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Dylan's Nobel Prize win shows definition of literature is changing

ASU prof says she won't "rule out" Dylan turning down Nobel Prize in Literature.
ASU prof switched from piano to guitar at age 12 to learn Bob Dylan songs.
All are invited to Wednesday celebration of Dylan's work, 1-2 p.m. in Tempe.
October 24, 2016

ASU English prof on musician's historic win, the controversy surrounding it and what it means for the future of the lit prize

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s winning the Nobel Prize in Literature has many in the literary community up in arms, and the genre-defying Dylan himself remains mum on whether he’ll accept.

Arizona State University English professor Elizabeth Horan, however, is “thrilled” about the first-ever musician to win the prize.

A longtime appreciator of Dylan’s work, Horan teaches a course on Nobel laureates in which one of her students’ assignments is to predict who will win the prize for literature that year. Over the years, she has had several students make a case for the “Like A Rolling Stone” crooner.

To celebrate his win, Horan and the ASU Department of English are hosting “Bringing It All Back: Bob Dylan Nobel Prize Celebration 2016” from 1 to 2 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 26, in room 316 of the Durham Language and Literature Building on the Tempe campus. The event is free and open to public, as well as the entire ASU community. Attendees are encouraged to bring, recite or perform their favorite Bob Dylan lyric (one song). Click here to RSVP.

Read on for Horan’s take on the “scandalous” history of the Nobel Prize in Literature, her favorite Dylan songs, and whether she thinks he’ll eventually accept the award.

Question: How is the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature chosen?

Answer: The Swedish Academy goes by the terms of Alfred Nobel’s will. His will is quite vague, and he also wrote it in Swedish, which wasn’t his first language. His will states that the prize should go to the most outstanding work in an idealistic direction. So it’s kind of vague.

The person has to be alive at the time the academy makes the decision, and it rarely goes to someone young. Only one or two people have received the prize before the age of 45. It’s not a rule, but they generally tend to go to people who are at least in their late 40s, more often in their 60s, who usually have a large, important body of work. And they have to be nominated either by professors of language and literature or by the Swedish Academy.

Q: What was your reaction when you heard Bob Dylan was being awarded the prize?

A: I was speechless. I get up at 3:30 in the morning every year when they announce the winner so that I can be one of the first to know, because when I’m teaching the Nobel laureate class, I need to get ahold of books before copies disappear. I’m not teaching the course this year so there wasn’t a big rush, but I began thinking about how I could do a whole course on Bob Dylan. The next thing I did was write to some of my students who have nominated him in the past and have been the most vehement about it.

Q: Are you happy with the academy’s decision?

A: I’m really happy because it shows the Swedish Academy is getting more open about what its idea of literature is. It’s no longer just big novels. They’re thinking more broadly about literature, and literature in performance. And that bodes well for things like graphic novels and other forms of performed literature. I’m also glad because one of the problems someone from the U.S. would have had with winning the prize is that since Toni Morrison was the last American to get it, whoever follows her has to live up to that. And Bob Dylan does. I was thrilled.

Q: So it’s safe to say you’re a Dylan fan?

A: When I teach the Nobel laureate class, I have to be completely impartial. So I don’t reveal that I’m a Bob Dylan fan. But I can now admit, when I was 12, I switched from piano to guitar so that I could learn to play Bob Dylan songs.

Q: Do you have a favorite?

A: The first song I learned to play was “Mr. Tambourine Man.” I also really like “Tangled Up in Blue.” I tend to like the songs with complex lyrics, as well as some of the more narrative ones, like “The Jack of Hearts” and “Hurricane.” And that’s one of the things that’s so amazing about Dylan. He’s produced so many different kinds of songs.

Q: What happens when someone wins the prize?

A: The winner goes to Stockholm and gives a banquet speech, called the Nobel Lecture. They’re all good, and it’s one of the things we read in my class. You can read them all on the Nobel website. Different people do different things with that occasion. Sometimes they use it to bring up political things, like British playwright Harold Pinter did.

It was incredible what he did. He used the opportunity to denounce the invasion of Iraq, which both the U.S. and Britain were very involved in, and that’s something U.S. students aren’t often aware of. It was a controversial and extremely well-done lecture. Students always get wound up when they see that. One of my first thoughts after getting over the shock and the thrill that Dylan had won was, what will he do with the lecture?

Q: Is there often controversy surrounding the prize?

A: Whenever anyone wins the prize, there’s always a scandal. It’s always the case. Because there’s so much money involved. The very fact of having $1 million dollars associated with one prize is embarrassing to some people, particularly when it’s connected to something like the realm of culture, where there’s no absolute, agreed-upon standard about what constitutes a good piece of literature. Or even what literature is. Science prizes have always been controversial as well, but more so about who to give credit to for discoveries.

Another part of the scandal surrounding the prize has to do with the publishing community. In October, they’re very keyed in to who will win because it results in a big bump in sales. So a publisher will recall books they’ve printed and reprint the cover to reflect a writer’s Nobel Prize-winning status.

Q: Aside from a pseudo-acknowledgement on his website that was surreptitiously removed, Dylan has yet to acknowledge whether or not he’ll accept the prize. Is that unusual?

A: The only person to turn down the Nobel Prize for Literature was French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. He explained that it had long been his policy not to accept any honors or recognitions for his work.

But many past winners have been uncomfortable with it. For instance, Canadian short-story writer Alice Munro won and said she wasn’t feeling well enough to attend [because she was overwhelmed by] so much press attention in such a short period of time. People who have written about receiving the prize say it’s so intense. Often with novelists, their first book after having won is usually pretty mediocre. That’s because being a good writer requires a steady, set routine and time alone.

Q: Do you think there’s any indication Dylan may turn down the prize?

A: The fact he has not said anything yet is quite interesting. It seems to me a little unlikely, but I’m not going to rule it out.

 
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ASU professor: AT&T no longer phone company if deal goes through

$85.4 billion merger would bring CNN, TNT, HBO under AT&T umbrella.
Proposed AT&T deal still could be rejected by federal regulators.
October 24, 2016

Business media professor Mark Hass says AT&T-Time Warner merger signals big shift

An ASU business media professor says AT&T’s planned acquisition of Time Warner has the potential to change “the competitive landscape of content creation” if federal regulators approve the deal.

Mark Hass, professor of practice at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the W. P. Carey School of Business, specializing in strategic communications and marketing, provides insight on the deal that he says signals a significant shift in the media landscape.

The $85.4 billion merger would bring CNN, TNT, HBO and superhero franchises such as Batman and Superman under the AT&T umbrella, making them available on DirectTV and its streaming services.

Critics have argued the proposal could raise prices, limit choices and pose risks to consumer privacy.

The deal is expected to face scrutiny from regulators, who have the power to strike it down. Other media and tech companies could also emerge and usurp the potential merger.

Hass, with more than three decades of experience as a journalist, entrepreneur and strategic communications professional, helps sort these and other implications.

Question: Why is this deal happening now?

Answer: The media is being caught by digitization, and this is just another in a seriesComcast acquired NBC Universal in 2011. Verizon this year purchased Yahoo and AOL. of deals. All of the traditional telecom and wireless carriers are trying to own content.

As content moves to a small screen, they want to control content, not just access to the content. The Verizon’s and AT&T’s are generating a lot of cash, and they’re using it to get into the content business.

Q: Is this a big deal within the industry, and if so, why? 

A: This is a big deal because AT&T is a big carrier. They had their last deal blocked when they tried to buy T-Mobile, and I also believe this will be the largest merger of the year based on value.

It’s big in that regard, but more importantly it’s going to change the nature of AT&T and make them one of the worlds, if not the world’s largest content provider.

They’re going to control both the creation and delivery of media to the small screen. I think it’s a much better powerful position to be in.

Q: How should the consumer view this merger? 

A: If you’re an HBO or Showtime subscriber, it’s a big deal. If you’re an AT&T subscriber, it’s a big deal. That probably covers a lot of people. It changes the competitive landscape of content creation, assuming it is approved by the federal regulators.

Q: What are the potential benefits to the consumer? 

A: It may make it easier for you to cut the cord with your current carrier if that’s what you want to do. Ironically, Time Warner Cable was spun out of a trend where people wanted to rely less on wire cable connection and more on a cordless connection — the idea that if you buy the content you want and delivered on any device you wanted, most likely your small screen rather than your TV, is a powerful trend that’s rolling over the cable industry, and the content creation industry. If you’re an AT&T subscriber, I can imagine a time when a channel like HBO and Showtime were just rolled into your subscription for a relatively small additional fee.

Q: What could be some potential drawbacks? 

A: Something like this always raises the question of cost. If AT&T, and this is what the federal regulators will be looking at — is, will this hurt competition? If you’re not an AT&T, will it cost you more to subscribe to a cable channel? Or will you get second-rate content? It raises those kinds of anti-competitive questions because AT&T has a specific delivery platform that now has control of content. What they do with that content is another big question. Will they allow it to be deployed elsewhere? Will they charge differently if it is deployed elsewhere? This is unknown.

Q: How long will it be before we see the effects?

A: It’s still an open question whether or not the deal will be approved. I think it will receive a lot of regulatory scrutiny. AT&T already owns Direct TV, so there will be a period of scrutiny whether the deal will happen. But if it happens, then I think you’ll see the changes occur pretty quickly.

The trend to consume content on your mobile device instead of a wired device is very powerful. The growth is huge.

The bandwidth we’re consuming on video is big, and that’s only going to continue to get bigger. If the deal goes through, AT&T subscribers will see changes very quickly, making it advantageous to them to subscribe to other content channels that will be available to them through this deal. For people who are not subscribers, it’ll be longer before they see any changes.

Q: Any big-picture or long-range concerns?

A: I’m pretty calm about these types of mergers. I’m old enough to remember the furor over the AOL/Time Warner deal. There was so much concern that it would create an anti-competitive situation, and far from it.

It turned out to be a really bad deal for Time Warner because they got stuck with AOL when it was in decline, so it’s hard to predict how these things will go. The nature of digital media is to create dynamic opportunities for new business models. I suspect that over the next five years new and very powerful business models will emerge as well that will be competitive with the Comcasts, Verizons and AT&T’s of the world, and what they’re trying to do. Mid-term, there will be new, competitive, entrepreneurial models for receiving content on your mobile devices.

This merger opens up their bandwidth, and so now the structure has to be built up to match that demand. A lot of the current bandwidth is being consumed by third-party advertisers who are gathering data on people who are accessing content online without their knowledge. The privacy issues and who owns the data on those individuals will become a more prominent issue in the future and will emerge on a federal level.

Q: So this is a trend story? 

A: That’s exactly right. I’m calm about it because it’s an inevitable movement. It’s not a good or bad thing; it just is.

 

Top photo by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo from San Francisco, USA (iPhone anticipation) CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Reporter , ASU Now

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