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November 15, 2009, 2:30 PM

The Inventions of Bob Dylan

Participants: Christopher Ricks, Matthew von Unwerth, Sean Wilentz

In consideration of Bob Dylan's 2009 releases, Together Through Life and Christmas in the Heart, this discussion brings together two scholars with multidisciplinary perspectives on Bob Dylan. In his book Dylan's Visions of Sin, preeminent poetry critic Christopher Ricks gives Dylan's work and words their most sustained reading to date, and reveals him as an inheritor and interpreter of the Anglo-American poetic tradition. Sean Wilentz, a Princeton professor and Historian-in-Residence at bobdylan.com, situates Dylan in the cultural and historical contexts that thrust him into the core of 20th century American iconography. Moderated by Matthew von Unwerth, this roundtable will explore Dylan's work as an ongoing conversation with tradition—literary, musical, historical, cultural—as opposed to and in productive tension with his works' innovations, and their erstwhile reputation as new, groundbreaking, and prophetic. Panelists will address Dylan's borrowings—from scripture, Chaucer, Civil War poet Henry Timrod, vaudeville—as well as his prolific non-musical output, including his stint as host of Theme Time Radio Hour, interpreting his work through the prisms of their respective expertise.

Christopher Ricks is Warren Professor of the Humanities at Boston University. He was President of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers from 2007 to 2008, and Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 2004 to 2009. In 2004, he published Dylan's Visions of Sin.

Matthew von Unwerth is the author of Freud's Requiem: Memory, Mourning and the Invisible History of a Summer Walk. He is Director of the A.A. Brill Library of The New York Psychoanalytic Institute and Coordinator of the Film Program at the Philoctetes Center. He is a candidate in psychoanalytic training in New York.

Sean Wilentz is Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the American Revolutionary Era at Princeton University. A recipient of the Bancroft and Beveridge Prizes in American history, he is also Historian-in-Residence at Bob Dylan's official website, www.bobdylan.com. His new book, Bob Dylan in America, will be published by Doubleday in 2010.

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.


Discussion Board

This forum allows for an ongoing discussion of the above Philoctetes event. You may use this space to share your thoughts or to pose questions for panelists. An attempt will be made to address questions during the live event or as part of a continued online dialogue.
Polly Rosenwaike says:
To the panel members:

T.S. Eliot said that "immature poets imitate; mature poets steal." How does the later work of Bob Dylan embody this dictum?

Terry Kelly,
The Bridge (UK Dylan magazine)
Do a Google Images search of "Bob Dylan 1963" then "Bob Dylan 1964" and you'll quickly notice the impact the Beatles had on the fashion of Dylan. In a matter of weeks or months it seems he dropped his long cultivated scruffy Woodie Guthrie look and donned the black suits and Chelsea boots of London's Carnaby Street. I'm curious to know if this says anything significant about Dylan? I assume he dressed like a depression-era hobo for a reason (driven by the songs he wrote and sang) so I also assume he changed his look for one as well. And that reason, I think, had less to do with his music and more to do with to riding the tsunami of popularity that came with simply looking "Mod." Regardless, I think it was the right move for him as was his "going electric." I just find it interesting how our visionaries.. our cultural icons can themselves be suddenly blindsided into going in a new direction. Dylan, it appears, was "blowin' in the wind" of popular taste like the rest of us.
jeanne c says:
thank you for this opportunity to share a love for bob dylan's work.

we seem to be making a periodic table for his sum total.

what would you both each say is the bob-element with the atomic number 1?

is it anger, genius or his use of the folk tradition of Ineffability in one's work?

thank you -- quanta
Carl Jacobs says:
In answer to Polly, i think dylan would paraphrase Elliot, and say amateur's borrow and pro's steal, have you listened to Paul Claytons"s song, "Who's gonna send you Ribbons when i'm gone" It is the early version of "Don't Think Twice" the music and the words, but Dylan infused his version with an anger that Clayton couldn't summon or express, of course a few years later he killed himself, i doubt it ws Dylan's fault, rather, Clayton's need to blame other's for his suicide, which is most often the case.
Amber Stine says:
Does anyone know when this video will be available to view??
Jerry Ames says:
Instead of comparing Dylan to Shakespeare, I have always felt that 'the Charles Dickens of our time' was more in keeping. Thank you, Jerry

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