The Swedish Academy doesn’t go for a big buildup. Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Nobel Academy, comes through a cream paneled door with a big black envelope and addresses an assembled media throng. She crisply reads out a bunch of Swedish words, but only the last two are important: Bob Dylan.
The room erupts in cheering–and laughs of astonishment. Dylan still polarizes people.
She reads the news out again in several more languages. Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
Note the choice of words. It’s not for his songs; it’s for creating a new form of poetry. It’s not for selling truckloads of audible landfill; it’s for doing something new with poetry.
Judging by the immediate reaction in the room, and later in the media, Dylan hasn’t won a popularity contest. That’s okay. The Swedes are uncomfortable with popularity. See ABBA, Greta Garbo, and Bjorn Borg.
This ain’t the Grammys. This is a decision made behind closed doors where distinguished souls discuss the merits of artists in their field. The motto of the Academy is “Talent and Taste” (“Snille och Smak” in Swedish). This is no marketing exercise, no phony popularity quest.
This isn’t a bunch of industry heavies figuring whose turn it is to cash in the publicity. They are discussing the works of artists who have changed the way we see the world.
Dylan is one of the most quotable poets ever; up there with The Bible and Shakespeare. (Anybody who quotes aphorisms from Hallmark cards deserves to die in the most horrible way.)
Sara Danius told a news conference there was “great unity” in the panel’s decision to give Dylan the prize.
It sounds like there wasn’t any such thing. That’s how it oughta be. Greatness is always divisive.