Bob Dylan won a Nobel Prize for Literature last year, and his decision to skip the ceremony to accept his award was widely-publicized, criticized, and analyzed. While that choice was emblematic of much of Dylan’s career and personality, each recipient still must accept the award in a public manner in order to get the benefits that go along with such an honor – namely the sweet sweet bank deposit of just short of a million dollars. It’s not like Dylan really needs the money, but it’s also not an amount that any sane person would leave on the table just because they don’t like public speaking.
During his Nobel Prize Lecture at the Swedish Academy in Los Angeles earlier this month, Dylan gave a speech that heavily referenced multiple pieces of literature — including Moby Dick, The Odyssey and All Quiet on the Western Front. Which would be fine, if Dylan had referenced these works of art directly with exact quotes from the work. But now there are allegations, led by some research by Andrea Pitzer over at Slate that make the situation seem otherwise.
The first hint that Dylan may have received some unauthorized help in writing his lecture came when writer Ben Greenman noticed that the singer included a Moby Dick “quote” in his speech that may not have been a quote at all. Pitzer then set to work attempting to figure out where this phantom quote originated from, and found similar references in SparkNotes posts online. You can read her full investigation results over at Slate, but one possibly damning example of Dylan’s quote-lifting is as such:
Dylan: Another ship’s captain – Captain Boomer – he lost an arm to Moby. But he tolerates that, and he’s happy to have survived. He can’t accept Ahab’s lust for vengeance.
SparkNotes: “…a whaling ship whose skipper, Captain Boomer, has lost an arm in an encounter with Moby Dick …. Boomer, happy simply to have survived his encounter, cannot understand Ahab’s lust for vengeance.”
A classic case of a freshman English student scrambling to write a 12-page paper on one of the most boring books about a legendary whale ever written. Who among us hasn’t had this exact thing happen to us? Except this time, it’s not a 15-year old high school kid it’s a world-renowned performer and lyricist who hasn’t had the cleanest career plagiarism accusations-wise. Dylan has brushed previous accusations off without much fanfare, so even though Pitzer’s evidence seems airtight here, it’s likely that the artist won’t care (or even notice) that he’s being called out for unethical speech-writing practices at this stage in his career.