What Nobel Prizes were undeserved

Deserved undeserved

The Nobel Prize for Literature for Bob Dylan

From Dieter Lamping


Now, after a series of nominations, Bob Dylan has finally received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and all fans in the feature sections are happy too. He has been traded as a candidate for years, especially by an unwaveringly loyal crowd of supporters who tirelessly publicly promoted and promoted him. He himself is still present on the concert stage. Furthermore, he is touring the whole world, where he is assured of the recognition of his fans, who have now also been joined by the Swedish Academy. All of this could be commented on with various verses from him. But one can leave his universe, which has now received so much confirmation, to reflect on the decision, which undoubtedly means an appreciation not only of pop music, but also and above all of its songs.


It was Allen Ginsberg who first thought of proposing Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize. That was generous. Because he had little chance of winning the award himself, and Dylan must have benefited more from their collaboration. He owes his first literary recognition by a prominent poet. Ginsberg honored Dylan as an author. What attracted him not least to the young songwriter was the beautiful dream of many poets to become popular with poetry - yes, a pop star. Dylan has succeeded like no one before.

However, it wasn't just his words that made it happen, but also his voice and music, his demeanor and his appearances. All of this had a strong quotation character from the beginning, some also claim that it was largely imitation. The connection as a whole, however, was unique: a young, musically not overly talented, but unusually versatile folksinger, who took the initially fiercely hostile step into electrically amplified music and with an unmistakable voice sang eloquent and refined songs that are more and more popular joined modern poetry. Just as he first emulated Woody Guthrie as a singer, he soon learned a lot from poets like Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, Bertolt Brecht and Arthur Rimbaud, to which he alluded more or less clearly. That made school. Dylan not only spurred John Lennon on, his success also encouraged Leonard Cohen to do the same, and another Joni Mitchell, who became increasingly critical of him over time, would have had a much harder time gaining recognition without his experiments .

It is Dylan's merit to have connected modern lyric poetry with popular music, and this in the, so to speak, Orphic personal union of author, singer and musician. He did it both confidently and confidently: a youthful genius. Writing verse for a large audience did not first elevate Dylan to an art, but no one before has done it so naturally with so much literary pretension. For this he deserves to be recognized, and more than once he has been, up to and including the Pulitzer Prize. The word had already got around that one had to take him literarily seriously. Academic literature, like literary criticism, was discovered by Dylan decades ago, and rightly so. In this respect, the decision of the Nobel Prize Committee is not necessarily brave. It now only distinguishes what has long been recognized and recognized.


And yet one has to ask oneself whether the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Dylan is not a much applauded wrong decision - and not only because he is so rich that, instead of being given the most highly endowed literary prize instead of much worse-off writers, he doesn't have to be awarded . Without a doubt, the award is surprising if you look at the statutes. They stipulate that the Nobel Prize should be awarded for a work from just last year. One can only hope that the Swedish Academy didn't think about Dylan's last album.

It is unmistakable and unmistakable that he was best as a singer and songwriter in the mid-1960s, in 1965 and 1966 with his three unrivaled albums "Bringing It All Back Home", "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde on Blonde". Little of what he later achieved comes close to their class, not to mention the new and the newest. In this respect, the Nobel Prize for Literature looks more like a typical Hollywood award for the life's work of an artist in the year of his 75th birthday.

Almost every year when the prize has been awarded, people are happy to refer to everyone who received nothing for comparison. This time too, the series is full of prominent names: from Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth to Salman Rushdie and Peter Handke. They are famous authors whose work has a literary weight that Dylans obviously lacks. It consists of a medium-strong volume with its "Lyrics", a much narrower one with mostly unsuccessful poetic prose and the first part of his autobiography, the continuation of which his readers have been waiting for a good 10 years.

The Swedish Academy has honored a number of great poets since Dylan started making a name for himself, including Pablo Neruda, Eugenio Montale, Czeslaw Miłosz, Joseph Brodsky, Octavio Paz, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Wisława Szymborska and Tomas Tranströmmer. Other poets have long deserved the award - such as Lars Gustafsson and Hans Magnus Enzensberger. As a lyricist, Bob Dylan doesn't match any of them.

There is some evidence that it is one of the wrong decisions that the Nobel Prize Committee has made since the 1990s - like Elfriede Jelinek, and perhaps for very different reasons, Herta Müller and Swetlana Alexijewitsch, and how most certainly the recently deceased Dario Fo. Incidentally, the history of the Nobel Prize for Literature is full of such errors, from which German-speaking authors such as Theodor Mommsen, who was the first German to receive the prize, Rudolf Eucken, Carl Spitteler and Hermann Hesse have benefited. These decisions seem all the more contestable given that many greats did not receive the award, starting with Leo Tolstoy. But even the most important modern authors had to live without a Nobel Prize: James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Robert Musil, Bertolt Brecht and Ezra Pound.

In addition to the not uncomplicated selection process, this is mainly due to the fact that the decision is ultimately in the hands of the academy of a country that is not at the center of the literary world, which is subject to some fluctuations in taste at almost regular intervals. The Nobel Prize for Literature is undoubtedly one of the less perfect human institutions.