Something deeply disturbing about Bob Dylan: Sandip K Luis
After the announcement of noble literature award to Bob Dylan in 2016, there has been a hue and cry among the intelligentsia both in praise and criticism of it. It is being argued by the ‘for Dylan’ group that the noble literature award to Dylan symbolizes the ‘return of sixties’, while its critic held the point that it is being ‘romantic’ by those who unconsciously trying to bring sixties in to the mainstream. However, it should be noted that Dylan became famous for his participation and songs in civil rights and anti war movements in America.
Noble laureate Dylan and Return of Sixties?
By Sandip K Luis
Yes, there is something deeply disturbing about Bob Dylan’s bagging of the literature-Nobel, that too for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. I hardly know anything about “THE great American song tradition”, but I am pretty sure that such nationalistic justifications – let alone mere claim of ‘new expressions WITHIN’ – cannot be the central concerns here (if that is the case then I expect the same in judging scientific contributions as well).
The radical intellectuals everywhere are more than happy because Dylan is not simply anyone who just fought for civil rights and the peace of humanity, but the very icon, perhaps ‘the icon’, of that golden era of youth counterculture and agitations called “The Sixties”. Yes, I am also very much for civil rights and the global peace, but wait dear; we are not discussing the Peace-Nobel here, right? That will amount to an insult of comparing Dylan with Obama.
If it is for the ‘literary’ contributions of Dylan, that too by surpassing the more identifiable literary personalities like Murakami or Ngugi Thiongo (well, “Times they are a-changin”), I want to know what is really ‘literary’ in him. To admit the truth, I have hardly bothered to listen to Dylan, finding his lyrics, along with the music, too cheesy optimistic and slick minded. But when it is all about the Sixties its “flower-power”, what else you expect?
If one is seriously concerned about the real literal quality of the Sixties-music, then there is only one option left; Dylan’s one and only rival, LEONARD COHEN. But Cohen, with the dim-lit interior of his prayer-like-songs scripted through years of labour, uttered in haunting whispers and sardonic sniggers, is not ‘political’ or ‘popular’ like that of his friendly-adversary Dylan (this is even true in the case of Cohen’s seemingly ‘political’, but not very ‘popular’, songs like ‘The Partisan’ or ‘Democracy’). To religiously enter his shadowy world and to bear the weight of his words, you have to undo yourself like him.
But knowing very well that nothing can satisfy this nihilistic soul, who hauntingly said that ‘the crumbs of love you offer me are the crumbs I left behind’ (‘Avalanche’), my point is not at all that the Nobel should have given to Cohen – after all, c’mon, it just the Nobel. Rather it is a Cohenian view, with all its cynicism and contempt, on Dylan’s recognition, if not his literary or musical merits. The point is simple. Everywhere people are excited about “the Return of the Sixites” in art, culture and politics (justifications vary from the ‘Kiss of Love’ wave in India to the ‘Spring Revolutions’ in the Middle East). But by giving the Nobel to ‘The Icon of the Sixites’; one thing is assured for sure. The Sixties can no longer be a subculture to worth its name, not simply because it is now revered at par with Obama’s contributions to the global peace, but more because of the following reason. The integration of the Sixties to the mainstream and its equation with the American culture are now perfectly complete with Dylan’s Nobel.
But nihilism is nothing but the hope unalloyed. Perhaps this might also be an occasion to hope and work for a ‘Sixties’ we never had; a ‘Sixties with Leonard Cohen’. Hence his song: “Now the wheels of heaven stop / you feel the devil’s riding crop / Get ready for the future: it is MURDER…” (‘The Future’ by L. Cohen)
Sandip K. Luis is pursuing his PhD from SAA, JNU, New Delhi