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Category Archives: Literarisches

I Don’t Want to Be a King in the Land of the Dead: On Bob Dylan’s Nobel Lecture

“When I first received this Nobel Prize for Literature, I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature. I wanted to reflect on it and see where the connection was.”

It’s an interesting beginning of Bob Dylan’s lecture. In my introductory seminar to literary studies, I quite often do what I call “Literary Trivia”. In most cases, I would play the beginning of a song and ask for associations with English literature, with English authors. Even students in their first semester make these associations very quickly. You play “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel and students associate the lyrics with the Bible (“Jesus loves you more than you will know”), with Arthur Miller (“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio”)—because DiMaggio was married to Marilyn Monroe, as was Arthur Miller—, and, of course, with Defoe’s novel.

A couple of weeks ago, I played a Bob Dylan song and asked ideally for a Welsh poet, but if they couldn’t name one, I would accept the name of another poet. To my surprise students actually came up with Dylan Thomas. None of the students said, “Well, this Bob Dylan. He won the Nobel Prize for literature. His work must be literature then. He’s the poet.”

Despite the on-going convergence of media formats and diverse genres, people still seem to have a hard time letting go of overcome exclusive definitions of literature, poetry, narrative, film- and media texts. A recorded stage adaptation of Shakespeare would qualify as literature for most, but if they don’t know the author of a film script, they wouldn’t see literary qualities in the video recording. If Dylan Thomas sings his poetry, this is literature. If Bob Dylan sings his songs, this is not.

I don’t precisely know where this confusion, this unnecessary complicatedness stems from. Maybe schools have failed many of us in so far as they have established “literature” as something beautiful but ultimately very detached from us and our everyday endeavours. We listen to music all the time but this can never be literature, because literature is taught in schools, is complicated, needs to be analysed with care, and it is just too sublime. We stand in awe in front of literature and don’t know what to do with, let’s say Shakespeare, except the things we’ve learnt in school. Shakespeare’s texts may ask us to enjoy them, disagree and quarrel with them, invite us to become part of their discourse, but we stand in awe. We cannot move, we cannot make, we can not…

As far as I have understood the academy, giving the prize to Dylan is a sign (next to the underlying political idea in times of Trump, the Brexit, or generally spreading stupidity in politics and society) that they have understood that, in the times of the internet, the borders between genres and medialities have started to dissolve. It doesn’t matter that Dylan sings his poems. It didn’t in the past (Dylan Thomas) and does not in the present any longer (Bob Dylan).

Bob Dylan doesn’t seem to have fully understood this when he poses the question about the relation of his oeuvre to literature. He seems to support this take when he refers to the place of literature in his life: school:

“But I had something else as well. I had principals and sensibilities and an informed view of the world. And I had had that for a while. Learned it all in grammar school. Don Quixote, Ivanhoe, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Tale of Two Cities, all the rest – typical grammar school reading that gave you a way of looking at life, an understanding of human nature, and a standard to measure things by. I took all that with me when I started composing lyrics. And the themes from those books worked their way into many of my songs, either knowingly or unintentionally. I wanted to write songs unlike anything anybody ever heard, and these themes were fundamental.”

He summarizes three books that have influenced him a lot. The tone of his summaries and associations and self-confessions is a bit brash. He doesn’t put the works onto pedestals. He takes a fresh look at them, seems to ignore that they are all canonical. In his summary of Moby Dick he writes, “[y]ou can anticipate what will happen”. As if none of us had ever read Melville.

In the end of his lecture, Dylan sees the parallels between what he perceives as literature and what he perceives as songs. He writes:

“If a song moves you, that’s all that’s important. I don’t have to know what a song means. I’ve written all kinds of things into my songs. And I’m not going to worry about it – what it all means. When Melville put all his old testament, biblical references, scientific theories, Protestant doctrines, and all that knowledge of the sea and sailing ships and whales into one story, I don’t think he would have worried about it either – what it all means.

John Donne as well, the poet-priest who lived in the time of Shakespeare, wrote these words, ‘The Sestos and Abydos of her breasts. Not of two lovers, but two loves, the nests.’ I don’t know what it means, either. But it sounds good. And you want your songs to sound good.”

For Dylan the parallels between literature and songs run along the lines of effect, beauty and aesthetic influence—not meaning. In so far, he repudiates the Academy’s implicit approval of Dylan’s political songs.

Dylan does not get to eventually see further parallels or even update his old-fashioned idea of the differences between literature and songs. In contrast to literature, his songs belong to the land of the living, not the dead and the written. They need an audience and need to be experienced:

“Our songs are alive in the land of the living. But songs are unlike literature. They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page.”

I agree and I disagree with Dylan. Yes, songs are meant to be sung, most plays are meant to be acted on stage, novels are meant to be read … or read out or adapted and sung or put on stage or made into movies. They do not necessarily belong to the land of the dead. You can keep them alive by interacting with them. As literature is as alive as his songs, Bob Dylan is one of the great poets of our times—if he wants that or not. His poetry is out there for you to read or to listen to – either recorded or live.

Read the lecture here.

UPDATE: This might be a worthwhile read, too: Gavin Haynes, “It’s alright ma, I’m only cheating: did Bob Dylan crib his Nobel speech from SparkNotes?” at the Guardian.

Electronic Literature as a Means to Overcome the Supremacy of the Author Function / Presentation at ELO2015

This is a screen recording of the Prezi, I used at ELO2015 (you’ll find the complete programme here, and there is a list of video recordings). As the Prezi isn’t self-explanatory, I did a quick voice-over.

Additional Sources

  • Photograph of Michel Foucault in 1975 from “Featured Author: Michel Foucault” (Books; The New York Times on the Web; 1999; Web).
  • TeCEU charts adapted from Heiko Zimmermann, Rekonfigurationen des textuellen Handlungsraums digitaler Literatur unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Autorschaft: Geschichte, theoretische Ansprüche und deren Wechselwirkungen in der digitalen Medienpraxis (Doctoral Thesis; U of Trier, 2012; Print).

Schreiben Frauen ausgezeichnete Sachbücher? // Die Short-List des Preises der Leipziger Buchmesse 2015

Schon irgendwie auffällig, dass die Jury unter der Leitung von Hubert Winkels in der Kategorien Sachbuch/Essayistik nur Männer für den Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse 2015 nominiert hat.

  • Philipp Felsch: “Der lange Sommer der Theorie.
    Geschichte einer Revolte 1960-1990” (Verlag C.H. Beck)
  • Karl-Heinz Göttert: “Mythos Redemacht. Eine andere
    Geschichte der Rhetorik” (S. Fischer Verlag)
  • Reiner Stach: “Kafka. Die frühen Jahre” (S. Fischer Verlag)
  • Philipp Ther: “Die neue Ordnung auf dem alten Kontinent.
    Eine Geschichte des neoliberalen Europa” (Suhrkamp Verlag)
  • Joseph Vogl: “Der Souveränitätseffekt” (diaphanes)

PS: Und auch überdurchschnittlich viele Philipps. Mit Ph, einem L und zwei P. 😉

Readings: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring

As crude a weapon as the cave man’s club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life–a fabric on the one hand delicate and destructible, on the other miraculously tough and resilient, and capable of striking back in unexpected ways. These extraordinary capacities of life have been ignored by the practitioners of chemical control who have brought to their task no “high-minded orientation,” no humility before the vast forces with which they tamper.
The “control of nature” is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man. The concepts and practices of applied entomology for the most part date from that Stone Age of science. It is our alarming misfortune that so primitive a science has armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth. [Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Boston: Mariner, 2002) 297.]

What a truly remarkable and relevant book this is! Not only because it started the eco movement and is a canonical classic but also because it is still relevant today as the tendencies and the state of mind of people today–the age of globalization and of genetic engineering–is similar to the state of mind of the proponents of chemical control in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, described at the end of Carson’s book (cf. above).

Samstag 10 vor 8 im Aldi

Vor mir an der Kasse, die Frau im zu langsam getrockneten schwarzen Baumwoll-Pullover–voller Haare–, die fürs Wochenende noch schnell 36 Dosen Katzenfutter kauft.

Quotation Marks vs. Prime Marks

Stylesheet Anglistik

Just found this in the official style sheet for contributions to the English Studies p-journal Anglistik. It’s fascinating.

Instead of …

Please use "quotation marks" instead of (typographic) “inverted commas” for all quotations…

… it should, of course, read …

Please use "double prime marks" (as you do to indicate inches or seconds) instead of “quotation marks” for all quotations…

Readings: Fault Lines: An Anthology of New Writing from the MA in Creative Writing, University College Dublin 2013

Fault_Lines_2013_Cover
Boyle, Joe, ed. Fault Lines: An Anthology of New Writing from the MA in Creative Writing (University College Dublin 2013). Dublin: Universal Publishing, 2013.

Where bought: Books Upstairs, just opposite Trinity’s main entrance.

Price: 10 €

Pages: 178.

Best Reads:

“The Switch” by Alan James Keogh (26-33)

It’s the story of a man unhappy with his life who switches bodies and life with another man, who is unhappy for other reasons. In the end, the hope put into the switch proves to be a fantasma as the personality, the self remains the same. (Keywords: body, identity, mind, fat, unhappiness, happiness, loneliness, gym, sports, science fiction, fantasy, heterodiegetic, internal focalization, unreliable narrator, short story)

“At Peace” by Alan James Keogh (34-37)

Conceptional piece/creation story of a statue of a man. Nice writing exercise. (Keywords: statue, body, identity, happiness, fantasy, autodiegetic, internal focalization, short story)

“The Inheritance” by Neil Bristow (112-20)

The story of Daniel, an escort who has paid sex with men who have to wear the reeking pyjamas of his late grandfather. The reader learns about Daniel and his punter Lev bit by bit with the indirect characterization misleading all the time. The story, although being full of surprises, ultimately casts quite a dreary light on the history and the present lives of everybody in the story. (Keywords: escort, gender/sex/identity, gay, sex, family, money, abuse, poverty, heterodiegetic, internal focalization, short story)

[UPDATE: Read Neil Bristow’s story on-line.]

“A White Dove” by Martin Sheridan (122-37)

Story showing the perspectives of a group of adolescent ravers on drugs. This is some sort history of pop culture of the 1990s. The distance in time from our perspective is made graspable by putting the main character not in the centre of Dublin, but making him travel there from the suburbs at the beginning of the story. (Keywords: Bildungsstory, drugs, music, dance, Dublin, youth, history, rave, techno, short story)

Erzählband, Erzählungsband und Erzählsammlung

Ja, man scheint erkannt zu haben, dass “Erzählungsband” wirklich übel klingt. Das ist gut so. Übrigens kann man die zugerechnete Relevanz von Erzählsammlungen erkennen, wenn man den Begriff im N-Gram-Viewer gegen “Gedichtband” oder “Roman” laufen lässt. Dabei gibt es so schöne Erzählbände. Und sie sind auch zeitgemäß: Kürzere Texte für eine schnelllebigere Zeit etc. etc. etc.

Lektürevorfreude: Dorian Steinhoffs Das Licht der Flammen auf unseren Gesichtern

Dorian Steinhoff - Das Licht der Flammen auf unseren Gesichtern
[Klicken vergrößert.]

Whatthe Dickens’ Great Exterminations

0486415864-L GreatExterminations
[Original Dover Cover and Artwork (Mashup) by invisiblecity, first published on b3ta.]

Guest Lecture on William Wharton

Wharton_Guest_Lecture_Announcement-1

Gargling

[…] Forster managed to get on well with him, despite the terrible scenes that he made about the food and despite his habit, odd in an aristrocrat, of gargling with his finger-bowl water.

[Francis King, E. M. Forster (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978) 40]

A. S. Byatt on Not Lending Books

I have to confess that I no longer lend any book ever to anybody. Because it is exactly the book you most love that you feel you might lend to somebody. And it never comes back. It just never comes back. … There are so many books in my life that I couldn’t bear anyone to take away that I can’t quite think of it in my head what they might be because, in fact, the ones I most love, like, say, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, are also much the easiest to replace if somebody, by any chance, goes off with your copy. But when I was teaching at university, I used to, as it were, analyse the book in the front cover. So any copy I have ever taught, has got all my own, as it were, mapping and structural analysis in. And if anybody takes that even out of the shelves, I tremble with anxiety. And it’s true that the most honest people do walk off with books.

(A. S. Byatt, BBC World Book Club, March 2004)

Jakob Arjouni

Als ich Jakob Arjouni traf, sprachen wir lange über seine Poetik und das Geschichtenerzählen. Er hat mich sofort tief beeindruckt durch seine Bücher und das, was er im Gespräch zu sagen hatte. Seine Stimme wird in der deutschen Literatur fehlen. Nicht nur das ist traurig. // Wenn ich auf einer Party gefragt werde, was ich beruflich mache, erzähle ich immer, dass ich religiöse Bücher schreibe. Das erfordert unbedingt ein Nachhaken des Gegenüber. Was denn gemeint sei damit? Und darauf frage ich, ob mein Gesprächspartner denn so Bücher wie die Bibel oder den Koran kenne. Solche Bücher eben. // Machs gut, Jakob!

Team Totale Zerstörung – “Straight Outta Leipzsch”

[via]

Julius’ Refrain isses Klassesste. Fjeden. Es gibt auch ein Album, auf dem noch mehr vom TTZ drauf ist.

Alcalá de Henares


[“Alcalá de Henares”, 2012-10-06. This is a scaled down section of the image. Click picture to see the whole panorama.]

Alcalá seems to be very close here. However, it was a two hours walk from the place where I am staying as you cannot cross the river at the barrage of the Henares to access the hill/mountain. That’s my suggestion for city development: Build a bridge and an escalator from New Alcalá and the place will be teeming with people. Well, maybe not. There weren’t many people at the enchanting water front or the meadows of the flood plain. Oh, if you look carefully, you’ll notice the high-rise buildings on the horizon. This is Madrid.

Weekend (2011) Screening in Trier

If you’ve missed the beautiful film by Andrew Haigh last year or want to see Tom Cullen and Chris New again and again, there is another opportunity. For the slightly remote city of Trier, it will be the 1st public screening. Don’t hesitate. Come and watch…

WEEKEND

5 JUNE 2012
7 p.m. (s.t.)
UNI TRIER
MAIN CAMPUS
HÖRSAAL 2

ADMISSION FREE. ALL WELCOME. SPREAD THE WORD.
BRITISH ORIGINAL WITHOUT SUBTITLES.

On a Friday night after hanging out with his straight mates, Russell heads out to a nightclub, alone and on the pull. Just before closing, he meets Glen. And so begins a weekend—in bars and bedrooms, getting drunk and taking drugs, telling stories and having sex—that will resonate throughout their lives.

Trailer:

Weitere Informationen:

“My Wonderful Greengrocer” by Nigel Lawrence

Some time ago, I read my favourite poem by Nigel Lawrence into a microphone. Back then, I didn’t know the melody of this song (although I knew–and disliked–the Fünf-Minuten-Terrine already)…

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You can read the text in highly recommendable compilation Firsthand: The New Anthology of Creative Writing from the University, ed. by Andrew Motion (Norwich: University of East Anglia, 2001) 246-47.

Stadt Land Fluss

Gerade Stadt Land Fluss gesehen und sehr begeistert. Nein, das ist keine Rezension. Aber ich möchte doch Benjamin Cantu loben, weil er Setting und Stimmen der Figuren (ob fiktional oder “authentisch” (im Presseheft spricht man von halb-dokumentarisch, glaube ich)) so wahrheitsnah und glaubwürdig wirken lässt. Natürlich sind weder Glaubwürdigkeit noch Wahrheitsnähe relevanten Kriterien für Kunst. Aber queere Liebesgeschichten befinden sich traditionell in einem besonderen Spannungsverhältnis zwischen Wunsch und Wirklichkeit der Leser und der Fiktionalisierung dieser beiden. Schon E. M. Forster hatte dieses Problem mit seinem Maurice. Wie soll man diese Liebesgeschichte enden lassen? In einem wahrheitsnahen schrecklichen Ende, einem Skandal und einem Bruch? Oder soll man ein Happy Ending kreieren, das dann dem Leser gefällt, ihn nicht in das Grau der Wirklichkeit und seine gesellschaftsbedingt mutmaßlich verlogene und gefürchtete Seinsweise zurückwirft? Total unglaubwürdig. Bei Forster geht das Paar fort. In den Wald. Ins Grüne. In eine Art Überrealität, die dem Wesen des Menschen und der Natur näher ist. Cantu macht einen Schnitt und beendet den Film. Das Paar, das seine Liebe nur in der Großstadt oder im Geheimen zu leben für möglich hält, bleibt dort wo es ist: in einer tiefen Nähe, mitten im ländlichen Milieu, in der Provinz Brandenburgs, auf dem Hof der LPG. Wo soll es auch hin? Nach Berlin, weg aus der Heimat? Und da eine Zukunft ihrer Liebe, dort wo sie in diesem Moment ist, undenkbar ist, friert die Zeit ein, endet der Film dort wo er am Schönsten ist. … Mehr nicht (obgleich sich so viel mehr sagen ließe). Lesenswert ist das Presseheft von Salzgeber (PDF), in dem überaus spannend der Hintergrund des Drehs beleuchtet wird (das Halbdokumentarische). Der Regisseur kommt auch zu Wort und berichtet davon, dass die von mir als undenkbar bezeichnete Liebe vielleicht doch denkbar ist… Mir bleiben die Bilder, der Sound und der Geschmack des Ländlichen, des Ostdeutschen, der Provinz. Sie sind ernüchternd und heimelig zugleich. Und–obgleich Cantu was anderes behauptet–befürchte ich, dass es für dieses Gefühl gut ist, dass der Film mit der Umarmung endet.

Book Cover of the Future…

… or just some gimmicky idea whose effect on the reader will wear off quickly? [via, more]