English Summer Course on Bob Dylan
Marking his Nobel Prize with "The Literary Bob Dylan"
October 24, 2016
English major Miles Erdman wasn't familiar with Bob Dylan when he signed up for a new English course on the Minnesota-raised singer-songwriter this past summer session. "When he won the Nobel Prize [for literature], I thought, ‘I need to learn about him,'" Erdman told The Star Tribune in a July 11 story about the University of Minnesota course, "and I figure this is a good way to do it."
A special section of ENGL 3061 (Literature and Music), "The Literary Bob Dylan" was taught by Katelin Krieg, a PhD candidate in English and winner of a 2016-17 Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, awarded to the University's most accomplished PhD candidates. Her advisor is Professor Andrew Elfenbein.
The course explored the music of Bob Dylan, one of the most critically acclaimed and culturally influential musicians of modern times. Dylan, who was born Bob Zimmerman in Duluth and grew up in Hibbing, took his stage name from the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and has regularly named poets (such as Rimbaud and Verlaine) as some of his greatest influences, alongside other folk musicians (Woody Guthrie, in particular). This course examined Dylan's literary influences and his influence on literature (Ginsberg, Joyce Carol Oates, Hunter S. Thompson) as well as questioning the dividing line between music and poetry.
Students paid special attention to Dylan's wide variety of formal strategies (the epigram, the couplet, balladry, surrealism, etc.) and their relation to poetic history to discover new contexts for a musician who is continually reinventing himself. At the same time, they considered the tensions these forms and their histories created in Dylan's musical career (manifest, for example, in the "going electric" controversy at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival). Students also situated Dylan's music, particularly his early work, in its historical and political context in order to consider, for example, strategies for cultivating empathy/sympathy through language and poetic form in the context of the Civil Rights movement ("Only a Pawn in Their Game," "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll") and to question the possibilities for a poetics of protest in the context of the Vietnam War ("A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," "Masters of War").
Texts included Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader, Chronicles (Dylan's memoirs), Dylan's music and liner notes, as well as works by Rimbaud, Verlaine, Ginsberg, Oates, Thompson, Dylan Thomas, Robert Burns, Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Paul Muldoon, and William Gay, among others.