‘I Sing the Body Electric’: Bob Dylan, the Nobel Prize and Academic Silos


What is a writer? What is a Digital Humanist? These sound like disparate questions, but they both are based on the academy of division that has grown up over the past century and more, particularly in American universities. Specializations are created and claims are staked. You’re either on the bus, as Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters pointed out, or you are not.

In The New York Times the other day, staff writer Anna North baldly claimed that Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature “is a disappointing choice” because it was not awarded “to a writer.” He is a “brilliant lyricist” but the committee missed “the opportunity to honor a writer.”

That’s the problem with silos, in a nutshell.

North goes on to claim that the Nobel Prize should affirm “that fiction and poetry still matter.” But what are song lyrics, if not poetry? Why create a division where one is, quite frankly…

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