Did Bob Dylan Crib His Nobel Acceptance Speech From Spark Notes?

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Anyone who has ever not read the assigned book in school knows all about SparkNotes, the younger and less acclaimed stepbrother of the more famous Cliff’s Notes.

CliffsNotes are a series of student study guides available primarily in the United States. The guides present and explain literary and other works in pamphlet form or online

But wouild Bob Dylan, often touted as the greatest songwriter of the 20th century, stoop to such levels?

Yes, Slate says in a lengthy story.

During his official lecture recorded on June 4, laureate Bob Dylan described the influence on him of three literary works from his childhood: The Odyssey, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Moby-Dick. Soon after, writer Ben Greenman noted that in his lecture Dylan seemed to have invented a quotefrom Moby-Dick.

Those familiar with Dylan’s music might recall that he winkingly attributed fabricated quotes to Abraham Lincoln in his “Talkin’ World War III Blues.” So Dylan making up an imaginary quote is nothing new. However, I soon discovered that the Moby-Dick line Dylan dreamed up last week seems to be cobbled together out of phrases on the website SparkNotes, the online equivalent of CliffsNotes.

In Dylan’s recounting, a “Quaker pacifist priest” tells Flask, the third mate, “Some men who receive injuries are led to God, others are led to bitterness” (my emphasis). No such line appears anywhere in Herman Melville’s novel. However, SparkNotes’ character list describes the preacher using similar phrasing, as “someone whose trials have led him toward God rather than bitterness” (again, emphasis mine).

Following up on this strange echo, I began delving into the two texts side by side and found that many lines Dylan used throughout his Nobel discussion of Moby-Dick appear to have been cribbed even more directly from the site. The SparkNotes summary for Moby-Dick explains, “One of the ships … carries Gabriel, a crazed prophet who predicts doom.” Dylan’s version reads, “There’s a crazy prophet, Gabriel, on one of the vessels, and he predicts Ahab’s doom.”

Shortly after, the SparkNotes account relays that “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.” In his lecture, Dylan says, “Captain Boomer—he lost an arm to Moby. But … he’s happy to have survived. He can’t accept Ahab’s lust for vengeance.”

Across the 78 sentences in the lecture that Dylan spends describing Moby-Dick, even a cursory inspection reveals that more than a dozen of them appear to closely resemble lines from the SparkNotes site. And most of the key shared phrases in these passages (such as “Ahab’s lust for vengeance” in the above lines) do not appear in the novel Moby-Dick at all.

Slate also puts together a side-by-side chart where you can compare Dylan’s speech to the SparkNotes. 

Ah, the times they are indeed a’changin’.


Via Daily Wire