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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.

Heute-Beitrag zu Wendelstein 7-X

Nachdem ich mich gestern schon über den Beitrag aufgeregt hatte, habe ich mir die paar Minuten von Christian Sievers (Anmoderation), Thomas Hass und Christoph Destairel (Beitrag) (ab 13:17) heute noch einmal angesehen. Es ist verheerend, was die 19-Uhr-Nachrichten da gesendet haben. Ich habe erst gedacht, dass man sich vielleicht an die Zielgruppe anpassen muss bzw. einen sehr niedrigen Common Ground finden möchte. Aber das kann nicht stimmen. Seitdem über einfache und leichte Sprache diskutiert wird, weiß man, dass, um Texte für Menschen mit kognitiven Einschränkungen verständlich zu gestalten, unter anderem auf bildhafte Sprache, auf Metaphorisches, verzichtet werden soll, dass Dinge direkt angesprochen werden sollen (und ggf. mit Beispielen und Vergleichen greifbarer gemacht werden), wenn man denn fast alle Leser, Zuhörer oder Zuschauer erreichen möchte. Aber der Medientext von gestern ist angefüllt von problematischen Formulierungen und Inhalten. Eine Liste:

Metaphorische/bildhafte Verwendungen (keine Vergleiche übrigens, die wären nämlich mutmaßlich hilfreich):

1) Die Sonne ist ein Kraftwerk
2) Physiker ist ein Lehrberuf
3) Reaktoren setzen Wissen frei

Faktisch falsche Darstellungen

1) In einem Fusionsreaktor verbinden sich Atome miteinander
2) Im Stellarator (die Bezeichnung wird nicht verwendet, was schade ist, hat doch mutmaßlich fast jeder Zuschauer im Physikunterricht oder auch später vom Tokamak gehört–und da wäre eine abgrenzende Diskussion interessant gewesen / übrigens findet auch der ITER keine Erwähnung) wabert eine Atomwolke umher.

Journalistisch unsaubere Aussagen

1) Kritiker sagten, dass die Technik zu teuer und erst in 50 Jahren serienreif sei. Davon abgesehen, dass dieser Zeitrahmen überschaubar wäre: Welche Kritiker? Wo sagen die das? Kann man das bitte kritisch einordnen?

Es gibt noch ein paar Kleinigkeiten, auf die ich aber nicht eingehen muss. Die Liste der Verfehlungen enthüllt den Kern des Problems (ich generalisiere): Grund der Blödheit derartiger Beiträge in der ZDF-Hauptnachrichtensendung ist nicht die Anpassung an die mutmaßlich kognitiv beschränkte Zielgruppe der heute-Nachrichten (das wäre ja okay), denn dann würden bildhafte Verwendungen vermieden. Die faktisch falschen oder unsauberen Darstellungen und Aussagen deuten in eine andere Richtung: Vielleicht handelt es sich einfach um ziemlich schlechten Journalismus. Leider. Andere Erklärung? –> Leave a comment.

Frohe und fröhliche Weihnacht(en) – Wie jetzt?

Zwischen 1906 und 1929 liegt im Google-Korpus (siehe Link) die fröhliche Weihnacht weit vorn. Interessat auch, dass es bis in die 1930 zwar frohe und fröhliche Weihnachten gegeben hat, die Weihnacht aber so gut wie immer fröhlich und niemals froh war. Auch in den Folgejahren ist die fröhliche Variante der Spitzenreiter. Seit Mitte der 1980er ist man allerdings nicht mehr fröhlich, sondern eher froh–vielleicht das Jahr überlebt oder doch noch alle Geschenke bekommen zu haben? Mit historischem Blick könnte man die verschobenen relativen Frequenzen sicher besser einordnen (Wirtschaftskrise, Terror, Krieg, Generationen und Bewegungen).

[on Google Ngrams]

Egal welche Variante nun eine höhere Frequenz aufweist, Weihnachten zu thematisieren scheint immer wichtiger zu werden, wie dieses Ngram zeigt.

Photo: Opening keynote by Espen #Aarseth and Stuart #Moulthrop at #ELO2015. #Bergen #Norway

Photo: Opening keynote of Espen #Aarseth and Stuart #Moulthrop at #ELO2015. #Bergen #Norway

[“Opening keynote of Espen #Aarseth and Stuart #Moulthrop at #ELO2015. #Bergen #Norway”]

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).

Re. “Daily Mail Steals My Video and Wants Me to Take the Blame for Copyright Infringements”

Update 1: 2015-03-05 (See Below)

Today Rosie Lord of the Daily Mail contacted me (see below) asking if they could use a video that I had posted under a Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike) License on Vimeo. I replied that this wasn’t so easy as the video contained background music that was licensed for non-commercial use only, but I would be willing to send them the original video w/o the music and grant them the desired licence for “perpetual” (de facto unlimited) use for 35 pounds (my suggestion based on the rate for local newspapers) license fee. To be honest, I was astounded that what I had learned to be the “gutter press” would even care to ask before publishing stuff. Was I mistaken? Of course not. I never got a reply. Instead they just took the video, edited it (getting rid of a beautiful view of the Porta Nigra) and put it on-line on their website. No money for the person who shot the video–my name is given at least (see screen shot). Nothing for the musician whose music is in the background. Yes, it probably qualifies as a quote from the web. I shouldn’t complain, should I? After all, I am confirmed in my disgust for the yellow press. But why did they ask in the first place? Simple: If you agree to give them the stuff for free and forever–irrevocably–, and for their offshoot channels as well, you warrant that you have the full copy- and usage rights. So, if a musician like the one bamboozled by the publication, comes and wants money, they can send them to you. Not only do they want owt fer nowt. They also want to pass the buck to others if things go wrong (see below). Clever people they are for sure. Und deswegen, unter anderem, ist und bleibt ein Drecksblatt eben ein Drecksblatt.

I won’t post the link to the article here. Reference:

Williams, Amanda. “Red Statue of Karl Marx Gifted to City of Gloucester Is Hidden Away.” Mailonline. 4 Mar. 2015. Web.

Ausschnitt DailyMail klaut mein Marx Video 20150305

[Screenshot on the Website of The Daily Mail, cf. Williams]

Bildschirmfoto 2015-03-05 um 01.02.10

[The very kind phishing message by Rosie Lord.]

Bildschirmfoto 2015-03-05 um 01.14.38

[Rules and Regulations – Passing the Buck]

Update 1 (2015-03-05):

Rebecca Hutson (I believe she is Director of Video at MailOnline) contacted me today saying that they have not received my email to the video editor (see above), that she had learned about my suggestion from my blog post and that they would like to pay a license fee of 35 pounds and swap the video they have on their website for the original file (thereby getting rid of the problem of the background music which is licensed under a CC-BY-NC-SA license). I agreed and uploaded the original video for the Daily Mail to download and use (and mentioned that I don’t own the rights to the art installation or the sounds you could hear in front of Porta Nigra on the day I took the video).

Let’s see: If they pay a license fee, is this still “freebooting”? Not any longer. Is posting without prior clearance poor style? In most cases, I’d think it is. Is my ranting about poor style poor style, too? Maybe. Am I biased? Yes.

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).

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…

2014 – Happy New Year

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.

The $8 Billion iPod – Rob Reid on Copyright Maths – TED Talks


This is What Wikipedia’s Protest against SOPA and PIPA Looked Like / 2012-01-18

[This is a post for historians of the future, when Wikipedia, after it will have been forbidden entirely (like all major “anarchistic” publications of the early years of the State-Grid-Halliburton-Google-Web (called World-Wide-Web back then)), will also have been systematically purged from all archives.]

Users at the time were not fully aware of the threatening danger posed by a legislation influenced by state politics/old-ecomnomy oligarchs/criminal syndicates to free speech, network neutrality, accessibility of internet services, … (plus the once in a century chance to change the whole planet for the better), worldwide. Therefore, they, instead of joining the protest, rather switched off JavaScript on and complained about those political nerds/idiots. Could they actually be so naive to believe that they could possibly change anything?

Book Cover of the Future…

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

Lyrik zum Freitag: “Drinking out of Cups” by Dan Deacon and Liam Lynch (2003/2006)

Weitere Info dazu hier.

A Hunter Is ****** by a Bear

Ein YouTube-CYOA mit Texteingabefeld. Und schön infantil…


Bin ich der einzige, der das noch nicht kannte?

“Now Here This” by Stuart Moulthrop

There’s all kinds of political comments in Stuart Moulthrop’s Victory Garden (the whole text is stance against the Persian Gulf War of 1990/91 (at least)). The different forms of these are especially interesting. This is a poem therefrom:

Hear it comes again, riverRerun past towering erections of the five Cousins with but one middle initial among them. I’ve seen The Best Minds of My Generation but I should’ve waited for the sequel. Revenge, renege, regain, once more around the bases.

Doesn’t nobody on this bus know any new jokes—Of course not, O Fool, for this is America I here singing: New Boston, New Trier, New London, New Berlin, New Hiroshima, New Victorygarden, New Jeruseylem [sic]. All’re bored!

Life mag say Mars Is Our Next Home (gee ‘n’ I can’t afford the one I ain’t got now) we’re gonna take that red planet & paint the town blue & we shall build an urb upon that orb & its name shall be calléd [sic]: SeemYouLackerTM : Registered Treadmark [sic] of the New and Improved Babylon.

Or jes Slacktown to them as knows.
Get back.

[Stuart Moulthrop, Victory Garden (Watertown, MA: Eastgate, 1991), “Now Here This”.]

A Million Penguins is …

… a novel about people trying to write a novel. It is a künstlerroman and a meta-novel, and it is not easily accessible. It is neither a carnival, nor is it crap. This is a thesis.

Electronic Literature Collection 2 – ELO2 – Released

Today, the Electronic Literature Organization has announced the publication of their second compilation of digital Literature*:

The Electronic Literature Collection 2 comprises 60 works by almost 70 authors in 6 languages produced on the basis of a wide range of programming/mark-up languages. The anthology, which has been edited by Laura Borràs, Talan Memmott, Rita Raley and Brian Kim Stefans, is also being published as a hard copy (DVD).

ELC2 is ready for your syllabi and reading list. As a complement to our Electronic Literature Directory, and a continuation from Volume 1, this collection offers an anthology of works that pushes through the boundaries of literary forms, creating new kinds of experiences for interacting readers.

I don’t believe as yet that there will be that much real interaction, rather reaction. However, let’s see. This will be some nice reading for the semester break. The whole thing, by the way, is under a Creative Commons license. So, spread the word and the works.

* I am using Simanowski’s terminology here.

Texton vs. Scripton

Texton vs. Scripton


Take a look at the Memexes designed by the students of the Cybertexts Seminar at the University of Bayreuth. Starting from Bush’s first text about the Memex, they were to discus the look of the machine and to depict it, as they understood it, at the blackboard. Remarkable is the glimpse one can get of the imaginative framework of a person in 2008 if one asks these questions: How do screens look like? How do levers look like? What’s the size and the form of a keyboard? What else is important about such a machine and working with a Memex in general.