Bob Dylan Winning the Nobel for Literature Might Suck, But the Nobel Prize is Not What You Think

I was as pissed off (at first) as anyone when they gave this year’s Nobel to Bob Dylan. For a few minutes, it felt like the top of my head was going to fly off like a spinning saw blade and chase down and bisect every baby boomer within a ten-block range.

Then I remembered that the Nobel for literature is bullshit anyway.

I don’t mean it’s bullshit because of the affirmative action patterns of awards for the past couple of decades (wherein, rather than picking the best female or non-European-based authors, they apparently pick one out of a hat as long as it makes them look virtuous, because that’s how much respect they have for our taste), because those are merely an outgrowth of the idiotic way in which the prize that is considered the final stamp of literary greatness in our time was set up in the first place. They’re not actually picking anyone out of a hat. They’re using the most dumb-assed possible criteria to narrow down the field.

And the Nobel Prize goes to… idiots. Again.

In Alfred Nobel’s defense, he probably had no idea that this prize was going to be considered the gold standard. If he had, he might have actually used language that encouraged the Nobel committee to choose the best writers for it.

Or maybe not. He was kind of a do-gooder twerp.

You see, the Nobel is not meant to go to the best writer (although, unfortunately, that’s how the public perceives it). It’s meant to go to the best-meaning writer.

As outlined in Alfred Nobel’s do-gooding will, the prizes in general are meant to be conferred upon “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.”

Now, this makes perfect sense for physics and chemistry and whatnot. We’d rather give a science prize to somebody who invents a half-assed cancer cure than one who comes up with a wonderfully effective neutron bomb. Total benefit is more important to encourage than sheer brilliance.

But check out the language that Nobel used to describe what he wanted out of a literary prize-winner:

The world’s top honor in literature belongs “to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.”

In an ideal direction. You notice anything vaguely sinster about this? Aside from narrowing the field considerably, and prodding ambitious writers in a do-gooderly direction, it flies in the face of a hard law of verbal physics. I call it Sterzinger’s Law, which is as follows:

“The harder a writer tries to benefit humanity through heshit’s scribblings, the more harm heshit will do.”

Think about it. Just one example: by ridiculously overcompensating for past discrimination against nonwhites in America, leftist writers have, with all the well-meaningness in the world (at least at first), alienated white people, and puffed up the self-righteousness of groups like Black Lives Matter, to the point where they have not only made EVERYBODY more racist than they were a generation ago, but have triggered multiple race riots and encouraged black people to burn their own neighborhoods to the ground.

Great fucking job, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Have another laurel crown. Just shake off the blood, it’ll be OK.

For every do-gooder who screams and yells and tries to humiliate people into being “good,” there is a troll waiting to be given an excuse and a tu quoque argument. But what’s even more important, if you want to talk about the health of literature (and consequently, whether being literate tethers one more closely to reality, or has the effect of making one float off into the morality-sphere like a bloated, retarded balloon), is the fact that trying to talk people into being better distracts a writer from the essential task of facing up to what is rather than what should be.

In other words: we get less insight porn and more overcooked treacle. And to add insult to injury, we have to pretend the treacle tastes good. After all, this is what’s been rubber-stamped as fine literature, right?

Through the influence of the Nobel’s handing prestige to sub-par but well-meaning writers, this anti-meritocratic criterion has warped literary production even more badly than the industry’s being forced to follow the lowest common denominator. Instead of thinking of good writing as good writing, most writers who consider themselves to be theeeeerious hear the words “good writing” and think “writing which spins out platitudes on grand themes in a chest-puffingly moralistic tone.”

(As though everything else in the book industry weren’t already custom-designed by the evil Cathar deity Marshabaloosh to turn everything into shit.)

So yes, the fact that the prize has been given to a tasteless, melodramatic boomer musician feels like an insult to all of literature. But that’s a side issue that distracts from the fact that the Nobel is an insult to literature to begin with.


  1. Nine-Banded Books

    I don’t mean to ignore your broader point (which sounds about right), but I thought this was a rare good call. Bob Dylan’s importance is immense, and distinctly — crucially — literary. He’s also a refreshing, if accidental, contrarian. To my mind this was, at least in part, a nod to the resonance of the American folk/beat tradition. It made me happy.

  2. Nikolai Vladivostok

    That’s why I’ve never won one – my writing focuses too much on bringing the civilized world down to my degenerate level.
    I like Bob’s old renditions of folk songs but the Nobel is silly, and I don’t think he’s with-it enough to understand what just happened anyway.

  3. Mr. Mean-Spirited

    When it comes to Nobel laureates, better a second-rate American that everyone has heard-of, than some second-rate Third-Worlder that no one knows. If the Swedish Academy has now begun feeling nostalgic for the era of the Hippies, maybe it will stop being just another Scandinavian institution that feels white guilt.

  4. MawBTS

    I watched a documentary about Dylan once.

    Normally these 60s counterculture figures have extremely high levels of charisma. John Lennon had power, Timothy Leary had power, Charles Manson had power.

    Bob Dylan came across as a rich kid living out an extended adolescence, very pretentious, not very smart, and with no ability to laugh at himself.

    There’s a scene where he’s being interviewed by someone from Time Magazine, and he’s up on his soapbox, saying stuff like “you people don’t dare print the truth. If you told the truth for just one day, you’d go out of business!”

    The reporter then asks “OK, so what is the truth? If you had a newspaper, what would you print?”

    Dylan’s obviously not ready for that question, and he starts improvising. “The truth? Well, uh, you know, I’d print something like a hobo puking into a sewer, and next to it, uh, a picture of Rockefeller.”

    When they talk about Dylan’s poetic brilliance I think of that: a hobo puking next to Rockefeller.

  5. SteelDrivingMan

    You are acquiring a well-honed sharper edge, Ann. Good, good to see that all lingering idealism is systematically being ground away.

    — SDM, remembering you from Taki days. Different alias, of course. Always.

  6. SteelDrivingMan

    Dylan’s writing lacks philosophical depth — and good poetic imagery. It’s a cut above detective fiction — or, I suppose I should apple-to-apple — the writing of national anthems and crap like America the Beautiful.

    But, Nobel-quality it ain’t. Sure, maybe a lifetime award of some kind, but to imply real literary quality? Oh, hell no.

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