A simple twist of fate…

Bob Dylan


One moment there was hope – Dylan unreachable for the Nobel Prize Committee, so perhaps he will refuse his prize…

Unfortunately, not so.

On the Web the following notice appeared:

Bob Dylan accepts Nobel Prize – It’s been a week since he was awarded the prize, but there hovered around the singer and composer a long silence. A day after the news broke, Dylan performed in Las Vegas, but he did not dirty one word mentioning it. A press release failed to materialize; the Nobel Committee could not reach Dylan. The winner seems to be utterly cool to the attention. Until today. Or at least: On his Web site today the award is somehow recognized. Added to a description of a book with his lyrics it now reads in capitals: “WINNER OF THE NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE.

A refusal, however, is still a possibility, after all Sartre was also a ‘winner’ and did not come to Stockholm. And may be it’s just the publisher wanting to score a buck.

Nevertheless, all this is a motive to go a little bit deeper into the issue I raised in my blog of 14.10/16: My argument that the award for Literature should not have been given to Dylan.

Somewhat before the end of the last century the Frenchman Bourdieu studied the social stratification of aesthetic preferences. One of his results showed a more or less obvious difference in taste between social ‘classes’. For instance – ‘lower class’: preference for operetta; ‘upper class’: preference for opera.

Interestingly, however, is the second discovery. Both social classes shared the same criterion of assessment. In both social layers opera was seen as the more complex musical form, i.e. ‘higher’ placed in the hierarchy of composition than is operetta.

Just before the end of that 20th century the German sociologist Schulze again did research on the issue. He noted that esthetical preferences in music and arts had become compartmentalized, this in just the two decades since Bourdieu’s research.

Now every social niche has its ‘own’ art form and has no knowledge of the other niches, yet rejects these other forms of art or music in advance as irrelevant or worthless. One is ‘a heavy metal man’, or a ‘minimal man’ – period.

This, then, is one of the faces of Postmodernity, in this media-dominated epoch certainly not the least significant facet. Between social niches there are no shared aesthetic values any more.

In this constellation fits the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to pop singer Bob Dylan. A wonderful musician he is, brilliant songs, I have most of his records on my iPod. However, quite often his lyrics are incomprehensible, even after many years of listening. Not profound, just incomprehensible, often the result of originating in a drug clouded mind.

Songs which are top of the bill: Nearly everything on Time out of Mind and for example Simple Twist of Fate. And so much more – great songs. But certainly not great poetry, say of the order of the like of Seamus Heaney or Dylan Thomas, from whom by the way Bob Zimmerman borrowed his performer’s name. With the texts in hand this can be argued.

We are witnessing a category mistake.

Unless, of course, you have locked up yourself and therefore excluded yourself – unless you’re ‘in Dylan’ as quite a few enthusiastic pop-professors are. It results in ‘ludicrous responses’ as my friend Ton characterised many of their reactions.

Sierksma, 21.10/2016


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s