Monday, February 13, 2017

Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate

So, I've shared in some previous posts the programs that I've run as president of the New York Society for General Semantics, and hey, just click on the old link to check out the website I set up for the NYSGS, and while you're there, you can subscribe for updates (you don't have to be local to do so), and avail yourself of some of the resources I made available.

And over here on Blog Time Passing, I also shared Political Talk & Political Drama Part 1: Election 2016 and Political Talk & Political Drama Part 2, and My Language Poetry. Well, it's time for the next installment.

On November 30, we held a panel discussion and debate on the topic of Bob Dylan being awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. The idea for the panel came from my friend and colleague, Thom Gencarelli. You see, back during some down time at the 2016 New York State Communication Association conference (Thom and I both being past presidents of that organization), we got into a discussion and a bit of an argument (which is to say a difference of opinion, nothing at all heated) about whether Dylan deserved the Nobel Prize or not. My view was, shall we say skeptical, his view was much more positive. And I went so far as to say that, from a literary standpoint, I believe that a century from now, Leonard Cohen will be better remembered than Dylan.

I hasten to add that I would certainly cede the high ground to Thom when it comes to music, as he's a gifted singer, songwriter, guitar player, and band leader, the name of his band being Blue Race, check them out on iHeartRadio, SoundCloud, and wherever music is sold online, I highly recommend them.

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Anyway, I wouldn't question Dylan's significance for popular music and popular culture, but this is the Nobel Prize for literature that we're talking about, and that's a horse of another color. So, our discussion and disagreement became the basis of the last NYSGS program for 2016, and here is the write up for it:


A Conversation about Bob Dylan

and his 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature

On Thursday, October 13, 2016, the Swedish Academy announced that it had awarded Bob Dylan its Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” While Dylan’s lack of acknowledgment and acceptance of the award until two weeks later raised controversy, this paled in comparison to the controversy raised right away as pundits in the professional media and across social media weighed in: He deserves it. He doesn’t deserve it. Popular songs aren’t literature. Lyrics aren’t poetry. If the Academy’s prize for literature is expanded to include popular song, is Dylan the only deserving songwriter? Is he the most deserving? Et cetera.

This roundtable discussion seeks to address, make sense of, and try to come to some conclusions with respect to all of this ruckus. The participants will consider questions including: What is the relationship of lyrics to poetry? What is the symbiotic relationship between lyrics and music in popular song? Is poetry literature? Are popular songs literature? What is the meaning and significance of the Nobel Prize, or any award for that matter? What is the significance of Bob Dylan? What is the literary value of his lyrics? What is so new and distinctive about his “poetic expressions” and use of language? And is everything important about Dylan and his contribution simply a matter of language?

Finally… does he deserve it?

Panel participants:

Thom Gencarelli, Professor of Communication, Manhattan College
Callie Gallo, English Department Teaching Fellow, Fordham University
Sal Fallica, Professor of Media Ecology, New York University
Lance Strate, NYSGS President & Professor of Communication & Media Studies, Fordham University

Thom served as moderator as well as panelist for the session, which featured a wide-ranging discussion that included multiple intersections with the discipline of general semantics. Thom is also the co-editor, with Brian Cogan, of an anthology entitled Baby Boomers and Popular Culture, and interestingly enough, Sal Fallica wrote one of the chapters, focusing on Dylan and awards ceremonies! (I also have a chapter in the volume, mine is on science fiction film and TV).

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Callie Gallo, who is working on her doctorate in English literature at Fordham University, and has an interest in media ecology, helped to provide a fresh perspective to the program. And she wrote a very nice guest blog post on her experience for Hook & Eye, subtitled Fast Feminism, Slow Academe, which in the About the Blog blurb says the following:

Hook & Eye is an intervention and an invitation: we write about the realities of being women working in the Canadian university system. We muse about everything from gender inequities and how tenure works, to finding unfrumpy winter boots, decent childcare, and managing life’s minutiae. Ambitious? Obviously. We’re women in the academy.

Anyway, Callie's post is entitled, The Perks of Saying Yes in Grad School, and it's worth a read, so why don't you click on the old link, open up a new window, and check it out. It's okay, I'll wait until you're done, and you can meet me back here.

You made it back! Well done! So now, let me just note that our program was written up in an NYSGS blog post, and is also available on an NYSGS resource page, but of course, it's all right here as well, including the video recording which was uploaded to YouTube under the title of Music Lyrics Poetry Language: A Conversation About Bob Dylan & His Nobel Prize. And you know, you can watch it on YouTube, via the NYSGS channel, but yes yes yes, you can also watch it right here.

I should add that, unfortunately, I didn't have a volunteer to hold the iPad this was recorded on, to keep faces in the frame. And it wasn't too much of a problem as long as we were seated, as we were for most of the session. But it does begin with my introduction, followed by Thom's, both delivered while we were standing, so the first few minutes of the video is not the most flattering, let alone not being at all professional. But the sound quality is good, and once we were done with the intros and sat down, everything looked fine, aside from the fact that a little bit of the shelf the iPad was sitting on is visible on the bottom left part of the frame. But anyway, for better or worse, here it is:

So, what do you think? Click here for a list of all of the Nobel Prizes in Literature awarded since 1901. Does Bob Dylan belong on this list? Or is this, in its own way, a weird example of celebrity logic that parallels having a reality television star as president?

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