Bob Dylan is only the second American to get the Literature Nobel in over 20 years. Before him, the world’s beloved American novelist Toni Morrison won the Literature Nobel in 1993.
But she was clearly a novelist who conformed to the notions of the Nobel committee on what was ‘literature’ as per its standards, something where even the great and rare African writer Chinua Achebe could not fit in.
So, obviously there would be controversies on Bob Dylan’s Literature Nobel.
Bob Dylan is a poet-songwriter first. Though he is a singing legend, there is more or less a unanimity that he is not as acclaimed a singer as the lyrics of his songs are that he himself writes (some find it even boring). But yes, he is a mass singer who has been one of the most important voices of the counterculture revolution of 1960s and 70s. Though he doesn’t like, he was the protest singer of those years when people used his words and tunes to mobilize and inspire sentiments and other people.
In a way, he is like Chinua Achebe, the great literary figure, who matters most in his sphere of influence – obviously here it is about bringing social change through creativity.
Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ remains the ultimate magnum opus of literature of a continent where human life began, but a continent which has been forced to lag behind on every development parameter – so much so that it now ranks last.
Though Dylan was never a solitary figure, nevertheless, he was an important contributor. Dylan’s songs motivated a generation that brought about the most vital changes in the modern US society through the counterculture movement of 60s and 70s that was aimed at fighting for civil rights and uprooting racial seggregation, US participation in the Vietnam war and even had a dislike for the Cold War.
And this generation achieved it with able support of people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Bob Dylan, Harper Lee and many others. A multitude was there to provide the leadership. And millions were there to follow, inspired, with songs, books and speeches.
And it was so black and white, even by the norms laid down by Alfred Nobel on ‘how a Nobel Prize recipient’ should be judged. He wrote in his will:
“..shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind..(he specified for the Literature Nobel).. one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction..”
“..the most outstanding work in an ideal direction..”..yes, that is what Bob Dylan has done..conferring the greatest benefit to mankind..and that is what Chinua Achebe did..again..conferring the greatest benefit to mankind..(through their literary works).
The problem is..the Stockholm Academy that decides on who will be the next Nobel Laureate..saw the norms laid down by Alfred Nobel as mere wishes..and did all sort of manipulations over the years..to declare many controversial names the Literature Nobel Laureate (something like with the Peace Nobel, though on a lesser scale)..all in the name of ethnic/geographic superiority (like only European writers can produce Nobel sort of work)..or in the name of superiority of language and not the content and it’s influence in writing (something that kept Chinua Achebe out)..or silly geopolitical considerations (like to award some anti-establishment author only because the global community is opposed to that establishment)..and so on.
Now that good sense has prevailed and Bob Dylan has been given his due, will there be some room for Chinua Achebe even if the Nobel Prize cannot be given posthumously. After all, it was not so before 1974 and Dag Hammarskjöld and Erik Axel Karlfeldt got their Nobel Prizes posthumously only.