Dylan, Bloom, misreadingPosted: June 20, 2010
I’m a fan of Harold Bloom’s literary criticism, and his theory of misreading. It’s a complicated theory, but it hinges on the idea that most critics and the general public misunderstand the work of really new artists upon inception, and it can take generations for the real meaning/stance to be clearly understood and felt. Nowhere is that more true than with singer-poet Bob Dylan, much of whose work is wildly misunderstood. Chronicles, the autobiography he released a few years ago, was greeted by many who said that Dylan’s memoir was a put-on, loaded with irony, and meant to toy with his public image. Applying Bloom’s theory, which is right on target in this case, it’s the opposite. Dylan was just being himself, honestly and sincerely. The strange thing about Dylan is that a big segment of the public mind has never grown up over the years and figured him out. It continues to misread him and his work. Here’s a small bit from an interview Dylan did on the release of an album of Christmas songs last year (I missed its release entirely). The full interview is worth reading because it brings out the on-going misreading. What is at stake here goes back to Dylan’s emergence as an artist with a larger-than-life image. Why that should be so may take another generation to fully understand. My guess is that his least appreciated, so-called “minor” songs now will become the most appreciated, and most of the popular, so-called classic songs will become less important because they will lack the context of the time in which they were created.
BF: Some critics don’t seem to know what to make of this record. Bloomberg news said, “Some of the songs sound ironic. Does he really mean have yourself a Merry Little Christmas?” Is there any ironic content in these songs?
BD: No not at all. Critics like that are on the outside looking in. They are definitely not fans or the audience that I play to. They would have no gut level understanding of me and my work, what I can and can’t do – the scope of it all. Even at this point in time they still don’t know what to make of me.
BF: Derek Barker in the Independent, compared this record with the shock of you going electric. So many artists have released Christmas records, from Bing Crosby to Huey Piano Smith. Why is it a shock if you do it?
BD: You’ll have to ask them.