Forget the question of whether lyrics qualify as literature. Forget the Facebook feed Twitter app tap dance. That’s not the question. Ain’t relevant.
What is massively relevant is this: by awarding the prize for literature to a lyricist, to a singer-songwriter, the committee is signaling something very important. The committee is signaling that the dissatisfaction with the system is rising. It’s literally rising. Bleeding all the way up from the puddle in the street where it started— blue uniforms point and shoot instead of protect and serve, spin sirens, another dread head teen, running, running, dead— to the insular Norwegian parliament and it’s voting appointees.
Forget the decision itself and look at what it means. Giving the prize to Dylan feels like taking a knee during the Anthem. It feels like writing in Mos Def for President. It feels like saying no to both Siilary and Dump. Feels like they just ordered a Black Lives Matter hoodie from Etsy and a Guy Fawkes mask from Amazon.
Bob Dylan won “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” The keyword the Norwegians are nodding to is “new.” The verbiage of their rationale sounds suspiciously similar to political campaigns on ‘Change’ and promises to ‘Make America Great Again.’
Is Dylan a dim gesture? Is the Nobel Committee all talk and no walk?
It’s not news that the 99% are sick of the status quo. We’re chronically thirsty for bending, breaking the rules, because the rules haven’t been kind to us. But the prize committee? They’re on the third floor balcony with a flute of champagne between manicured fingers. They’ve got no reason up there, in Norway, with the highest standard of living in the world, to get involved in this next world war. Just like they had no reason to get involved in the previous two world wars.
Handing the mic to Dylan, maybe they troupe of greying cross-country skiers are taking sides. Maybe they back Dylan. Maybe they remember his words from ‘Masters of War,’ where Dylan writes: You fasten the triggers / For others to set fire / Then you sit back and watch / when the death count gets higher. Maybe the Nobel elitists are on board with global justice?
Maybe this is the beginning. Maybe Dylan this year, Wu-Tang next year. Maybe in a decade the Norwegian nobles will take Norse axes to the medal and give it to the million black men behind bars in America, for the lyrics they never had a chance to spit.
Dylan is a step. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s an empty gesture to a hippy white boy from Minnesota (read: the Norwegian colony in America).
How can we tell whether the oil-rich, homogenously white Norwegians have their fingers on the pulse of the proletariats or whether they’re just playing? Are they with us?
Whether it’s farce or for real, giving it to Dylan blurs the rigid genres distinctions between literature and lyrics. And since the problems in America stem from cognitive boxes— racial dichotomies like black and white and gender binaries like man and woman—blurring these proven pernicious distinctions to a population socialized to see difference is a choice means of re-education.
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