Wednesday Mini Book Review: Bob Dylan and Philosophy


With enough time to assemble a backlog of recently published books I've finished, the Wednesday mini book review is back.

Bob Dylan and Philosophy , edited by Carl Porter and Peter Vernezze (Open Court, 2006). There's a grimly relentless series of these "[Pop Culture Item] and Philosophy" books from Open Court. This is the first that hit my own pleasure/obsession zone close enough that I bothered to check one out (Check this list). I doubt I'll be returning. The book is a collection of philosophy professors, most without many books for laymen of their own behind them, doing what the title I guess makes so concise and so clear: relating Dylan's views of love in Planet Waves to those in Plato's Symposium, and Kierkegaard and Camus' existentialism to latter-day Dylan lyrics; musing over Dylan's implicit theories of moral agency (what will all that "pawns in their game" guff); explaining how Dylan's social vision shifted from the Enlightenment to postmodernism (more popularly read as his retreat from polico-social commitment post-1965); and, my favorite, an extended analysis of "Man Gave Names to All The Animals" as Dylan's attempts to reclaim the holy power of logos.

Most of it, though, is pretty tedious matching of interpretations of Dylan lines with interpretations of philosophers. While temporarily amusing to those obsessed with thinking about Dylan (and here I cannot be fool enough to protect my real identity), it's the kind of fanboy pleasure that's pretty indulgent and empty-calorie intellectually. The essays generally just circle around, discoursing ramblingly, striking one as people pretending that they're so smart, bringing nothing particular to the table in terms of surprise or wit or, Dylan forbid, wisdom. It's all redolent of a bit too much useless and pointless knowledge.

Perhaps counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of my thoughts, but I believe I say this, not out of spite or anger, but simply because it's true. (Although, as Michael Chiariello notes in this book, to understand "truth" in Dylanesque terms requires "a consistent way to maintain the ideal of objective truth as the standard of belief without denying uncertainty or the freedom to change one's mind. I would venture that the position outlined by Sextus [Empiricus] provides us with one such view." So, there you go. Now is the time for your tears.)