A simple twist of fate…
“Dylan has spoken to generations throughout the world in ways that many poets must surely envy”: St Andrews academics describe ‘watershed’ Nobel Prize winning moment.
Hot on the heels of influential Chemist and St Andrews Honorary graduate Professor Sir Fraser Stoddart being awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, our own Doctor of Music Bob Dylan was announced as the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Dr Dylan received his honorary degree – only the second he has ever accepted – from the University on 24 June 2004.
In his laureation, author of Dylan book Do you, Mr Jones?, Professor Neil Corcoran (now University of Oxford) said: “Bob Dylan’s life as writer and singer has the aspect of vocation, of calling, and his is an art of the most venturesome risk and the most patient endurance.”
Dr Dylan was named as this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature recipient “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.
Dr Jim Byatt, a Teaching Fellow in English Literature at the University, is currently researching the history of recorded American folk music for a forthcoming book on the subject. Speaking after the news of the announcement broke, he commented: “Awarding Bob Dylan the Nobel Prize for Literature is a bold move, and undoubtedly controversial. Yet Dylan has spoken to generations throughout the world in ways that many poets must surely envy. He’s done what every great poet has done — he’s been the political commentator, the romantic troubadour, the comedian, the enigma; he’s exhilarated, infuriated, mobilized, revolutionized, consoled and confused in equal measure. And many more people have sung Blowin’ in the Wind than have ever recited Eliot’s The Waste Land or Ginsberg’s Howl.
“This, hopefully, is a watershed moment in the world of literary awards. It acknowledges the cultural contribution not just of Dylan, but of a whole lineage of intellectually astute songwriters whose collective desire has been to challenge the system through popular entertainment. Dylan is, arguably, the fulcrum point that links Lead Belly to Eminem, Woody Guthrie to the Sex Pistols, Etta James to Patti Smith. He’s inspired countless ordinary people to pick up a guitar and a pen and become extraordinary, and recognition for this is long overdue. The times certainly are a’ changin’ and, in cultural terms at least, quite possibly for the better.”
Dr James Purdon, a Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Literature added: “The decision to award the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan isn’t without its complexities — but then neither is the recipient. Those who worry about whether popular lyrics are ‘literature’ are missing the point: literature only happens when writers find ways to break the conventions of ‘literature’ wide open so that the language can fizz into new life.
“And of course poets have thought of themselves as writing ‘song’ for as long as there have been poets. When he was asked by an interviewer which he considered himself — a singer or a poet — Dylan replied that he was more “a song and dance man”. So we should remember the dance as well, the fact that literature isn’t just words on a page, but the dance of words and rhythm, of performance and language, of existing traditions and their transformation. On those grounds, it’s hard to think of an artist more deserving.”
Dr Dylan holds just one other honorary degree, awarded by Princeton University in 1970.
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