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Bob Dylan as Nobel Laureate: Two reactions

Updated Friday, 14th October 2016
In South Asia, delight. In Japan, dismay. Two writers explore how Asia reacted to Bob Dylan's Nobel prize.

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In India, Bangaladesh and Nepal, writes Rewan, the prize was celebrated:

South Asians Celebrate American Singer-Songwriter Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize in Literature

American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan has been awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the second songwriter to have won the Nobel prize after Indian Nobel Laureate, poet, lyricist and singer Rabindranath Tagore, who received the honor in 1913.

Dylan was awarded for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition. The 75-year-old musician has been influential in popular music and culture for more than five decades. He created much of his best known work during the turbulent times of the 1960s; his songs like Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They are A-Changin’ were widely popular during the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements in the United States.

Bob Dylan is also immensely popular in some South Asian countries. In fact, in 2009 Indian author Nilanjana S Roy proposed on the Serkadis blog that Bob Dylan should be awarded the Nobel Prize:

How many roads must a poet walk down before he is awarded a Nobel? [..] Dylan’s Nobel chances are often treated as a joke; it’s assumed that the austere guardians of the universal literary fame would never unbend far enough to award the Prize to a song-writer. Especially a successful one. And there’s the question of how Dylan, with his twin aversion to formal dress and formal speeches, would react to receiving the Nobel.

The reason why Dylan deserves the Nobel has nothing to do with his popularity, or the fact that his works are actually still quoted, discussed and in wide circulation today. [..]

The argument for Dylan would rest squarely on the quality and influence of his work over the years, and the fact that they have now become classics of modern poetry, decades after they were first composed. It’s not just that Dylan wrote great songs—he wrote songs that were deeply rooted in the history of his times, and in a musical and verbal folk tradition that goes back for decades.

Many Indians celebrated the Dylan's win on Twitter:

Bangladeshis remember Bob Dylan for his participation at the Concert for Bangladesh, a benefit performance organised by former Beatles lead guitarist George Harrison and Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar on 1 August 1971, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The concert was organised to raise international awareness and fund relief efforts for refugees from then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), following the genocide perpetrated by Pakistan army and their collaborators during the Bangladesh Liberation War. A total of 40,000 people attended the concert, and close to US $250,000 was raised for Bangladesh relief. It was also Bob Dylan's return to the spotlight after a few years’ absence from the stage following a motorbike crash.

Here is a video of Bob Dylan performing at the concert for Bangladesh:

Tanvir Haider Chaudhury from Bangladesh, who lost his father during the war, wrote with joy on Facebook:

I have this sense of irrational glee at this news – as if someone in my immediate family or a very dear, old friend had won this. Well done your Bobness

Other Bangladeshis congratulated him on Twitter:

From Nepal, Twitter users reacted:

No wonder some argue that he is one of the most important figures in pop-culture history — his work has clearly transcended international boundaries.

Bob Dylan at Massey Hall, Toronto, April 18, 1980 Dividing opinion: Bob Dylan in 1980

In Japan, writes Nevin Thompson, there was disbelief that Bob's victory meant another year without an acknowledgement of their greatest writer:

Some Japanese People Really Thought Haruki Murakami Would Finally Win the Nobel Prize This Time

On October 13, the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to American singer and musician Bob Dylan “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

While many people celebrated Bob Dylan‘s achievement all over the world, some in Japan were left feeling disappointed by the news. Many thought this would finally be the year Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami would win.

Just 12 hours until the 2016 Nobel Prize [in Literature] will be announced. Will Haruki Murakami receive the prize this year? — Murakami Haruki News [fan site]

Haruki Murakami is one of the most popular writers working in Japan today. Whenever Murakami releases a new book, it becomes a major cultural event in Japan:

Countdown to the new Haruki Murakami book going on sale. The line is huge, so I guess I just have to give up [and go home].

Thanks to the fact his novels and short stories have been translated into at least50 different languages, Murakami has developed a global following. Murakami has received numerous high-profile prizes in Japan and abroad, so a Nobel Prize in Literature would be the final achievement to cap off an extraordinary career.

In the lead-up to the announcement on October 13 by the Nobel Institute, Japanese TV network ANN reported that Murakami was the top-ranked favorite to receive the prize—and Bob Dylan wasn't even on the list of potential finalists.

The Nobel Prize is held in high regard in Japan, which is home to the second-highest number of Nobel Prize winners after the United States.

Anticipation among Haruki Murakami fans ran high:

Why, thank you! The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to Haruki Murakami! It's Haruki!

But it was not to be.

The moment the #NobelPrizeInLiterature was announced. The hall erupted in surprise and joy. The initial announcement was made in Swedish (sic), so the name “Bob Dylan” could be understood.

The anticipation of a Murakami win was so great that alumni from the Japanese author's old high school in Kobe were assembled to observe the Nobel Prize announcement over satellite link.

Tabloid Nikkan Sports reported that at least one attendee appeared to be confused about why Bob Dylan was awarded a prize for literature:

Tweet: A sigh passed through the audience at Murakami's old high school: “Isn't Bob Dylan a *singer*?”

Headline and summary: Murakami must continue his wait for a Nobel Prize, “He's actually a Bob Dylan fan.”

Novelist Haruki Murakami was once more passed over for a Nobel Prize, even though the “Haruki-ists” (fans of Haruki Murakami) thought this would be the year. […]

Some Japanese Twitter users had a more cynical perspective on the annual hype surrounding a potential Haruki Murakami Nobel Prize:

“This is the year Haruki Murakami finally wins the Nobel Prize! He's finally going to win the Nobel Prize in Literature! It's going to be Haruki!”

But everybody seems to treat the Nobel Prize as if it were a game of musical chairs, with one lucky participant gets to claim a prize just for playing. (Of course, I think he should get the prize at some point).

For some, the pathos of what seems to be an annual exercise in disappointment has become darkly comical:

It's a beautiful, perfect arc that begins with, “Is this the year Haruki Murakami receives the Nobel Prize?” and invariably ends with him getting passed over.

The pattern [of hopeful expectation and crushing disappointment] is so predictable from year to year that it's not an exaggeration to say that “Murakami Nobel hype” become an art form in itself—it's an all-day excursion bookended by optimism and despair. […]

While some may be questioning the decision to award Bob Dylan, a songwriter, a Nobel Prize for literature, there is at least one Japanese Twitter who was happy with the result:

I've read all of Haruki Murakami's novels, and I know the novelist himself really dislikes all of the hype [being made about his potentially winning the Nobel Prize]. The people who want Murakami to win are really just thinking about their own happiness.

I've listened to all of Bob Dylan's songs—I wonder if members of the Nobel committee have even listened to [everything Bob Dylan has done]. I know the Nobel judges likely have not read Haruki Murakami in the original Japanese.

So getting the Nobel Prize just seems like it's all about politics.

This year, I'm just happy that songwriting is being treated as literature.

These articles originally appeared on Global Voices under a CC-BY licence

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