Book-Twitter is deeply divided over the news that Bob Dylan has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. It seems as if half the lit world is affronted that a folk singer has been acknowledged in the same category as literary greats like Rudyard Kipling, Pearl S. Buck, Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, while the other is thrilled that lyrics to the songs that reflected and affected social change in the second half of the twentieth century are being recognized as poetry.
In a prescient post on Jezebel last month, Catherine Nichols wrote about how, in reading Chronicles, Dylan’s 2005 memoir, she came to see the musician her father had introduced her to as a true literary artist, and to answer the question she’d been holding in her mind: “What’s so good about him?”
As a writer, Dylan layers in triplicate: there are the things that happen, the loopy ways he imagines them and the art that informs his imagination all concurrently, which is a literary technique I would love to learn myself. The book Peter Pan does this layering, but it’s sorted out clearly in time: Barrie narrates the event first, then re-situates it in Wendy’s family dynamics, then explores it in Wendy’s mind, through art and imagination (that’s Neverland). Dylan writes all these dimensions at once. The human touch begins in this constant rendering of art and subjectivity behind the words.