Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

October 14, 2016 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Poetry, Ulalume | 4 Comments |

"...and the Nobel goes to..."

The 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”  Though a defensible choice (after all, didn’t the Man in Black himself say of Dylan: “This man can rhyme the tick of time”*), we see little point in arguing the point.

The Varnished Culture congratulates him and trusts that he will not take it too seriously.  We have written before on the alien ceremonies, the Noh system of awards, reserved for the very few.  “Competitions are set by the people who win them” says a character in Frederic Raphael’s The Glittering Prizes and while that makes no sense, it makes perfect sense.

Here’s a shortlist of some writers who never received an award, let alone a Nobel prize: Virgil, Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Austen, Brontë, Dostoevsky, KafkaFitzgerald, Céline, Lampedusa, Nabokov.

As Céline observed of the literary Nobel: “Every Vaseline-ass in Europe has one. Where’s mine?”  Lost in the mail, perhaps, or tangled up in blue.

(photo: Jean-Luc)

(photo: Jean-Luc)

[* Liner notes to the album Nashville Skyline (1969).]


  1. Reply

    Debby Johannes

    October 16, 2016

    I am happy that Dylan was recognized this way for his huge body of work. His lyrics indeed meet all the standards of poetry and for well over fifty years have intriqued and inspired many. His works have even been taught at Dartmouth since 1975. They not only are timely when written, but are timeless, as even his old work is still loved by his generation as well as several new generations since.

    • Reply

      Lesley Jakobsen

      October 20, 2016

      Debby, thanks for that - half of The Varnished Culture is inclined to agree with you. The other half might well retort: (1) song lyrics may have the outer clothing of poetry, and yet not be poetry; (2) teaching something, even at Dartmouth, is not necessarily a vindication of the subject (remember 'Gender Studies'? 'Tourism'?) and (3) Bob's throwaway whining and general contempt for his fans, whilst amusing, can irritate. But you can argue there have been a number of certified poets to whom he is far superior. At the end of the day, good for him - but we maintain that the Nobel Prize for Literature, like all awards in the area of aesthetics and perhaps in general, should be taken with a hefty pinch of salt.

    • Reply


      October 24, 2016

      Hahhaaha. I'm not too bright today. Great post!

  2. Reply

    Pretty Little One

    October 24, 2016

    Irvine Welsh said - "I'm a Dylan fan, but this is an ill conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies", He asked if Don de Lillo will be inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. I gotta agree. sorry

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