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A world that gives Bob Dylan a Nobel Prize is a world that nominates Trump for president

Tim Stanley

Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Why not? If the Nobel Committees can give a peace prize to Henry Kissinger then it can give a literature prize to a man who hasn’t written any literature.

This is not a question of taste. Bob Dylan is a great folk artist, maybe the greatest alive. But the Nobel is supposed to be awarded not on the basis of what the public likes (if it were, Doris Lessing wouldn’t have won it) but on ability matched by idealism. Dylan has both, but his body of work falls far short of that produced by past winners: Yeats, Gide, O’Neill, Solzhenitsyn etc. The scale of their output and the thematic density of their texts outstrips Dylan by light years. He is a dim star strumming a guitar; they are suns around which we orbit. We are lucky enough to live among them today.

If the Committee wanted an American then it could have chosen Don DeLillo, Philip Roth or even – why not? – Thomas Pynchon. It did not have to make this choice. So why did it? Nostalgia. Politics. To please the crowd. To name someone who would shatter the Committee’s reputation for intellectual snobbery – a reputation that it only has among those uninterested in literature. It’s like worrying that the Davis Cup is too closely associated with tennis. And if popularising the prize is the aim, then why not Leonard Cohen or Paul McCartney? Why not Debbie Harry, who crazy folk think invented rap? Moreover, why popularise a prize which isn’t elected but chosen by the knowledgeable on the basis of achievement? This is the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not Sweden’s Got Talent.

Ah, but this is where we are in cultural terms. Distinction is gone; discrimination is a dirty word. Egality is in. Emotion is in. Nothing matters unless it sells. But anyone celebrating the death of quality – anyone imagining that the elimination of elitism leads inexorably to justice – should be very wary of what they wish for. A culture that gives Bob Dylan a literature prize is a culture that nominates Donald Trump for president. It is a culture uninterested in qualifications and concerned only with satisfying raw emotional need. There is pandering on the Left and pandering on the Right. It becomes very hard to engage on the basis of reason because reason is discriminatory. It requires thought and effort not only to use it but to understand it. Much, much easier to go with your gut. It’s not a huge leap from saying “Dylan because I like him” to “Trump because I feel like him.” It's all lowbrow.

I will be called a fogey, a snob, elitist etc. On this point, I don’t care! The culture is demonstrably poorer than it was a few decades ago and this has an impact upon politics. With each year, standards seem to slip and what was once considered absurd seems quite normal. And what is excellent is sadly forgotten. Where that all ends, I don’t know. Perhaps a Nobel Prize in 2025 being awarded to Donald Trump for lyrical tweeting.