Grrr! Another year without a Nobel Prize

gettyimages-156038135-6ea6b50095eaa7c2418424f95b8308f49dceeb55-s900-c85Ah, shucks! No early morning phone call rousing me from Morpheus’ embrace to proclaim I was this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Not that I was expecting one, mind you. Like the vast majority of people who scribble down their thoughts for a living (or for the hell of it) in hopes someone other than their wives, mothers or significant others might take time out from their personal dramas to read them, there seems many authors who, due to reputation, readership, or gross sales, stand in line ahead of me for the award. After all, if Maya Angelou, Don DeLillo, and Salman Rushdie hadn’t received the award, who was I to butt in ahead of them?

Not Bob Dylan, that’s who! It isn’t jealousy (of course not) or that he’s undeserving (you tell me), but what he writes doesn’t fall within the strict canon of literature. Oh, I know post-modern academics have assaulted the walls of the canon ever since my days as a graduate student in English. In the process they’ve broadened the scope of Literature recipients beyond the Anglo-European nexus to include Naguib Mahfouz (Nigeria), Octavio Paz (Mexico), Nadine Gordimer (South Africa), and Kenzabauro Oe (Japan). But for every Wole Soyinka (Nigeria) or Gabriel Marcia Marquez (Columbia), there are plenty of other writers of all nationalities and ethnicities working in traditional genres (fiction, poetry, memoir, etc.) who deserve the recognition a Nobel Prize confers.

So, why Dylan? Some of it is timing. Though he was a singer/songwriter in the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, Dylan appeared on the pop culture scene during the last gasps of the Big Band Era, the ascension of rock n’ roll, and America’s ┬árediscovery of its folk music. As the country endured the paroxysms caused by the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, feminism, and political assassination, Dylan was right there with his harmonica and frog voice to mumble how “the times they are a-changin'”

Nostalgia for what one critic calls “the kinds of lyrics [which] affected nearly every child of the ’60s” are much of what allows the Swedish Academy’s secretary, Sara Danius, to justify Dylan’s inclusion as no different from the ancient Greeks whose works often were performed with music. “Bob Dylan writes music for the ear,” she’s quoted, “but it’s perfectly fine to read his works as poetry.” All of which is fine so far as it goes, but it seems unfortunate that word smiths associated with Tin Pan Alley such as Cole Porter or Irving Berlin or more recent (and throaty) singer/songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Tom Waite haven’t benefited from the Academy’s critical largess.

But why stop at rewarding lyrics of one brand of music or one form of expression? Spoken word and rap/hip-hop artists such as Marc Smith and LL Cool J or Jay Z have much to say about the human condition as experienced in America. If relevance and notoriety are motivations for the Academy broadening the definition of literature for recognition, one relishes the prospect of Kanye West rushing the stage during an induction ceremony to dispute the Academy members’ selection.

And why limit the selection to human forms of communication? Surely, out there somewhere anthropologists, zoologists, and linguists are scribbling down the clicks, squawks, and other noises that make up non-human communication. Somewhere there’s a Clever Hans, Washoe, or loquacious porpoise whose recorded reflections upon the faunal condition have yet to be made public. In the near future, a grammatically apt descendant of IBM’s Watson might be eligible for the award though it would have to share it with the creator of the algorithm that enabled it to write meaningful prose.

It appears that any future expectation of Nobel recognition will have to come from some diluted literary genre or lesser field of study. A screed on the benefits of trickle-down economics or the effectiveness of meridians in Chinese medicine in curing warts may be the ticket to final recognition by the Nobel Academy. It surely won’t come from writing the prose or poetry associated with traditional literary endeavor.

What do you think?

 

 

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