By Ada Anioji
That the music maestro, Bob Dylan is the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2016 is no longer news.
What is however new is that that unexpected award, which has continued to elicit a mute reaction from the laureate himself has continued to divide literary enthusiasts the world over.
In a post-award session convened by the Department of English of the University of Lagos on the subject recently, opinions were divided on the issue.
Setting off the discussions, the Head of Department and immediate past Commissioner for Higher Education in Delta State, Professor Hope Eghagha, pointed the audience in the direction of trying to hazard what was indeed going through the minds of the judges when they settled for Dylan.
He took ‘judicial notice’ of the fact that in handing the award to Dylan, the Nobel Committee had particularly drawn allusions to ‘a need to return to the original root of poetry,’ thus re-opening the discussion about song as literature. He also saw in the move a subtle push by the committee to attempt to bridge popular and high cultures.
Contributing, another lecturer in the Department, Dr Chris Anyokwu noted that contrary to the widely bandied view that Dylan was the first to win the Nobel in relation to his music, the multi-talented Indian, Rabindranath Tagore, who was also a film-maker and composer, had so secured the award as far back as 1913. He also pointed out the fact that Dylan’s name had been in the nomination corridors since 1996.
Quite significantly for Anyokwu also is the fact that in tapping a pop culture icon for the award at a time like this, the committee may be urging a refocus of attention on the new millenials, even while chipping at the ‘arrogance of high culture.’
Against this backdrop, he urged participants to then consider taking another look at ‘the formal academicisation of literature qua literature’ and the probable need for curriculum review in such a way as to strengthen the adequacy of graduating students for the evolving job market.
For Dr Pearse, the focus of critical attention in relation to the decision of the committee should really be on the merits of Dylan’s work, even as he insisted that his music contained the essential literary qualities of being profound, eternal, ideological and linguistically coherent.
Contributing, the pharmacist-critic and convener of the annual Ife Poetry festival, Professor Adebayo Lamikanra pointed out that all through time literature has really been a difficult concept to define and as such there were really not much to fault in the decision of the Nobel committee.
He reminded the audience that a lot of what has now come to be adopted as being part of the great canon of high literary culture had not always been so, pointing out the fact that a writer like Shakespeare that is now vastly studied in ‘the great tradition’ was in his time essentially a writer for the common people given that English was not really adopted as the language of the court until about 1507.
On the issue of the Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiongo missing the award one more time, Lamikanra said he was himself not particularly very enamoured of Ngugi’s work asserting that there were also several other profound African writers that did not, or were also yet to win the prize. He however admitted that there was indeed an essential subjective and political ring to the overall award process, noting that on that score, it may really be time for Africa to consider having its own Nobel.
Another commentator at the session which was moderated by Dr Patrick Olokor was the scholar, Professor Maduagwu. In his remarks, he pointed out that one factor that may be responsible for why the man at the centre of the entire fray, Bob Dylan, had not frontally responded to news of the award since its announcement, could reside in the fact that from the example of the French writer, Jean Paul Sartre’s rejection of his own award and given his long legacy of association with the protest tradition, he would more naturally be inclined to letting literature be and not be seen as doing anything in support of organisations that tend to invariably hold literature hostage.