Bob Dylan

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It looks like Bob Dylan mined SparkNotes for his Nobel Prize lecture

The quotes, they are a-changin'.


Audra Schroeder


Posted on Jun 14, 2017   Updated on May 23, 2021, 3:07 am CDT

In early June, Bob Dylan finally offered up his lecture for the Nobel Prize in literature. It quotes Moby-Dick—sort of.

A report from Slate offers up comparisons of portions of Dylan’s recorded speech and the SparkNotes for Moby-Dick. In the recording, Dylan claims that book, The Odyssey, and All Quiet on the Western Front were influential.

Writer Ben Greenman first pointed out on June 6 that Dylan’s lecture included quotes from Moby-Dick that aren’t in the novel. After searching physical and digital copies, Greenman surmised: “As it stands, it’s very much in the spirit of his entire enterprise: to take various American masterworks and absorb and transform them.”

But Slate pulled up the novel’s SparkNotes summary and found 20 instances where his lecture and the SparkNotes are similar. A couple of examples of Dylan’s lecture (left) and the study guide, via Slate’s infographic:

Dylan using passages from SparkNotes in a lecture for the Nobel Prize in literature isn’t totally out of character: He has long twisted the idea of attribution in his music and art, and divided critics on what’s “collage” and what’s theft. In 2012, writer Jonah Lehrer lost his job after admitting he fabricated quotes from Dylan in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works.

Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in October but didn’t seem very excited. He failed to show up to the ceremony in December; Patti Smith performed in his stead. His June 4 lecture came in just before deadline, ensuring Dylan gets the $900,000 prize money.

H/T Slate 

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*First Published: Jun 14, 2017, 12:30 pm CDT