Background for those wondering whether accepting awards is a Bob Dylan thing to do.
It was great that he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2008, which has a wider definition than the Nobel Prize (not just literary achievement). I’m not convinced about the award of the Nobel Prize (and would have even more respect for Bob Dylan if he turned it down). The attempt to bolster it with reference to his literary credentials and Latin poets seems weak. However, if it was a mistake to award him the Nobel prize, it was at least a creditable mistake.
The Nobel prize should have a cutting edge – it should stimulate discussion about the nature of literature and make us call into question and discuss conventional ideas about boundaries and definitions (for instance, the poetic status of song lyrics).
From this point of view, Dylan was an interesting choice but I still feel that his contribution to literature is too thin and that it would be a loss if the focus of the Nobel Prize weakened and it became more like the Pulitzer.
Some of the reactions to the award of the Nobel Prize to Dylan disturb me, both the attempt to close discussion before it has even started by labelling criticism as fogeyism and, on the other side, unreasoned and sharp reactions about dumbing down the Nobel prize. For the time being, I am in the Old Fogey camp. I don’t think it was the right choice although I am in favour of the Nobel Prize surprising us and making us think. And people who never make mistakes are often not particularly dynamic.
I enjoy Dylan’s use of language, sometimes mellifluous, often ingenious and above all, very evocative of an age that was an important period of my life. But for me the Nobel Prize should require more than this. Dylan is a great musician but his contribution to literature is too insubstantial (compare, for example, with James Joyce, who didn’t get the Nobel Prize, quieter, less dramatic, harder work but far more rewarding and multi-layered).
The weakness of my position is that my judgment of the value of Dylan’s lyrics as literature is mostly based on the 1970s and 1980s and I haven’t followed his work closely since then.