October of 2016 was a very hectic month for me. Having tamed my chronic and prolonged bipolar disorder in September, with the help of a new regimen of medication, I was busy with drawing a new roadmap for my personal as well as professional life.
October is also the month that I wait excitedly, every year, for the announcement of Nobel Prize winners. I’ve been fascinated with Nobel & Booker Prizes since a very young age. I attribute this fascination and my interest in literature to my father. Oh, and in that prehistoric era, when internet and mobile phones were like H.G.Wells’ fantasy ; these announcements sounded much more thrilling than they do today.
Talking of fantasy, 2016’s Nobel laureate in literature selection perhaps was a mix of fantasy and magical realism! It took the literary world some time to come out of the shock when Bob Dylan was announced as the recipient.
Sir Salman Rushdie, who is my favourite author, was one of the heavy weights who welcomed the selection. “Great choice! From Orpheus to Faiz, song and poetry have been closely linked.” was what he tweeted. Sir salman definitely is one of the boldest and the most respected non-conformist who had the courage to do ‘chutnification’ * of English and get it recognised, too, by claiming the first Booker of Bookers. His affirmative nod to the Indian song, “Why this Kolaveri Di” ** , is the testimony to his literary broad-mindedness.
However, a positive nod to Dylan’s selection was like stretching nonconformism a bit too far. Was Mr Rushdie trying to be politically correct? Avoiding being labelled ‘sour grapes’? Or, avoiding unnecessary backlash in his new adopted home? I don’t know.
Well, I’m not getting into the argument whether song lyrics can be considered literature or not. Because I don’t think this is arguable – songs are NOT literature. They are a different form of art. Different; not worse or better!
Songs have their own place and identity as an art form. It has its own way of expressing emotions and impacting our senses. The same emotions and feelings can be creatively expressed in different art forms. Let me give you an example. Protest against war and its horror have been historically expressed in almost all the art forms. Francisco Goya expressed it in his famous antiwar paintings like “The Third of May 1808”. Wilfred Owen protested through his famous poems like “Dulce et Decorum Est”. And, Bob Dylan expressed it through his song “Masters of Wars”. They are all masterpieces and their creators; masters. But these masterpieces are very different from each other. They have different yardsticks by which their quality is measured. They definitely do not compete with each other.
One argument that was put forward in favour of Dylan was, ‘the Swedish Academy’s decision is a positive move towards extending the boundaries of literature.”. Do you call it extending the boundaries? I would call it blatant ‘Artistic Trespassing”. Just because these two art forms share one common ingredient, ‘the written words’, we cannot club them together. First, an obvious difference is the necessity of accompanying music for those “written words” to qualify for being a song. But, more important difference is how differently they stimulate our senses.
How an art work is received, perceived and processed by patrons’ mind is as important as how they are created. A work of art cannot be defined or evaluated only by the characteristics of the created “object”. It’s basically the combination of the created ‘object’ and its interaction with the patrons’ mind, which defines a work or form of art in totality.
We listen to songs. But, we read poems or any other form of literature. A song is received by our mind through mechanoreceptors in the form of electrical nerve pulses. While a poetry is received, as electrical nerve pulses, through photoreceptors in retina of our eyes. Depending upon the receptor they are coming through; these pulses are processed by different parts of our brain by carrying out a series of post sensory cognitive functions and finally creates the perception. Both sensory and post sensory functions involved in processing a song are very different from those in poetry.
Bob Dylan is a legendary singer and songwriter. His songs became anthem of the civil rights movement in the states. He motivated the 60s generation and made them socially aware. His old protest songs continue to give goosebumps to today’s generation. He will always be remembered as an influential songwriter who played an important role in changing the course of history through his inspiring songs. I’m sure, that’s how Mr. Dylan would like to beremembered; not as a poet.
* Chutnification: This word was coined by Rushdie in Midnight’s children. Wikipedia >>
** Why this kolaveri Di: It’s a Tamil (Indian) song in “Tanglish” ( English spoken by common people in the state of Tamil Nadu, India). Rushdie commented : ” India obsessed by a slapped politician & the most ridiculously catchy song since Macarena, Kolaveri” Wikipedia >>
PS: Why have I written this piece on a dead issue? Well, I was too busy with fixing my bipolar in 2016 to write on it. So, now I’m clearing the backlog 🙂