Bob Dylan for the Literature Nobel?

by Michael Potemra


The U.K. Guardian is reporting that there’s been a surge of betting on him at Ladbrokes, a boomlet so intense that he’s actually now the favorite. In my view, there are two possible explanations. One: Somebody on the Nobel Committee leaked the surprise choice before its scheduled Thursday morning announcement. Two: So many gamblers saw Dylan’s name amid the long list of unknowns, and thought it would be a lark to put a few bucks on him, that his odds shrank rapidly, with no connection to the actual likelihood that he will win. I suspect that the second is the correct explanation.

But I would be delighted if our American Bard walked away with the prize. Wait, I know what you’re thinking: How could I possibly wish that somebody like Dylan would join the ranks of Literature Nobelists? And I concede that, in many ways, Dylan does not belong in that select group. He lacks the  political brilliance of Harold Pinter (2005), the military record of Günter Grass (1999), the sophisticated and humane gender attitudes of V. S. Naipaul (2001), the deep concern for human rights of Pablo Neruda (1970), and the colossal cultural impact of J. M. G. Le Clézio (2008), Elfriede Jelinek (2004), and Frans Eemil Sillanpää (1939). He did, nonetheless, write some of the most memorable poems of the last century. They have the misfortune, from the Nobel Committee perspective, of having been set to music by their author, and of having become immensely popular; but the Committee has, once before, honored a writer who is also a performer: Italian playwright/actor Dario Fo (1997).

Most likely, the award will go to somebody else tomorrow. The leader in betting before the Dylan surge was the Syrian poet Adonis, an Arab liberal who would be a a good symbolic choice in this year of the Arab Spring; I’d put my money on him. I’d also be happy with the terrific Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami or our homegrown American magus, Thomas Pynchon; but still, the prospect of a Nobel Lecture criticizing Napoleon in rags (and the language that he used!) is, at least to me, irresistible.