Editorial: Why Bob Dylan deserves a Nobel

Published 8:00 am Friday, October 9, 2009

On Thursday, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was announced. Will the Swedish Academy finally acknowledge that it’s possible to create art within the parameters of popular culture?

Reacting to the claim made by academy member Horace Engdahl that American literature is provincial, the Danish professor Anne-Marie Mai chose to announce publicly that she had nominated Bob Dylan for this year’s Nobel Prize in literature. In the same breath, she noted that many of her colleagues had done the same.

Mai writes in the Danish newspaper Politiken that Bob Dylan has at once returned poetry to its tonal and musical source and transformed poetry into a form of artistic expression that speaks directly to our contemporary world.

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The history of the Nobel prize is full of bad decisions. It’s a catastrophe that theater jack of all trades Dario Fo got the prize in 1997, while Ingmar Bergman never did. Fo made an impact on the theater world, but he’s no great writer; Bergman wasn’t just a poet of the cinema, he was also a great wordsmith. And that must be a criteria for the literature prize: whether a given nominee is good with words.

I’m glad that the Swedish Academy at times excavates neglected authors, as they did last year with J.M.G. Le Clezio, or when the totally unknown Polish poet Szymborska got the prize in 1996.

But if the Nobel Prize in Literature is to retain its significance, then it must go to a writer with cultural value that reaches beyond the confines of academia.

— Aftenposten, Oslo,Norway, Oct. 7