Should a musician win the Nobel literature prize?

The US musician Bob Dylan has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. This is the first time the Swedish Academy has chosen an artist who isn't primarily a writer. Some commentators lament the decision to award a representative of pop culture. Others applaud the jury's understanding of what literature is.

Open/close all quotes
The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Light years behind past winners

Dylan's lifework is notable but it doesn't compare with that of previous Nobel literature laureates, the Daily Telegraph comments:

“The Nobel is supposed to be awarded not on the basis of what the public likes (if it were, Doris Lessing wouldn’t have won it) but on ability matched by idealism. Dylan has both, but his body of work falls far short of that produced by past winners: Yeats, Gide, O’Neill, Solzhenitsyn etc. The scale of their output and the thematic density of their texts outstrips Dylan by light years. ... A culture that gives Bob Dylan a literature prize is a culture that nominates Donald Trump for president. It is a culture uninterested in qualifications and concerned only with satisfying raw emotional need.”

Polityka (PL) /

Jury turns the rules on their head

The decision is too far removed from the basic idea behind the Nobel Prize in Literature, Adam Szostkiewicz criticises in Polityka:

“Congratulations, Bob! But I have a question: doesn't this mean a change in the principle behind the awarding of the prize? A Nobel prize for sung poetry? And what about the other singing poets? Is Leonard Cohen now in with a chance? … Nevertheless, the literature prize should really be reserved for a representative of literature. Because what does Dylan have in common with Miłosz or Szymborska, for example, if you don't look at his music but just the text? How is he comparable to Zagajewski, who has been on the Nobel committee's shortlist for years? This is a paradigm change. On the one hand I like it, on the other hand it upsets me because it turns the rules on their head.”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

An award for the other America

Bob Dylan's winning the award sends two messages, Eesti Päevaleht comments:

“The awarding of the Nobel Prize often has a political undertone. This also holds for yesterday's surprise decision that the Nobel Prize in Literature should go to the US musician Bob Dylan: a man who has spoken out for peace, the oppressed and human rights. This decision is also significant in the context of the US presidential elections, in which the campaigns have been particularly dirty. Giving Dylan the award is a reminder that not all Americans come from Mars. ... But with its decision, the Nobel jury has also shaken up our very idea of what literature is: you needn't have written thick books to be the best writer in the world. A more profound message can dwell in striking song lyrics than in a thousand novels.”

Digi 24 (RO) /

At last a poet who sings

Author Dan Sociu is full of praise for the jury's decision in an article for Digi 24:

“I like the fact that a troubadour has won the award, because a poet always has a voice, no matter whether he sings the verses or just recites them. The special thing about Dylan's voice is that it underlines the emotions in what he is saying. … Poesy is also about the sound of the words, not just their meaning, and the voice of the poet expresses more than just what is printed on the page. Those who say that the Nobel Prize has gone to a songwriter and composer have failed to understand what poetry is. Dylan's name is mentioned in all the major anthologies of American poetry, so there is really no need for a discussion about this.”