Updated on November 17, 2016
Last month, the Nobel Committee announced that it had awarded Bob Dylan its prize for literature. Amid the speculation that ensued—are song lyrics literature? what is literature? what is the Nobel Prize for?—another thing, a much pettier thing, took place: Bob Dylan proceeded to totally ignore the Nobel Committee. Voicemails went unanswered. Emails went un-replied to. “Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature” was briefly added to Dylan’s website, then quickly removed. A member of the Nobel committee, frustrated, called Dylan “impolite and arrogant.” The whole thing was awkward and weird and a timely reminder that even the echelons of art and culture are occupied by humans. Here was Emily Post’s worst nightmare, played out on a global scale—albeit with many, many “his answer is blowin’ in the wind” jokes thrown in for good measure.
Wednesday, it turned out, brought a new twist to what The New York Times has taken to calling “the saga of Bob Dylan and the Nobel Prize”: Dylan confirmed to the Nobel committee that he would not be attending the prize ceremony with his fellow laureates. Which is, in the end, not at all surprising. After all, this kind of thing is what Dylan does, as an artist and a person. He’s a “screw the establishment” kind of guy; ironically, that political position is what helped him to win the Nobel in the first place. And it is also, in recent weeks, how members of the media have justified his behavior on his behalf. “‘That’s just Dylan being Dylan,’” James Wolcott, a columnist for Vanity Fair, tweeted about the whole episode. “You could substitute any egotist’s name in that formulation.” The Telegraph noted of the erstwhile radio silence that Dylan “always does the unexpected.” A Guardian headline praised his “noble refusal of the Nobel prize for literature.” The New York Times compared Dylan, in his reticence, to Jean-Paul Sartre, who himself famously declined his own Nobel in 1964. And then the paper declared Dylan’s behavior to have been “a wonderful demonstration of what real artistic and philosophical freedom looks like.”