Bob Dylan’s silence upon being named the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature earlier this year was widely taken as a statement in itself. Some people saw it as a classic moment of Dylan-esque mystery and disdain for pomp; others took it as, per one Swedish Academy member, “impolite and arrogant.” Of course, it could be both, as it often has been for him. There’s a reason the first words of Todd Haynes’s film I’m Not There, a Dylan tribute, are “There he lies, God rest his soul … and his rudeness.”
But Dylan now has suggested that his delayed reaction was simply out of shock. “I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it,” he wrote in his Nobel acceptance speech, delivered at the prize banquet over the weekend by America’s ambassador to Sweden. The speech in general is a performance of humility, projecting an unassuming, workmanlike persona in response to being granted the literary world’s highest accolade—and implying that such accolades are more a reflection on consumers of art than on artists themselves.
“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.”