Dylan has a long history of literary borrowing — so is this just Dylan being Dylan? (AP: Chris Pizzello)
It took him months to even deliver it, and now Bob Dylan is being accused of plagiarising sections of his Nobel Prize lecture.
The American singer-songwriter used a video posted online to accept the prize for literature earlier this month, just in time to collect the 8 million Swedish krona ($1.2 million) reward.
But American author and journalist Andrea Pitzer said substantial chunks of Dylan’s address were copied without attribution from the Spark Notes cheating website.
Dylan has a long history of literary borrowing, including in some of the lyrics to songs on his 2001 album Love and Theft, and 2006’s Modern Times.
But Pitzer said that the latest controversy was different from earlier Dylan tributes and appropriations.
In a piece posted on the online magazine Slate, she said the musician lifted at least 20 sentences.
“It feels a little bit more like laziness than some of the more clever trickery that he’s done in that past, when he’s sent up some of these kinds of things,” she said.
“He really did use this just like a high school student who’s getting an assignment.
“After all, if he had waited just three or four more days, he wouldn’t have got the money.”
‘Dylan knew what he was doing’
In the 27-minute long video Dylan takes a meander through three influential works of literature, including Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
As Dylan fans and critics chewed over the singer-songwriter’s phrasing, something about his Moby Dick reflections struck Pitzer and American music writer Ben Greenman as amiss.
“On Twitter… Ben Greenman noted that one of the quotes that Dylan had one of the characters from Moby Dick speaking in his lecture was not actually in Moby Dick,” Pitzer said.
After doing some digging online, she discovered whole chunks of Dylan’s discussion of Moby Dick had appeared on Spark Notes.
“I found 20 sentences, and I felt like that’s, that’s a lot, out of 78 that he uses to talk about Moby Dick,” she said.
ABC broadcaster Mark Sutton, who wrote his doctoral thesis on Dylan’s work, has been more forgiving than Pitzer about Dylan’s intent.
“My main take on it is that it’s quite funny,” he said.
“It’s a Nobel Prize, it couldn’t be more high brow, and what’s the way to sort of take the breath out of it the most?
“It’s to crib from Spark Notes, the online source that students crib from.
“I guarantee you that Dylan knew this was going to come out — it’s not like this is a gotcha.”
Pitzer said she agreed with Mr Sutton’s take, to a point.
“[Dylan] is part of a very long tradition, it’s a very interesting American tradition which has sometimes had unfortunate economic consequences for people of colour and people without much money, in which things are used and not credited,” she said.
“But it’s also a rich part of American culture, and he’s definitely working inside that realm. But to me he didn’t transform much here, he didn’t do much here.”
With the controversy swirling, Dylan has yet to respond.