It just seems a bit odd to me that the controversy revolving around Bob Dylan being awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for literature should stop short of what I believe is a far more interesting question: does Dylan's cultural import and significance actually transcend the award altogether?
To begin with, I think we must start with some basics. Dylan is not primarily a poet, and the Nobel Prize committee did not confer the award based on that designation. The award is for "literature", in any form it may present itself, and in Mr. Zimmerman's case, this happened to be song lyrics (despite a thin volume of actual poetry and one very fine memoir: neither of which would rate a Nobel in and of themselves by anyone's estimation). There is no Nobel Prize category for performer, musician, vocalist or writer of song melodies, all of which Bob Dylan has distinguished himself as, over the years; and what ultimately went far beyond the sum of all those parts, which was Bob Dylan the cultural icon. But it was not the cultural icon that the Nobel Prize committee gave its award for literature to this year, it was simply Bob Dylan the song lyricist.
Now, the very fact that Dylan transformed the American popular song into a form of literature (to the point of even qualifying for a Nobel Prize) is something itself which he has not received due credit for. Cole Porter and Ira Gershwin were very clever indeed, and we are all so much the richer for them. But few have ever suggested that their albeit wonderful, marvelous lyrics be regarded as serious "literature." That Bob Dylan raised the genre to this level was no ordinary achievement. I even recall once when the New York Times asked about 40 modern writers who their greatest influences were, I noticed that the only two names that were mentioned twice were Joseph Conrad and Bob Dylan.
In short, there is no single prize, not even a Nobel, which can due justice to the unique way Bob Dylan has distinguished himself during his lifetime, any more than any award could do justice to Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, or Muhammad Ali.
Yes, there are better poets. But since Dylan's words were not generally written as distinct from his melodies, this is a moot point. The words were to songs, literally... songs. But what poet in the 20th Century cut out of our social fabric the kind of niche Dylan did? What novelist?
The words alone may well be exquisite. But (at least for me), there really is so much more to Bob Dylan than just words could ever say.
(Article changed on December 14, 2016 at 11:08)