is far overdue, especially in Dylan’s case, but the responses – or shall we say expectations – that Dylan should now bow at the altar of ‘high’ culture as he has become one of its trusted members is less delightful. Part of popular culture’s and popular music’s importance and appeal is that it does not conform, will not give interviews ‘just because’ it is what is expected, and at its very best connects with the everyday lives of its listeners.

Ultimately there are two options in this case. Dylan’s Nobel Prize can either be a step towards democratising certain facets of ‘high’ culture, a way of inviting people in who have previously felt alienated, or it could be an attempt from the same ‘high’ culture to try to claim Dylan as ‘theirs’. This is perhaps why Dylan’s silence is so crucial. Dylan is demonstrating that he will continue behaving in the same way he always has. Regardless if he attends the Nobel ceremony or not, he still won the prize, he’s still a “song and dance man”, and he will still be elusive – especially if you try to hunt him down.

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