Every morning, if life permits, I drive to the gym, park under a big tree, and proceed to read for about twenty minutes before hitting the weights. You know, mens sana in corpore sano and all that. Sometimes, after reading a few chapters, I check out my email, Facebook, and Twitter in case something needs my attention. This morning, the two social networking sites were abuzz with the news that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prized in literature. My initial reaction was probably the same as yours: “Wait…what?” Sure, the man is one of the best, and most iconic, songwriters we’ve had, but the literature Nobel? The initial surprise came devoid of feelings. I stopped caring about this prize a decade ago. The Nobel for literature is a bit of a joke. Not as big a joke as The Grammy’s, but a joke none the less. Then my brain started working and I ended up a bit displeased with the decision the same stupid way we feel displeased with things that have absolutely no impact on us or our loved ones. Here’s a bit about the three-part process my brain went through this morning:
1.Confusion. Dylan? Really? Wow. I mean, I know his name has been around in relation to the Nobel for a long time, but this is a surprise. I’m glad I’m broke and didn’t put money on this year’s winner. Is songwriting literature? I guess all writing can be called literature, right? There are some songwriters out there that have inspired me to write as much as my favorite novelists. Does this mean that I can now complain about Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Joaquin Sabina, Bruce Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, and Joan Manuel Serrat not winning a Nobel for literature? If you’re going to analyze songs as literature, Sabina beats the crap out of Dylan (yes, I will happily fight you if this statement hurts your soul and you can’t believe a Spanish songwriter is more “literary” than Dylan). Just…what?
2.Analysis. Once the confusion had subdued a bit, I started analyzing the whole thing. The Swedish Academy is full of elderly individuals who are apparently too tired to read thick novels, so I think we are going to see more of this: shorter work that is arguably easier to digest getting the Nobel. Dylan is a “popular” choice, a man whose name needs no introduction and whose biography is more or less part of that thing we can call popular knowledge. Furthermore, this might be an attempt to make the Swedish Academy hip: “Hey, guys, we were bohemian and rebellious as fuck back in the 60s! We used to toke on massive doobies, brah!” Maybe not. Whatever. The point is that, while surprising, one could argue that Dylan is the most popular/known/recognizable name to win the Nobel in the last…two decades?
3.Anger(…ish). I’m not angry. Dylan is not gonna pay my bills and I was pretty sure I wasn’t gonna get the damn prize (even tho I, like, totes fucking deserve it…barrio noir forever, cabrones!). However, come on, Swedish Academy, are y’all serious right now? Dylan is great, but a better choice than Ngugi wa Thiong’o (duuuuuuuuuude!), Joyce Carol Oates, Haruki Murakami (we still pretending y’all aren’t gonna give it to him at some point?), or Salman Rushdie? Do I have to name Dylan now when I talk about Saramago, Faulkner, Hemingway, Morrison, Neruda, El Gabo, Steinbeck, Vargas Llosa, Oe, Paz, Jimenez, and Camus? And I get what you’re saying with the whole created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” but if you refused to acknowledge Notorious B.I.G, Tupac, Rakim, and Nas, don’t come at me with this bullshit now. Or give it to Sabina. Your choice. Am I angry? No, I think I’m just gonna sit down and wait for the memes to start popping up on my feed. Oh, and if anyone wants to discuss how this changes the way we talk about literature for the next few weeks or what it’ll mean for MFA programs across this nation of ours, holla at me and we can laugh together. Now go read something.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of ZERO SAINTS (Broken River Books),HUNGRY DARKNESS (Severed Press), and GUTMOUTH (Eraserhead Press). His reviews have appeared in Electric Literature, The Rumpus, 3AM Magazine, Marginalia, The Collagist. Heavy Feather Review, Crimespree, Out of the Gutter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HorrorTalk, Verbcide, and many other print and online venues. You can find him on Twitter at@Gabino_Iglesias.