The American songwriter delivers a 30-minute speech about why his songs are not literature
When the Nobel Committee awarded songwriter Bob Dylan the greatest accolade in the world of literature last October, they probably weren’t expecting him to be so hesitant in picking it up.
Protesting humility and displaying disinterest, Dylan finally managed to formally accept his award last March. But that wasn’t the end of the process, as in order to claim the €820,000 pot that accompanies the golden medal, Dylan was required to deliver a lecture.
Having finally made good on that imposition this week, the Nobel Committee has released Dylan’s lecture on YouTube. The 27-minute oration mostly revolves reconciling how his work as a songwriter counts as literature.
Awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” Dylan uses his lecture to establish comparative connections between such literary works as Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and he Odyssey and the songs he was inspired by the to write.
But while seeming to accept (for the first time) that his work is perhaps worthy of the accolade, Dylan ultimately argues that songs are not literature, because their listeners are not supposed to sit and study them.
Rather, someone listening to a Bob Dylan song is supposed to appreciate it “the way they were intended,” as “in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days.” Dylan’s fundamental point is that that songs are a package, with the lyrics and the melody both required for the audience to understand it, and that is wholly different to literature.
You can listen to Dylan’s lecture in full below: