Dylan’s Nobel lecture

So now Bob Dylan is being accused of plagiarizing the lecture that the Nobel Committee forced him to give as a condition of receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. He didn’t care about the prize to begin with and he didn’t want to give the lecture. But everyone told him to just go ahead and do it because it would be better for everybody if he did, and the “controversy” of his “snubbing” them by not showing up at their ceremony would be set aside once and for all.

So he put together a speech explaining his influences, starting with Buddy Holly, and going on to describe how three books he read in grammar school stayed with him and inspired a lot of his writing: Moby Dick, All Quiet On The Western Front, and The Odyssey.

The accusation is that he took a lot of phrases from the SparkNotes summary of Moby Dick to make his point. This “outrage” is laboriously documented in a Salon piece.

Oy vey.

First of all, how many new ways are there to summarize the plot of Moby Dick? If you came up with something yourself today, completely your own original ideas, there’s no chance someone else hasn’t expressed the very same ideas before using many of the very same words.

Of course Dylan went to some summary source to check his memory of a book he read sixty years ago before grudgingly performing this compulsory exercise for the Nobel people! How could it be otherwise? Should he have attributed SparkNotes  in his Nobel lecture? Would that satisfy the critics or just open him up to other “criticism”?

Is he being accused of plagiarizing any of the work for which the prize was conferred? If he paraphrased or simply lifted some words from SparkNotes in the lecture, does that diminish his body of work or influence on culture? Do I care about this at all? No, no, and hell no.

Everything we see and hear now must be framed as controversy. or, even better, a scandal. Everything must be presented as a clash of adversaries. The internet demands it. The revenue model of “news” demands it. Our poor attention span demands it. If it’s an old white guy we’re trashing, so much the better, and so much easier for everyone involved.

Can we not give Bob Dylan a pass after all these years? Just this once? He’s Bob Fucking Dylan, for God’s sake.





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