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Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in literature: crisis or breakthrough?

October 14, 7:58 UTC+3 MOSCOW
The musician was awarded the Nobel prize "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition"
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© AP/Chris Pizzello

MOSCOW, October 14. /TASS/. The decision to award the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2016 to American singer and songwriter Bob Dylan has triggered a mixed reaction of Russian experts in music and literature.

The critics say this shows that "the Nobel jury has gone beyond literature." Some said this choice was long-awaited and well-earned, while others assessed it as "strange and unpredictable."

The musician was awarded the Nobel prize "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition", the Swedish Academy said on Thursday. The Nobel Prize is worth 8 million Swedish crowns (some $930,000).

Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, compared Dylan’s verses to ancient poetry. "If you look far back, 5000 years, you discover Homer and Sappho. They wrote poetic texts which were meant to be performed, and it’s the same way for Bob Dylan. We still read Homer and Sappho, and we enjoy it."

Strange decision

Writer and historian Yakov Gordin, who is one of close friends of Nobel Prize laureate Joseph Brodsky, said he had "a mixed feeling" about the news. "On the one hand, this is such a funny choice, there is a reason to smile and say: you see it turns out that the Nobel committee has much more possibilities than just novels, stories and verses."

On the other hand, there is "some crisis" in this decision of the Nobel jury, Gordin said. "I hardly believe there was no talented novel or new verses by a person who can be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature."

Alexander Livergant, editor-in-chief of the Foreign Literature magazine and translator, said: "Every year the Nobel Prize in literature is becoming less predictable and, to put it mildly, stranger."

Wrong but brilliant choice

Vsevolod Bagno, director of the Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House), told TASS he likes this "wrong" and non-classical choice of the Nobel jury. "Several generations were raised on the songs of Bob Dylan." This award also "initiated the discussion about what literature really means," he said, adding that the decision may signal that the distinction between different spheres of art is eliminated. "The boundaries of literature? Literature has no boundaries."

Bagno noted that he does not see any new trend behind this award. "I don’t think this will affect the work of the Nobel committee and that there will be a kind of a new turn. I think in a year we will forget about this and everything will resume its natural course: this means that respected and veteran writers will start getting awards again."

The decision of the Nobel committee could be challenged, he added. "I would contest it. As a literary scholar working in an academic institute, I should have probably said that this is wrong," Bagno said, adding that he still likes this "wrong" choice.

Symbol of 20th century

Music critic Mikhail Kuzischev explained the words of the Nobel Academy about the decision. "Dylan grew up on the American song tradition. That’s why his best songs come from the traditional American folk and blues." The critic stressed that Dylan, as a true creator rather than an imitator, "managed to modernize these traditions so that millions of people could listen to them."

Maxim Nemtsov, who authored the translated versions of Dylan’s verses and memoirs, said "the contribution of Bob Dylan in literature cannot be overestimated." He said the musician and poet is a "multi-culture figure that symbolizes almost the whole 20th century."

Serious poet and prose writer

Music critic Pavel Surkov noted that Bob Dylan is considered to be a serious poet and prose writer. "His novels Tarantula and Chronicles are a very good prose written thoughtfully and we have been waiting for their continuation. Tarantula is one style, Chronicles is a completely different one. We see that Dylan can work both with poetry and prose text," Surkov explained.

The decision to award the prize to Dylan is very measured, he added. "I have a feeling that for the first time over long years we can say that we know the author, understand why (he received the prize) and thank God the author is alive and is at the height of his creative work."

Russian music critic Alexander Belyaev said Bob Dylan’s victory is "sensational news." "This is a completely uncommon case when hundreds and thousands of rock musicians around the world sing songs written by a Nobel laureate."

Russian rock musician Andrei Makarevich said Bob Dylan deserves the Nobel prize. "That’s because in late 1960s he made a shift in the minds of young people around the world who already loved rock'n'roll. But they thought that rock'n'roll is meant for dancing and listening about love of a boy to a girl. And it turned out that music may have serious poetry about problems of the mankind."

New Nobel Prize laureate

Dylan, 75, an American songwriter, singer, artist, and writer, has been influential in popular music and culture for more than 50 years.

According to the Rolling Stone magazine, Dylan is the second most important performer in the history of music after The Beatles. His songs Blowin' in the Wind and The Times They Are a-Changin became the anthems of a civil rights movement and an anti-war movement in the US.

In 2008, Dylan won the Pulitzer Prize for "his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.".

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