Bob Dylan and the Nobel prize: When the ear loves before the eyes

The Nobel Prize in Literature was recently awarded to Bob Dylan marking the first time a singer and songwriter has won the award. People do pay attention to other Nobel prizes. They write a little about the winner of Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and a little less about the winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. They continue to talk about them for days. However, everyone stays up across the world on the eve of announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Publishers stay up and poets and novelists do not sleep on this long night of fall of every year.

When asked whether he looked forward to win a Nobel prize, Late Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Darwish mockingly replied, saying “I am not interested and I don’t get the fever which my friend suffers from every fall.”

When Darwish said that, many interpreted he was referring to Syrian Poet Adonis. This joke by Darwish was commonly heard in the fall of every year.

Many have written about Adonis ever since tree leaves began to fall this year. Some mocked his bias toward bloodshed and how he stained literature. However, there hasn’t been another Arab candidate for the award this year.

In his black sunglasses and with his guitar on his shoulder, Dylan created a musical legacy which he left behind in the hidden bars of New York. His voice is that of a permanent rebellion. His words oppose racism, support minorities and denounce the US for shelling other countries and increasing the isolation of Americans inside the US. Bob Dylan has sung for 50 autumns until the flowers blossomed this year!

Dylan has been famous since the 1960s. His lyrics appealed to the sentiment of the youth as he sang intellectual songs against wars and destruction in his hoarse voice

Turki Aldakhil

Dylan has been famous since the 1960s. His lyrics appealed to the sentiment of the youth as he sang intellectual songs against wars and destruction in his hoarse voice. In his song “Blowin’ in the Wind,” he sings: “How many times must the cannon balls fly, before they’re forever banned?” The Independent included that song in its report “70 reasons why Bob Dylan is the most important figure in pop culture history.” Blowin’ in the Wind was one of these 70 reasons.

Dylan is the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature ever since Toni Morrison - who is the first black woman to win the prize - won in 1993. In 2008, Horace Engdahl, the then-permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, said: “The US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.”

The Swedish Academy justified the surprising decision to award the prize in literature to Dylan in many ways. The most beautiful of these justifications was that “Dylan writes poetry for the ear.” The ear loves before the eye sometimes, according to an Arabic proverb. When the discussion got heated, Swedish Academy secretary Sara Danius advised those who are unfamiliar with Dylan’s work - and I am one of them - to learn about it by starting with Dylan’s 1966 album “Blonde on Blonde.”

“It’s an extraordinary example of his brilliant way of rhyming, putting together refrains, and his pictorial way of thinking,” Danius said. She admitted that when she was young, she was not exactly a fan of Dylan as she preferred the works of David Bowie. “Perhaps it’s a question of generation – today I’m a lover of Bob Dylan,” she said.

Dylan did not only win this for music, which has suffered from injustice as the greatest of arts, even greater than theater. He won for songwriting and for his ability to develop. He won for the intellectual’s capability to express himself, even if through a song which no one will hear, like Dylan himself reportedly said.

Music is the first nation and it is the oldest among all languages. Music comes first, even if its award came late and came as a surprise one fall night.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 18, 2016.


Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.



Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:52 - GMT 06:52
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