If the Nobel Prize for Literature is, like all prizes, meant to honor its subject more than its winners — to get people talking about literature and considering it anew — then the Swedes have surely done literature a service by giving the Nobel to Bob Dylan. Because literature, whatever it is, is now at the top of the news.
Plenty of people — novelists and poets among them — praised the Nobel committee’s iconoclastic choice, citing Dylan’s obvious mastery of his medium, his nonpareil poetics, and his outsize influence. But was his medium literature? Though Dylan has written books he didn’t win the Nobel for them — he won it for his songs. Naysayers piled on, claiming the committee stretched the definition of literature beyond meaning in giving Dylan the prize. What about books, they cried. Novelist Rick Moody offered a powerful response to doubters:
“Shakespeare never wrote a book, Homer never wrote a book, Jesus of Nazareth never wrote a book, Socrates never wrote a book. Jacques Lacan never wrote a book. Eugene O’Neill never really made a book that wasn’t a play first. Emily Dickinson never wrote a book. Frank Kafka never published a book. I guess they must not be writers.”