The wind stopped blowing and we finally got an answer.
Following two long weeks of speculative silence, Bob Dylan acknowledged his Nobel Prize for Literature on Saturday in an interview with The Telegraph.
He is quoted saying he would “absolutely” accept the award “if it is at all possible.” Had he not, Dylan would have been the first to turn down the prize since Jean Paul Sartre in 1964 who did not want to be made into an “institution.”
Prior to Dylan’s acceptance, hundreds of news articles and think-pieces invaded everyone’s social feed and occupied several niches of the press: music, celebrity and the almighty cold case. Why isn’t he talking and what will he say?
Sure enough, in Dylan’s long-developed mannerisms, he let the public and press sweat for a bit with his thumb and index figure on society’s air-conditioner’s knob. Dylan has long been wary of acknowledging the sacred cows of civilized culture, including time-honored awards.
Perhaps his extended reticence also emerged as a reaction to the firestorm created by the initial reaction. One party argued Dylan’s selection did not follow the traditions of the Nobel Prizes in Literature, which include William Faulkner, Gabriel García Márquez and Hermann Hesse. The other argued for the songwriter’s cultural contributions through his lyrics and themes (even though Dylan is no Hesse).
I fall into the latter camp and I guess so do the Swedish people on the prize’s board.
Over his half-century career, Dylan has remained wary of public attraction toward publicity stunts and ratings-magnets. The 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature might have been awarded earnestly, or possibly with an angle. Either way, Dylan let the medal cool down before reaching out for it.
But along with avoiding controversy, Dylan also caused “irritation and anger” among the selection committee. Perhaps he reminded them of the emptiness in their validation of him, which could have meant more to someone whose message had not yet been received clearly by the public.
To accept an award of elite validation is to give power to the validators, which is ultimately a personal choice. Dylan eventually accepted the award, but only after exposing the hollowness and vanity of the whole process.
And aside from a knighting by the Queen, music honors only look to confirm or validate what an artist already knew, especially one around as long as Dylan. The only one that seems honest in judging quality and innovation is the Mercury Prize.
With his silence, Bob Dylan intentionally or unintentionally showed that awards do not make us more human or more real than anyone else. Awards are nice, warm validation, but no one lives in a higher or lower state than anyone else because of them.
Committees and opinions would make it appear so.