By Ambarish Ray Oct. 14, 2016
The Nobel might be as relevant today as the red letterbox or the pay phone. By recognising Bob Dylan’s poetic expressions, the prize has reinvented and reinvigorated itself.
Bobby gets the Nobel and the world gets its panties in a sailor’s knot. Other people, the world shrieks, with accomplishments far above that of Bobby’s, have been passed over. Writers and poets, activists and physicists’ life’s work has gone unsung, unnoticed and consistently un-Nobeled. Their words and rhymes, rebellions and molecules lie rusting and ignored, gathering dust and growing old waiting for that call from Sweden that never comes. And here is Bobby, fucking doper and a floor crosser – selling out to rock and abandoning his folk roots to beat a path to populistic recognition and ersatz, albeit lasting fame.
As Twitter, that many-headed monster, where the heads far outnumber the brains, goes into a frenzy comparing the event with Kim Kardashian getting the Nobel for breaking the Internet with her snatch and Donald Trump, for his hirsute pursuit of the American presidency (and for grabbing snatches) I can’t help but think we are missing something obvious here. The answer may be blowin’ in the wind but the wind unfortunately is blowing in the other direction, away from our hearts and up our asses.
Let’s take a step back. Bobby D was born in 1941. Let me do this slowly, again. Nineteen Fucking Forty One. Those of us who still have grand mums and pops alive will be able to synthesise this number a bit personally. This is a guy that should be in the grave. Or if he is alive, he should be in a sepia-toned wheelchair, sucking on mashed broil, and smelling of baby oil and bedsores.
Instead, Bobby D stands for culture, poetry, music, and motivation even today. For today’s kids. For today’s adults. For the confused, the illusionist, the pub-crawler, the metrosexual, the consensual con artist and the sensual porn artist, Bobby D is a living, crooning compass. And it is no less than fucking stunning that this has been recognised as coming out of what Irvine Welsh so lovingly called “the rancid prostates of senile gibbering hippies.”
We are going through a period of utter and insane confusion of the meaning, purpose, and boundaries of art.
Let’s now take a step forward. One that helps us understand institutions run by these senile, gibbering hippies. The Nobel is a miserably outdated, stuffy acknowledgement of talent set up over a hundred years ago to honour accomplishments that have long since been forgotten – their benefits have and still move us forward and keep us alive, but the act of discovering them has been relegated to the redundant section of dusty history long back.
The Nobel might be as relevant in today’s life as museums and libraries, the red letterbox, or the pay phone. A fading relevance is a mind-bendingly depressing thing, as any middle manager, mother of a teenager, or a once-in-vogue mistress will tell us. And in the middle of this slow slide into irrelevance, the hippies have, with one swift stroke of masterful genius, reinvented and reinvigorated themselves.
This reinvention comes just in time also. We are going through a period of utter and insane confusion of the meaning, purpose, and boundaries of art. We are living in a world that is continually being exhorted to shatter the boundaries. This is a world in which silence is a performance art, fiction can embrace power point presentations, and 140 characters can sum up a life. In these times then, can epic, dusty masterpieces like Homer’s magnificent Odyssey, which are home to silverfish and dried roses, be the only definition of literature?
Take the example of “performance art”, which for long was considered outside the bounds of traditional visual art (and good taste). In fact, when artists were stripping themselves naked and chaining themselves to cars during the 1960s, their work was termed as “Happening” because it escaped definition. It was only around the ’70s, when Marina Abramović invited viewers to do whatever they wished to do with her with a variety of objects (including a rose, a feather, a whip, and a gun with a single bullet) did the arbiters of culture begin to consider performance as art.
Artists and literary folk have constantly redefined the boundaries of what constitutes art and literature.
Which is why this is less about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel for literature as it is about the coming of age of the Nobel itself. At an age when people are declaring war on vowels, exterminating them with the precision and passion of a Hitler on the hunt, if the “nbl4lit” goes to Bobby then the Nobel has redeemed itself from obscurity.
As for Bobby himself, I am glad he didn’t say “it’s not me babe, it’s not me you’re looking for” when they called from Sweden.
From selling cigarettes and Y2K software to teaching undergrad and grad students about brand planning and advertising, Ambarish has done possibly everything a migrant Bong could do in Bombay. Except get off his ass and publish his book. Which he finally did. Bastard Hearts, his first "flawed as fuck" love story, is half autobiographical, but he will be damned if he knows which half.