THE MORE B.S. CONTEST No. 13 (Updated November 17, 2016)

October 17, 2016 – 11:54 am

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STOCKHOLM’S SYNDROME: DYLAN’S NOBEL

Would you be happier if Bob Dylan accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature or rejected the prize? Below is David Yearsley’s essay on Dylan’s Nobel and also, as far as we know, an essay from the only writer who rejected the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964, Jean-Paul Sartre. The second person who refused the Nobel prize is Vietnamese Le Duc Tho, who was awarded the 1973 Peace Prize for his role in the Paris Peace Accords. He declined, claiming there was no actual peace in Vietnam.

UPDATED November 17, 2016: Dylan will not go to Sweden for Nobel ceremony. Bob Dylan has told the Nobel prize committee he will not be attending the ceremony in Sweden to pick up his accolade. In a personal letter to the academy, Dylan told them “he wishes he could receive the prize personally, but other commitments make it unfortunately impossible.” He underlined that he feels “incredibly honoured by the Nobel prize,” they added. The Swedish Academy said it “respects Bob Dylan’s decision” but stressed it is “unusual” for a Nobel laureate not to come to Stockholm to accept the award in person. - The Guardian (click here)

UPDATED November 1, 2016: Speaking to The Telegraph in his first interview since the Swedish Academy announced Bob Dylan would be the recipient of their literature prize, the singer-songwriter added that he “absolutely” plans on attending the December 10 Nobel gala in Stockholm “if it’s at all possible.”

As for Dylan’s “impolite and arrogant” lack of response about the prize and the Swedish Academy’s fruitless efforts to get in touch with the singer since the award was announced, Dylan quipped simply, “Well, I’m right here.”

Dylan had acknowledged his Nobel Prize for Literature win in a new interview published October 28 where he said of the prestigious honor, “Amazing, incredible. Whoever dreams about something like that?”

Click here for the Rolling Stone article.

UPDATED October 18, 2016: Bob Dylan has apparently yet to respond to the Swedish Academy since they awarded him the Nobel Prize. Dylan has been invited to Stockholm to collect his prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf on December 10, but according to the Academy he has yet to confirm his attendance at the event. “I am not at all worried. I think he will show up,” Sara Danius, the Academy’s permanent secretary said, before adding: “If he doesn’t want to come, he won’t come. It will be a big party in any case and the honour belongs to him.”

So dear readers, make a guess whether you think Dylan will show up, unlike Marlon Brando and George C Scott who both turned down their Oscars.

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By David YearsleyWas that great global spluttering sound we heard this week the five members of the Nobel literature committee gagging on the lutefisk that is their prize? Or was it the rest of the world guffawing in ecstatic disbelief when they realized that the choice of Bob Dylan as this year’s lit laureate was not a joke. Actually it was a joke, though one about as amusing as cod soaked in lye.

Leave it to the Swedish Academy to wipe away the last gelatinous blob of credibility or interest their annual awards might have retained up until the moment the Dylan announcement was made. To paraphrase Adorno, there can be no Nobel after Kissinger. The war criminal’s 1973 peace prize marked a new nadir of cynicism in the aftermath of his bombing campaign Cambodia.

That same year Marlon Brando declined a far more prestigious, and often more (indirectly) lucrative award - the Oscar - in protest over events at Wounded Knee and the portrayal of Native Americans by Hollywood. It was a promising period of refusal in Tinseltown, though not in Stockholm. Two years earlier George C Scott had turned down the same statuette for his portrayal of Patton, pointing out straightforwardly that competition between actors and, by extension, artists, is a bad thing.

Likewise, Sartre didn’t accept his Nobel Prize for literature in 1964, explaining “that the writer must refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution.” Dylan became that long ago, even before he started doing Super Bowl spots. In the past he has pooh-poohed accolades and awards, but like the renegade street artist Banksy when he was nominated for an Oscar for his documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop, Dylan appears ready to make another exception in his own case. After all, Dylan has already taken home his Oscar for Things Have Changed, and I seem to remember that Obama handed him some kind of medal a few years back at the White House.

The real symptoms of Stockholm syndrome are these: American warriors from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama get the peace prize, and a pop star is crowned with the lit laurels.

Yes to Dylan, means a final and resounding No to Roth, to McCarthy, to DeLillo, and to Pynchon.

Yet some famous writers cheered the news. Salman Rushdie, who doubtless had harbored hopes of one day being honored by the Swedes, grandiosely tweeted: “From Orpheus to Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice.” A great choice because now there would be no pressure on the egomaniacal Rushdie to feel like getting that dreamt-of call from Stockholm that would elevate him to literary immortality.

Joyce Carol Oates’ praise for the “inspired” choice echoed with a similar sentiment. The Academy’s decision was not a slap in the face but a slap on the back to all writers who had previously invested an interest in the prize beyond the considerable cash pay out. Even Philip Roth must have been relieved at the Dylan news since with it the Swedish Academy sealed its own irrelevance.

The Academy’s deliberations are notoriously secretive. Only when William Golding won the prize in 1983 did one ancient member, a guy named Artur Lundkvist, break the code of silence and lambast the winner “as a small English phenomenon of no great interest.” Small is one word you can’t use about the phenomenon that is Dylan.

There are five Swedes on the literary committee. This year there were two men in their 80s, and three others, of which one is a woman, all born in the late 1940s. Here’s betting this trio of Baltic Baby Boomers kept plying the two old geezers with schnapps, while they pressed their generation’s case for Dylan for, as they put it in their citation, “creating new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Dylan should be praised but not given a Nobel Prize for it all. The market has already recognized his achievements, the world his talents. Nothing new will be discovered or achieved by this award except the self-destruction of the Nobel Prizes’ final iota of integrity.

One of the Boomers on this year’s now-infamous panel is Horace Engdahl, longtime Academy member and its former permanent secretary. In 2007 Engdahl briskly informed the Associate Press that America is “too insular and ignorant to challenge Europe as the center of the literary world.” His revenge on American letters is now complete: Yes to Dylan, means a final and resounding No to Roth, to McCarthy, to DeLillo, and to Pynchon. Yes they’re all men and all novelists, but far more deserving of the prize, if it still carried any meaning for the sustenance of literary culture.

Many writers, public intellectuals, and run-of-the-mill celebrities have already supported the Academy’s decision, arguing that the conception of literature should be expanded. So how about a prize in illiterature that searches out real bards who, like Homer himself, never wrote anything down but only sang and improvised their poetry? The Nobel could also go to authors of elegant Silicon Valley computer code or of New York graffiti. All these forms are valid expressions of human intelligence and creativity, but they are not Literature with a capital L. Is this elitist, vital, time-consuming? Damn right it is! That’s what the prize should be for.

I can sense the Dylan hordes unpacking their slings and lighting their arrows. Yes, lyrics can be literature. Yes, Oxford has anthologized “Desolation Row” and Cambridge has a Companion to him. Yes, plenty of poets and profs, not to mention millions of fans, praise his gift for, and contributions to, the English language. Yes, uniting words and melody is as old as language, maybe even older. Dylan should be praised but not given a Nobel Prize for it all. The market has already recognized his achievements, the world his talents. Nothing new will be discovered or achieved by this award except the self-destruction of the Nobel Prizes’ final iota of integrity.

However dumfounding the Dylan news was, it could have been predicted, especially in the way music, so crucial to many great writers from James Joyce (no Nobel for him) to the above-mentioned Pynchon (no Nobel for him either), has figured in the work of those authors who have received the award. The 2004 winner Elfriede Jelinek’s darkly brilliant and stingingly hilarious dismantling of classical music culture in her novel, The Piano Teacher, presaged a turn towards the popular in both literature and music. That tremendous, provocative book torched the concert hall, highbrow culture, and the misogynistic devils propping it all up.

There was however an echo of that faltering culture in the 2011 award that went to local hero Tomas Tranströmer (not surprisingly the Nobel committee is heavy on hand-outs to fellow Scandinavians) for a dozen slender volumes of crystalline dreamscape poetry. His entire oeuvre weighs about a tenth of Dylan’s collected lyrics packaged in book form.

Like Jelinek, Tranströmer was an avid pianist. One of his most famous poems, Allegro, the one cited first by the Nobel committee five years ago, begins: “After a black day, I play Haydn/and feel a little warmth in my hands.” (Tranströmer would later lose the use of his own right hand.) The 14-line poem ends with a vision of transcendent musical architecture and spiritual poise:

The music is a house of glass standing on a slope;
rocks are flying, rocks are rolling.
The rocks roll straight through the house
but every pane of glass is still whole.

This week’s rolling stone has shattered the glass house that was the Nobel Prize in literature.

Note: David Yearsley is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His recording of JS Bach’s organ trio sonatas is available from Musica Omnia. He can be reached here. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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Jean-Paul Sartre explained his refusal to accept the Nobel Prize for Literature in a statement made to the Swedish Press on October 22, 1964 which appeared in Le Monde in a French translation approved by Sartre. The following translation into English was made by Richard Howard (first published in the New York Review of Books, December 17, 1964).

SARTRE ON THE NOBEL PRIZE

I deeply regret the fact that the incident has become something of a scandal: a prize was awarded, and I refused it. It happened entirely because I was not informed soon enough of what was under way. When I read in the October 15 Figaro littéraire, in the Swedish correspondent’s column, that the choice of the Swedish Academy was tending toward me, but that it had not yet been determined, I supposed that by writing a letter to the Academy, which I sent off the following day, I could make matters clear and that there would be no further discussion.

I was not aware at the time that the Nobel Prize is awarded without consulting the opinion of the recipient, and I believed there was time to prevent this from happening. But I now understand that when the Swedish Academy has made a decision it cannot subsequently revoke it.

My reasons for refusing the prize concern neither the Swedish Academy nor the Nobel Prize in itself, as I explained in my letter to the Academy. In it, I alluded to two kinds of reasons: personal and objective.

The personal reasons are these: my refusal is not an impulsive gesture, I have always declined official honors. In 1945, after the war, when I was offered the Legion of Honor, I refused it, although I was sympathetic to the government. Similarly, I have never sought to enter the Collège de France, as several of my friends suggested.

This attitude is based on my conception of the writer’s enterprise. A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his own - that is, the written word. All the honors he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable. If I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre it is not the same thing as if I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prizewinner.

The writer who accepts an honor of this kind involves as well as himself the association or institution which has honored him. My sympathies for the Venezuelan revolutionists commit only myself, while if Jean-Paul Sartre the Nobel laureate champions the Venezuelan resistance, he also commits the entire Nobel Prize as an institution.

The writer must therefore refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honorable circumstances, as in the present case.

This attitude is, of course, entirely my own, and contains no criticism of those who have already been awarded the prize. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for several of the laureates whom I have the honor to know.

My objective reasons are as follows: The only battle possible today on the cultural front is the battle for the peaceful coexistence of the two cultures, that of the East and that of the West. I do not mean that they must embrace each other - I know that the confrontation of these two cultures must necessarily take the form of a conflict - but this confrontation must occur between men and between cultures, without the intervention of institutions.

I know that the Nobel Prize in itself is not a literary prize of the Western bloc, but it is what is made of it, and events may occur which are outside the province of the members of the Swedish Academy. This is why, in the present situation, the Nobel Prize stands objectively as a distinction reserved for the writers of the West or the rebels of the East. It has not been awarded, for example, to Neruda, who is one of the greatest South American poets.

I myself am deeply affected by the contradiction between the two cultures: I am made up of such contradictions. My sympathies undeniably go to socialism and to what is called the Eastern bloc, but I was born and brought up in a bourgeois family and a bourgeois culture. This permits me to collaborate with all those who seek to bring the two cultures closer together. I nonetheless hope, of course, that “the best man wins.” That is, socialism.

This is why I cannot accept an honor awarded by cultural authorities, those of the West any more than those of the East, even if I am sympathetic to their existence. Although all my sympathies are on the socialist side. I should thus be quite as unable to accept, for example, the Lenin Prize, if someone wanted to give it to me, which is not the case.

I know that the Nobel Prize in itself is not a literary prize of the Western bloc, but it is what is made of it, and events may occur which are outside the province of the members of the Swedish Academy. This is why, in the present situation, the Nobel Prize stands objectively as a distinction reserved for the writers of the West or the rebels of the East. It has not been awarded, for example, to Neruda, who is one of the greatest South American poets.

There has never been serious question of giving it to Louis Aragon, though he certainly deserves it. It is regrettable that the prize was given to Pasternak and not to Sholokhov, and that the only Soviet work thus honored should be one published abroad and banned in its own country. A balance might have been established by a similar gesture in the other direction.

During the war in Algeria, when we had signed the “declaration of the 121,” I should have gratefully accepted the prize, because it would have honored not only me, but also the freedom for which we were fighting. But matters did not turn out that way, and it is only after the battle is over that the prize has been awarded me.

In discussing the motives of the Swedish Academy, mention has been made of freedom, a word that suggests many interpretations. In the West, only a general freedom is meant: personally, I mean a more concrete freedom which consists of the right to have more than one pair of shoes and to eat one’s fill. It seems to me less dangerous to decline the prize than to accept it. If I accept it, I offer myself to what I shall call “an objective rehabilitation.”

According to the Figaro littéraire article, “a controversial political past would not be held against me.” I know that this article does not express the opinion of the Academy, but it clearly shows how my acceptance would be interpreted by certain rightist circles. I consider this “controversial political past” as still valid, even if I am quite prepared to acknowledge to my comrades certain past errors.

I do not thereby mean that the Nobel Prize is a “bourgeois” prize, but such is the bourgeois interpretation which would inevitably be given by certain circles with which I am very familiar.

Lastly, I come to the question of the money: it is a very heavy burden that the Academy imposes upon the laureate by accompanying its homage with an enormous sum, and this problem has tortured me. Either one accepts the prize and with the prize money can support organizations or movements one considers important - my own thoughts went to the Apartheid committee in London.

Or else one declines the prize on generous principles, and thereby deprives such a movement of badly needed support. But I believe this to be a false problem. I obviously renounce the 250,000 crowns because I do not wish to be institutionalized in either East or West. But one cannot be asked on the other hand to renounce, for 250,000 crowns, principles which are not only one’s own, but are shared by all one’s comrades.

That is what has made so painful for me both the awarding of the prize and the refusal of it I am obliged to make.

I wish to end this declaration with a message of fellow-feeling for the Swedish public.

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Your No B.S. comments will earn you a pass to free music.

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  1. 23 Responses to “THE MORE B.S. CONTEST No. 13 (Updated November 17, 2016)”

  2. A difficult dilemma. Nobel prize? It is a reality that Bob has been chosen as a worthy winner of this prestigious award and it has been received with mixed reactions from many groups of people. Those that adhere to classical literature, in the generally accepted definition of the word, maybe can’t see the justification in offering a Nobel prize to Dylan, but those who select the winners know more than I do, and, in essence, more than the people who criticise the decision know as well.
    Who are we to question their wisdom?
    Comments on social media are inferring that the award is more pitched at Dylan’s contribution to youth culture, since the 60’s – he produced many very powerful messages which had a massive impact of the way people views how society was moving along since he penned his songs. He is still a major artist and influence in the music industry and generation after generation have adored his output, and will continue to do so for decades in the future.
    But is it literature? I suppose, if you took the music away and appraised the words alone, it would be poetry. Wouldn’t it? Poetry would be classed as literature, in my view.
    What do I know? It will be interesting to see how this scenario and the debates progress on this one.

    By Daij on Oct 17, 2016

  3. It’s an interesting question. For example, are songs literature in the same sense a thick, serious novel is? I mean, I think they are (and I think it’s really cool Dylan won the Nobel Prize), but I can see the argument against it; Dylan’s lyrics are arguably poetry, but he’s not a poet in the same sense that Patti Smith or Leonard Cohen are. At the same time, his work is far more recognizable than say, Alice Munro or Tranströmer. On balance, I’m more than okay with his winning, especially if it means overrated novelists like Roth, DeLillo or McCarthy won’t.

    By M on Oct 17, 2016

  4. Dylan should absolutely accept his award. He’s been writing for decades and, more importantly, he’s been read (or listened to)by so many. Contrast that body of work with what won Obama his Nobel: A promise (hope) to work towards peace while remaining at war for his entire two term Presidency.

    By steve22 on Oct 18, 2016

  5. Enjoyed reading the Sartre again but why the Yeardsley? Hardly worth unpacking the slingshot and certainly wouldn’t waste a match on a quiver on such tosh. Not a creative urge in this academic’s whole body of work but a pathetic regurgitator of forgotten musics pretending there is a thesis in imagining there are three composers from the 17th - 18th C that were alive around the same time and what would it have been like if they had undertaken a competiton. A Battle of The Bands! Hilarious really. Sad outmoded and has written no music I am aware of. Only two of his students could be bothered to rate him. This endless spew of sour grapes from the moaning Yeardsley ‘why oh why didn’t the Swedes pick my favourite novelists?’ is beneath contempt and unworthy here. Chose someone who knows their subject, contemporary music not some tenured Bach specialist irrelevant academic. The great recordings of Bach we already have. We don’t need any more filling up the concert halls like so much wall paper. We are too busy enjoying modern music from Bryars to Dylan, Eno to Jim White or The Handsome Family to Gillian Welch, you know people at the cutting edge of contemporary music as opposed to old before their time, pointless, purposeless, irrelevancies resting on their laurels who wrote a book on how many pedals the organ has and where they can frankly pedal off to on such arcane devices as they are of no use and value any more. Still don’t agree with Bobby getting the Nobel either and he is yet to respond other than through his music (sic). This the organisation that gave your American War Monger Kissinger, deplorably evil individuals like Mother Teresa and even Obama the Peace prize. It would be funny or ironic but it is too deplorable to contemplate. It is just a prize giving. Have you not been to enough? have you missed out? Bless he wants a scroll. Old before your time and in the way. Write something of interest and stop whining. “|Badges we don’t want no stinking badges” . . . . .and certainly not for playing Bach!

    By swappers on Oct 18, 2016

  6. My sense is the Nobel means more to those of us who grew up listening to the many twists & turns of Dylan than it does to Dylan himself.

    “That’s all they do is hand out awards. Best fascist dictator - Adolf Hitler.” (Woody Allen, Annie Hall)

    By tajackson on Oct 20, 2016

  7. Mixed emotions

    By Revolutionarybum on Oct 20, 2016

  8. Because something is happening here
    But you don’t know what it is
    Do you, Mister Jones?

    By sking on Oct 22, 2016

  9. I don’t have a problem with the committee awarding the prize to Dylan. If anyone imagined the award only ever went to “the best” - wake up and check the list of notable omissions/oversights/snubs.
    It has always been conventional interspersed with quirky and sometimes just damn weird.
    By those lights, Dylan is almost a mainstream choice.
    He certainly is a poet, unless you wish to be a blind, elitist, narrow bigot.
    He certainly has been widely read, appreciated, quoted. He even could be deemed more influential than most writers of his era. He may well have been instrumental in awakening the social conscience of a substantial portion of young people across the Western world.
    Have Roth, De Lillo and McCarthy spoken as clearly and eloquently to the masses. (Then, of course, you should also consider whether it is a writer’s duty to “speak to the masses” - or whether “literary” excellence is all that matters, regardless of sales, readership and influence.
    Perhaps the people reading here are unaware that many people outside America and Europe are complaining that the award should have gone to a female, to a person of colour, to a younger. Dylan, they complain, is just an old white dude… And to be fair, there probably are a hundred scarcely recognised writers of amazing quality, scattered around the world, whose work is unknown to us simply because there work is of narrow interest, untranslated, or just too fucking convoluted and magnificently “literary” for most of us to comprehend and enjoy.
    Settle, children. The committee was not trying to insult you. It was not trying to make a racist statement, or an ageist statement or a sexist statement. It simply selected an unconventional writer of vast influence.
    I remember “old” people denouncing Dylan as an ignorant commie scumbag back in the early 60s. He was not “an old white dude” then. Kids - his best writing was never that of an old dude, or even of a white dude.
    To my mind, Dylan is as worthy a winner as any of the other names mentioned.
    As to whether he will accept the award, and if he does, whether he will arrive to collect it… I wouldn’t bet money on it either way.
    But I am surprised he has not already announced his decision. It is churlish to say nothing, and an artiste of Dylan’s stature should be better than that.

    By (the real) Tony on Oct 23, 2016

  10. I think Dylan should accept the award and donate the prize money to the worthy charity of his choice. While I don’t mean to belittle the Nobel Peace Prize, let’s be honest - does anyone take it that serously? Has any Nobel Prize Winner ever actually established world peace? NO! So it boils down to one institution’s view of who among us is TRYING to establish world peace, which can never be more than an opinion. While Dylan has authored nonsense songs like “Wiggle, Wiggle,” some of his other lyrics have made people think about possibilities other than war and violence, so let Dylan have some recognition. I’m bored with arguments about what’s politically (or culturally) correct.

    By Jim Kneubuhl on Oct 24, 2016

  11. He won the Nobel Literature Prize,
    Jim Kneubuhl, not the Nobel Peace Prize.
    And even Dylan acknowledges in his song
    “Political World’ that ‘peace is not welcome at all’.
    The Nobel Literature Prize is well deserved. .

    By Hilda Fernhout on Oct 26, 2016

  12. Very happy for Bob. His songs and words speak volumes to his Nobel prize. Congrats Mr. Dylan!

    By Bubbles on Nov 1, 2016

  13. what’s the problem, dylanis a hard working professional who has never stopped making quality albums, and still tours constantly. His output is prodigious, and sure at times, crap, but few can match him for his energy and output

    By Liam NSW on Nov 3, 2016

  14. Yearsley clearly needs a blow job - or maybe he can get his snatch felt by the Trumpster.

    By Henry Taunton on Nov 3, 2016

  15. That Yearsley is a total dip. If anyone is a word man, Dylan is a word man. He transformed a whole genre of music and changed the world with his words. If that ain’t in line with the goals of literature then screw literature. Well deserved - brave choice by the Nobel committee.

    By Jeremy Shatan on Nov 5, 2016

  16. so Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature well at lest he’s earned it for the last 50 odd years of his writing, not like Obhama winning the Peace prize before he’d even entered office the doing nothing in my own view to have merited it

    By leigh palfrey on Nov 8, 2016

  17. Read Bob’s lyrics without the music and it is easy to see why he won. I believe they are honoring him for his overall output throughout his career and his effect on the whole of the world. I am glad that he is alive to receive it as we have lost so many great musicians this year.

    By Elvislives on Nov 12, 2016

  18. I’m fine with it - Dylan’s music has never resonated with me, but the song writing is brilliant, so I can see the reason for the honor.

    By Dave on Dec 1, 2016

  19. Amazing writer!

    By Phil on Dec 10, 2016

  20. Dylan doesn’t refuse all honors, he showed up in Paris to accept the French Légion d’Honneur in 2013. Sartre should have been awarded the Nobel Prize of Two-Face Hypocrite. After courting Nazi officers at the German Embassy to let him show his plays during WWII, he became one of the leaders of the French epuration against former collaborationists. To give a Légion d’Honneur to someone who didn’t know the meaning of the word honour would have been a real travesty. And him accepting the award a true slap in the face of the ones who knew better about his past conducuct.

    By mrbelette on Dec 26, 2016

  21. Dylan is Dylan…a poet,a musician!

    By rochacrimson on Dec 27, 2016

  22. Dylan is the greatest singer and songwriter of all times.

    By George Taylor on Jan 2, 2017

  23. Dylan should feel obligated to be in attendance at the Nobel ceremony. It would be interesting to know what circumstances are preventing him from being there…

    By BGS on Jun 12, 2018

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