You would not be blamed for weeping over the news that Bob Dylan, an already-controversial recipient of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, may have plagiarized part of the Nobel Lecture he gave in acceptance of the prize from Sparknotes.
Yes, really: Sparknotes.
The news was broken by Slate’s Andrea Pitzer, who took on the thankless but fruitful task of comparing Dylan’s musings on Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” to those put forward by the website, which, by providing chapter-by-chapter summaries and analyses of commonly assigned books, has become the crutch for lazy students and bane of literature teachers everywhere.
“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,” Pitzer wrote.
She provides a chart demonstrating the similarities, noting when they included phrases that never appear in “Moby-Dick” itself. Examples included such near kin as SparkNotes’s “One of the ships… carries Gabriel, a crazed prophet who predicts doom” and Dylans’s “There’s a crazy prophet, Gabriel, on one of the vessels, and he predicts Ahab’s doom.”
That’s not a good look for Dylan. Pitzer wrote that she contacted Dylan’s record label, Columbia, to request a comment, but had not received a response by the time of publication.
Is this middle-school idiocy by the recipient of one of the greatest literary prizes the world has to offer, or simply a new iteration of Dylan’s now-famed ambivalence towards the award? After all, it’s hard to think of a more striking way to make the literary world reconsider its priorities.
Either way, Dylan’s apparent plagiarism is bad news for everyone — except, perhaps, a certain aged New Jersey titan of the academy. The Nobel Committee might be tempted to pick someone more reliable than Dylan to be next year’s laureate. Philip Roth could do just the trick.