“Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming,” he said toward the start of the speech. “From an early age, I’ve been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway. These giants of literature whose works are taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries around the world and spoken of in reverent tones have always made a deep impression. That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.”
The language there and elsewhere in the speech would not, on its face, inspire the description “literary.” It’s plain and almost school-age, moonily referring to “giants of literature” and a feeling “beyond words.” He went on to say that he imagines William Shakespeare spent less time concerned by abstract ideas than by practicalities: “‘Who’re the right actors for these roles?’ ‘How should this be staged?’ ‘Do I really want to set this in Denmark?’” Dylan relates:
But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. “Who are the best musicians for these songs?” “Am I recording in the right studio?” “Is this song in the right key?” Some things never change, even in 400 years.
Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, “Are my songs literature?”
So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.
It’s not that he doesn’t want to question whether his songs are literature, it’s that he hasn’t had the time. This sort of indifference to the act of interpretation has been a feature of his career, and the image of the Nobel ceremony—a tuxedoed crowd, a lavish venue, the queen of Sweden in a sparkling gown—certainly supports the notion of analysis as luxury, rather than as essential labor. It remains to be seen whether he’ll deliver the lecture he’s required to give in order to officially accept the Nobel and its prize money (8 million Swedish krona); all his camp has apparently said about the matter is that he might be able to give a lecture when he next swings through Stockholm on tour.