I may have been away but I’ve anticipated the announcement of this year’s winner. Which obscure writer would it be? Would there be a chance that this year’s winner is someone I’m familiar with? The announcement, which I streamed from one of my breaks at the office, was first read in Swedish. I heard Bob Dylan’s name. Surely, that wasn’t happening. Bob Dylan’s nomination and frequent appearance at betting lists has been a long-running joke, yeah? So when the announcement was read in English, it was indeed happening. I closed the video without bothering with the cryptic citations and turned to the shit bowl that is Facebook.
First thought I had was that Dylan, despite his accolades in the field of music, is not a writer. One can argue about the literariness and socio-political influences of his songwriting, but this writing is firmly rooted into his music and must not be separated from it to call it literature. Or am I missing something here? (Maybe one would say that dude, early literature was sang with instruments and all, but I’m doubtful that Dylan is following the Homeric track.)
Second thought I had was that maybe, the Academy thought none of the writers we have today deserve it. That is hard to believe. There are writers everywhere, risking their lives and trying to make a difference through their chosen form of art, but the Academy decides to, again, remain apolitical and make a choice that seems to pander to popular culture. (I have my doubts about the Academy’s stance because everything is political and I suspect that this might just be an excuse to not award an American for another two decades.)
Third thought I had was that this isn’t a choice that acknowledges the changes in the literary scene. Surely, there are young, innovative writers who are popular enough and who are actual writers (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith keep popping up in my mind, but they are too young to have produced a substantial body of work for Nobel consideration). But if times are indeed changing (ugh), scrap that idea! What’s the difference between a hundred and a handful of books anyway? It’s just numbers.
Fourth thought I had was that they’re going to start twisting the words in Alfred Nobel’s will. Everything with words produced in any manner will now qualify as literature! Graffiti art, tweets, spoken word performances, audiobook narrations, calligraphy, all of them! And I thought postmodernism was dead. (Also, was there ever a Nobel laureate who was awarded solely for criticism or journalism? Those have words too, ya know.)
I’ve mostly just rehashed the conversations I had with various friends, but I still can’t get around the fact that Dylan is now a Nobel laureate. I’ll try to forget that this ever happened but I know this is impossible. I have too much invested in the Nobels that forgetting this basically requires killing me. Or better yet, I’ll consider that maybe music needs a Nobel Prize already because there’s no Nobel Prize in Music. And for that, literature has to suffer, again. Sure, it’s just one year, but 2016 is a year wasted by the Academy to make a grand statement about literature.