This past week, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Bob Dylan is in company with other famous laureates such as T.S. Eliot, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, and Samuel Beckett.
Before I start, I would like to say I am not in any way criticizing Bob Dylan or his music. I am not an avid listener of his music so I don’t think I have the right to say anything good or bad about his songs. That being said, I was shocked and a little surprise that Dylan was given this Nobel Prize, above all things, for literature. But then I thought about it more and although it was different, it was interesting and an honor that songs were given such a prestigious award. But this unique situation has brought me to this week’s discussion question: should song lyrics considered to be forms of literature?
In my opinion, yes, but it can lead to a dangerous precedent.
Songs can be considered as poetry. There is not a song by my favorite musicians that gives me the same emotional feelings a poem by Robert Frost or William Shakespeare. Let us also remember poetry written in the Romantic Era was purposefully written to be lyrical. So , yes, song lyrics can be just as expressive as poetry. For most songs, they read like a poem.
However, this award may open up the floodgates. People may concentrate on finding other lyrics that can be seen as literature. They’ll be focused on song lyrics and forget about the poets and writers who primarily work hard on honing on their craft. And that is what I am afraid of. We’ll disregard the up and coming writers and not acknowledge them. We will forget the poets and authors that helped make what literature is today. There would be a lax attitude on what constitutes as literature. And with that attitude, the wrong lyrics might find its way in the pile, lyrics you wouldn’t dream of giving a Nobel Prize.
The Swedish Academy took a chance. They probably didn’t think of it at the time but by
awarding Dylan the prize, they had managed to revolutionize the literature format, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Literature needs to change once in a while. We just need to realize that as innovative and different this choice was, it can lead to a whole batch of different opinions on what writings constitutes as literature. And we have to realize that these discussions may not lead to positive conclusions.
Do you agree with the decision of the prize going to Bob Dylan? Do you consider song lyrics to be forms of literature? Why or why not?
3 thoughts on “Weekly Tea Discussion:Can Song Lyrics Be Considered as Literature?”
I just don’t think that it matters all that much for literature. I could be wrong. Perhaps once someone is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, people turn their backs on the worthy and spend their time with the recipient. Maybe that’s what the data tells us. If that were the case and the pedestrian or lowbrow stuff took over the exceptional, like Saul Bellow and TS Elliot, than we should be concerned. Wait, hasn’t that already happened?
I know that some people will take a look at the literature from a new recipient, but I just don’t see how most people in that “circle” wouldn’t have already had the exposure and taken it on without the “endorsement” from the Swedish Academy. And for those who don’t care for Samuel Beckett already, they’re just not going to be swayed by a prestigious award.
I don’t mean to make this sound grim. I just think that there is too much “noise” out there for the Swedish Academy to change things much with respect to literature.
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I am very much in two minds about this – especially as Dylan’s lyrics don’t quite soar without the music. Some years ago, the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel prize to Dario Fo, and that was also very confusing, seeing as his creative efforts are often silent (mime) and rarely written down. I will never range Dylan alongside Pablo Neruda, García Marquez or Hemingway. His writing isn’t what defines him – it’s his artistry.
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