Friday, October 14, 2016

On Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize

Noting how popular "Visions of Johanna" remains among "hardcore Dylanophiles", Andy Gill suggests it is the enigmatic quality of the song that is responsible for its popularity—"forever teetering on the brink of lucidity, yet remaining impervious to strict decipherment". Gill writes the song begins by contrasting two lovers, the carnal Louise, and "the more spiritual but unattainable" Johanna. Ultimately, for Gill, the song seeks to convey how the artist is compelled to keep striving to pursue some elusive vision of perfection.
Myself: But it contains the ludicrous Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze I can’t find my knees”.
Clinton Heylin has described what he construes as the strange circumstances surrounding the song. Written around the time of Dylan's marriage to Sara Lownds, Heylin describes it as "one of the oddest songs ever written by a man who has just tied the knot and is enjoying a brief honeymoon in the city". Noting that the song is an elegy for a past lover, Heylin speculates that "it is awfully tempting to see Johanna as his muse" who, in the song, is "not here". For Heylin, the triumph of the song lies in "the way Dylan manages to write about the most inchoate feelings in such a vivid, immediate way"
Myself: But it contains the ludicrous Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze I can’t find my knees”.
Dylan critic Michael Gray also praises the subtlety of the song. Gray acknowledges that it is difficult to say what this song is "about", since it is at once indefinable and precise. For Gray, its principal achievement lies in the way it confuses categories, using language to be simultaneously serious and flippant, delicate and coarse, and mixing up "abstract neo-philosophy and figurative phraseology".
Myself: But it contains the ludicrous Hear the one with the mustache say, “Jeeze I can’t find my knees”.
Robert Shelton called "Visions of Johanna" one of Dylan's major works. He writes that Dylan's technique of throwing out "skittering images" evokes "a mind floating downstream"; these "non-sequential visions" are the record of a fractured consciousness. Shelton argues that the song explores a hopeless quest to reach an ideal, the visions of Johanna, and yet without this quest life becomes meaningless. He suggests that the same paradox is explored by Keats in his "Ode on a Grecian Urn".
Keats: When old age shall this generation waste,| Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe| Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou sayst,| "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," – that is all| Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Bob: Jeeze I can’t find my knees
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