Dylan’s Silence on Nobel: Disrespectful or Righteous?

“Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” 

― Dylan Thomas, In Country Sleep

Before we delve into the issue at hand, it’s important to concretise the dialectics surrounding The Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1985, Alfred Nobel, in his will, stated that the award must be given to the person with the “most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Ideal direction, he further explained in his will must “not only [contain] belles-lettres, but also other writings which, by virtue of their form and style, possess literary value.” In other words, the award is not meant for literary authors alone but —singers, playwrights and essayists– also qualify for the award. However, Nobel’s definition caused a storm in the Swedish academy.

Some members thought it created a “cosmopolitan tribunal of literature” which would lead to the award been handed to undeserving individuals. One can argue that the attempt to shun cosmopolitanism still plagues the academy.  This kind of politics attracted J. P. Sartre’s refusal.


Sartre argues, and rightly so, that this “intervention of institutions” affects the author’s written word. Dylan, therefore, it seems is righteous to remain silent and heeds Sartre’s admonition about the rude intervention of a literary tribunal. But his silence and lack of acknowledgement thereof has inspired the Swedish academy’s ire.

Per Wastberg speaking on behalf of the academy called said Dylan was “impolite and arrogant” for keeping silent. Dylan’s silence, echoes the clichéd saying: silence is the best answer for a … Dylan, of course, without saying much is calling the whole academy fools. His silence is like a spit on the tribunal; he hasn’t made any statement till today.

I could hear the words from his song reverberating in his silence “But you who philosophise disgrace and criticise all fears/Take the rag away from your face/Now ain’t the time for your tears”. [1] In this case, the Swedish Academy doubled as William Zantzinger and the judges of the case as they fail to comprehend Dylan’s “fears” or present state of mind but quickly draw hasty conclusions without hearing his case.

Broadly speaking, and drawing from Nobel’s definition of “ideal direction”, Dylan is qualified for the award. I won’t waste time arguing, therefore, whether he’s deserving of the award or not. He does. In fact, some literary writers argue his work has been inspirational and surely credible.

 I hope Dylan breaks his silence soon and save the soiled face of the academy and if he doesn’t; well, he has the right to.

[1] Dylan, B. (1964). The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (First ed.). US: Columbia.

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