The Meaning of Bob Dylan’s Silence
In the summer of 1964, Bob Dylan released his fourth album, “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” which includes the track “It Ain’t Me Babe.” “Go ’way from my window/Leave at your own chosen speed,” it begins. “I’m not the one you want, babe/I’m not the one you need.”
1964年夏天，鲍勃·迪伦(Bob Dylan)推出了他的第四张专辑《鲍勃·迪伦的另一面》(Another Side of Bob Dylan)，里面有《宝贝儿，那不是我》(It Ain’t Me Babe)这首歌。“从我的窗边离开，是快是慢都由你，”歌曲开头唱道。“我不是你要找的人，宝贝儿。你需要的不是我。”
That fall, the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre played a variation on the same tune in a public statement explaining why, despite having been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, he would not accept it. “The writer,” he insisted, must “refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honorable circumstances.” Mr. Dylan was talking to an imaginary lover, Sartre to an actual Swedish Academy, but the message was similar: If you love me for what I am, don’t make me be what I am not.
那年秋天，哲学家让-保罗·萨特(Jean-Paul Sartre)在一份公开声明中发出了异曲同工的论调，解释了虽然被授予诺贝尔文学奖，但自己为什么不打算接受。他坚称，“作家”必须“拒绝让自己被塑造为一个功成名就的大师，哪怕是在最光荣的情况之下”。迪伦是在对一个想象中的爱人说话，萨特面对的则是真实存在的瑞典学院(Swedish Academy)，但他们传达的信息是相似的：如果你喜欢的是真实的我，就不要试图把我变成我所不是的样子。
We don’t know whether Mr. Dylan was paying attention to l’affaire Sartre that fall 52 years ago. But now that he has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, he seems to be following in Sartre’s footsteps. Indeed, Mr. Dylan has done the philosopher one better: Instead of declining the prize, he has simply declined to acknowledge its existence. He hasn’t issued a statement or even returned the Swedish Academy’s phone calls. A reference to the award briefly popped up on the official Bob Dylan website and then was deleted — at his instruction or not, nobody knows. And the Swedes, who are used to a lot more gratitude from their laureates, appear to be losing their patience: One member of the Academy has called Mr. Dylan’s behavior “impolite and arrogant.”
There is a good deal of poetic justice in this turn of events. For almost a quarter of a century, ever since Toni Morrison won the Nobel in 1993, the Nobel committee acted as if American literature did not exist — and now an American is acting as if the Nobel committee doesn’t exist. Giving the award to Mr. Dylan was an insult to all the great American novelists and poets who are frequently proposed as candidates for the prize. The all-but-explicit message was that American literature, as traditionally defined, was simply not good enough. This is an absurd notion, but one that the Swedes have embraced: In 2008, the Academy’s permanent secretary, Horace Engdahl, declared that American writers “don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature” and are limited by that “ignorance.”
这样的事态转变似乎饱含着因果报应的成分。自托妮·莫利森(Toni Morrison)1993年获得该奖项之后，在近四分之一世纪的时间里，诺贝尔奖委员会好像一直就当美国文学不存在一样——现在轮到一位美国人当诺贝尔奖委员会不存在了。将这一奖项授予迪伦，是对经常获得诺贝尔奖提名的所有美国优秀小说家和诗人的一种侮辱。其中传达的信息不言而喻：传统定义上的美国文学就是不够好。这种想法荒唐可笑，但却不妨碍瑞典人真的这么想：2008年，瑞典文学院常任秘书霍勒斯·恩达尔(Horace Engdahl)曾宣称，美国作家“并不真正参与大的文学对话”，他们被自己的“无知”给局限了。
Still, it’s doubtful that Mr. Dylan intends his silence to be a defense of the honor of American literature. (He did, after all, accept the Pulitzer Prize for “lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”) No one knows what he intends — Mr. Dylan has always been hard to interpret, both as a person and as a lyricist, which is one reason people love him. But perhaps the best way to understand his silence, and to praise it, is to go back to Sartre, and in particular to Sartre’s concept of “bad faith.”
Bad faith, Sartre explains in “Being and Nothingness,” is the opposite of authenticity. Bad faith becomes possible because a human being cannot simply be what he or she is, in the way that an inkwell simply is an inkwell. Rather, because we are free, we must “make ourselves what we are.” In a famous passage, Sartre uses as an example a cafe waiter who performs every part of his job a little too correctly, eagerly, unctuously. He is a waiter playing the role of waiter. But this “being what one is not” is an abdication of freedom; it involves turning oneself into an object, a role, meant for other people. To remain free, to act in good faith, is to remain the undefined, free, protean creatures we actually are, even if this is an anxious way to live.
萨特在《存在与虚无》(Being and Nothingness)一书中解释道，“虚假信念”是本真的反面。之所以会存在虚假的信念，是因为人类无法像墨水池之为墨水池那样，单纯地成为自己。更确切地说，因为我们是自由的，所以我们必须“使自己成为自己的样子”。在一个著名的段落中，萨特举了一个咖啡馆侍者的例子。这名男侍者在做自己的每项工作时，都有点太到位、太热情，太过虚情假意。他是一个在扮演侍者这个角色的侍者。但这种“成为自己所不是的样子”的做法是对自由的放弃；它要求你把自己变成一个客体、一种角色，用来给别人看。要想保持自由、保持“真诚信念”(good faith)，则需要一直做不受局限的、自由而变化多端的人，也就是我们真实的样子，哪怕这是一种令人焦虑的生活方式。
This way of thinking is what used to be called existentialism, and Mr. Dylan is one of its great products. Living like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone, is living in Sartrean good faith, and much of the strangeness of Mr. Dylan’s life can be understood as a desperate attempt to retain this freedom in the face of the terrific pressure of fame. In a profile in The New Yorker in that same year of 1964, Mr. Dylan was quoted as saying that he didn’t “want to write for people anymore” but rather wanted to “write from inside me.”
To be a Nobel laureate, however, is to allow “people” to define who one is, to become an object and a public figure rather than a free individual. The Nobel Prize is in fact the ultimate example of bad faith: A small group of Swedish critics pretend to be the voice of God, and the public pretends that the Nobel winner is Literature incarnate. All this pretending is the opposite of the true spirit of literature, which lives only in personal encounters between reader and writer. Mr. Dylan may yet accept the prize, but so far, his refusal to accept the authority of the Swedish Academy has been a wonderful demonstration of what real artistic and philosophical freedom looks like.