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“The Strange Case of Dr. Dylan and Mr. Cohen”: A Study in Hyphenation

Sudev Pratim Basu

Associate Professor of English, Department of English & Other Modern European Languages, Visva-Bharati (University), Santiniketan. Email: sudevbasu@yahoo.co.in

Volume 9, Number 1, 2017 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v9n1.s00

 I

Going by the pure mathematics of influence in the statistically murky and genre border-busting world of popular music in English, the British punk band The Sex Pistols is right at the top. Intensely hated and venerated in equal measures, they lasted a mere two and a half years, released just four singles and one measly studio album appropriately titled Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols[1] in 1977 and promptly imploded, never reuniting despite critical and commercial forces urging them to do so; and to rub salt into the wound, despite their statistically tiny musical output they have been a major source of influence to scores of musicians and musical genres ranging from punk and alternative rock to thrash metal and grindcore. On a similarly stingy scale, guitar legend Jimi Hendrix released just three studio and one live album before his untimely death in 1970[2]; that makes Hendrix’s career span just three years. The Beatles’ studio album career spans only nine years from 1962’s Please Please Me to 1970’s Let It Be. But there are some popular music dinosaurs that still record and release commercially and critically successful albums in their sixth decade of performance continuity. Some of the best examples are of course The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Deep Purple and The Golden Earring among a select few. While the Stones’ eponymous debut album was released in 1964 and their latest was 2016’s Blue and Lonesome, Dylan’s eponymous debut album predated the Stones by two years in 1962 and his latest is this year’s Triplicate; and there are no signs of these two artists calling it quits in the near future. The Dutch rock band The Golden Earring released their first album in 1965 called Just Ear-rings and their latest is the rather naughtily named Tits & Ass released in 2012; the British hard rock/blues band Deep Purple released their debut album in 1968 and their twentieth album in 2017, appropriately called Infinite. On the other hand, Cohen began his studio album career comparatively late – compared to Dylan – in 1967 with his debut album titled simply Songs of Leonard Cohen (the similarity in the names of their debut albums is uncanny) and his final studio album was last year’s You Want It Darker released just sixteen days before his death. The longevity of these two artists is phenomenal, primarily so as musical tastes and business has evolved over the years between the 1960s and 2016-17 when they released their last (and for Cohen the final) album.

This is not about longevity of bands and artists, or their ability to hold fast to their musical signatures over the years of evolving boundaries in music. This is about the influence these two singer-songwriters wielded over the years, and still do, worldwide. Back in 1966 Cohen – the elder contemporary – introduced Dylan’s music to Canadian poets at a poetry party in Montreal which included big names like F. R. Scott and A. J. M. Smith of the ‘Montreal Group’[3]. Then, it was Cohen who was already a published poet while Dylan was just another – albeit a rising – name in the crowded list of folk-artist-turned-pop-star. By 1965 Dylan had already ‘abandoned’ his purist roots and was forging a heavily improvised career with electric instruments as can be seen in his fifth album Bringing It All Back Home[4] which opened with the classic Dylan song ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ which has Chuck Berry rock influences at one end of the spectrum and precursor to rap music on the other. In contrast,  Cohen had started to live a reclusive life on the Greek island of Hydra in the early 1960s, and it was from there that he published his most well-known, and controversial, book of poems Flowers for Hitler[5]. It was only when Cohen went looking for fresher pastures as folk singer-songwriter in the United States in 1967 – disappointed with his writing career in Canada – that the two were on a collision course on the parallel tracks to singer-songwriter fame. But it was only in the 1980s that the musical world started clubbing the two together; but their different approaches to music was brought to light – again – in the recent article by David Remnick in The New Yorker[6] published mere days before Cohen’s death in 2016. In it Remnick repeats the well worn anecdote from the early 1980s where Dylan asked Cohen how long it took the latter to write – after ‘Suzanne’ – arguably his second best-known song, ‘Hallelujah’; Cohen had seriously replied that it had taken him two years though it had actually taken him close to five years to write this song. Cohen did not want Dylan to realise that he laboured so long and hard over his songs because he had guessed that Dylan was a fast lyrics-writer and a quick composer . He then asked Dylan how long did he take to write the song ‘I And I’ which was greatly admired by Cohen from Dylan’s 1983 album Infidels: “fifteen minutes” replied an evidently embarrassed Dylan.

Apocryphal this anecdote might be when recollected in 2016; but long before Dylan had Nobel laureateship thrust upon him and Cohen had become the gravelly voiced bard of Capitalist ennui and angst, the two had tried to connect musically and lyrically. Cohen’s Various Positions from where ‘Hallelujah’ is taken was released in 1984, and, long before the song became a crowd favourite and was covered by A-list artistes from Jeff Buckley[7] to Justin Timberlake[8], Dylan had covered ‘Hallelujah’ live while touring Canada during the ‘Never Ending Tour’ in 1988.[9] The Dylan-Cohen hyphenation goes deeper than mere music: both are Jewish with a penchant for Biblical imagery and recurrent themes of existential self-flagellation; but before all that they were both ‘discovered’ by the same man – record producer and probably the greatest talent scout/spotter in American music, John Henry Hammond.[10] Hammond was among the first to hear Dylan’s songs way back in 1961 and actually produced his debut album in 1962. In his first memoir Chronicles: Volume One Dylan pays homage to Hammond in the very first chapter:

“John was John Hammond, the great talent scout and discovered of monumental artists, imposing figures in the history of recorded music – Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson… He was legendary, pure American aristocracy… I could hardly believe myself awake when sitting in his office, him signing me to Columbia Records was so unbelievable. It would have sounded like a made-up thing.” (Chronicles 4 – 5)

Cohen’s life in Montreal in the 1950s was far removed from the urban jungle that nurtured Dylan in New York city since 1961 when Dylan made the move from rural Minnesota. Cohen first learnt the guitar under the tutelage of a itinerant Spanish flamenco guitarist who had impressed the young man at a tennis court; the guitarist didn’t know English and young Cohen was very weak in French, the Spaniard’s second language  Through gestures and broken French the two young men connected and the lessons began. But then tragedy struck.

His young teacher failed to arrive for their fourth lesson. When Leonard called the number of his boarding house, the landlady answered the phone. The guitar player was dead, she told him. He had committed suicide.

“I knew nothing about the man, why he came to Montreal, why he appeared in that tennis court, why he took his life,’ Leonard would say to an audience of dignitaries in Spain[11] some sixty years later, ‘but it was those six chords, it was that guitar pattern, that has been the basis of all my songs, and of all my music.” (Simmons 32)

The introvert meets the social critic. The careers of these two singer-songwriters would be full of ups and downs. Dylan’s beginnings were poised on the edge of the folk-protest  movement and he took to writing outside of his songs much later in the early seventies. While Dylan’s entry into the world of poems and words was through his songs, Cohen shifted from writing to singing as part of a change of space and profession. Dylan’s rural background and his shift from the country to the city is a major motif in his songs and poems. On the other hand Cohen’s transnational identity lets him approach the song and the poem from a rather urban and international perspective. Moreover, Dylan has always been a victim of fan appropriation, the greatest example of which was at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival when Dylan performed an electric set accompanied by Mike Bloomfield on guitar and Al Kooper on organs. The reaction was extraordinary: the folk purists were shocked and booed Dylan off the stage after just three songs. But Dylan went on using the electric guitar and rewrote the rules of folk and protest music.

Dylan at Newport is remembered as a pioneering artist defying the rules and damn the consequences. Supporters of new musical trends ever since – punk, rap hip-hop, electronica –have compared their critics to the dull folkies who didn’t understand the times were-a-changing… He challenged the establishment… He defined his own transformation: “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” He drew a line between himself and those who tried to claim him. (Wald 2 – 3)

Cohen did not have such problems of musical identity and genre affiliation; maybe because he had come across the northern borders and had arrived fully formed. Dylan’s early avatar was a stick-thin pale sensitive young man with a guitar, harmonica and a voice. His transformation from the rooted folkie-insider to arena-rocking superstar is easily plotted against the steady graph of Cohen’s stability, continuity and musical conformity. Ironically – and this is where things get really Freudian – it was at this same Newport Folk Festival, albeit two years later in 1967 that Cohen got noticed by John Hammond, partly because of his finger-picking guitar playing style that he had ‘learnt’ from his Spanish teacher in three lessons in Montreal. The guitar – acoustic at first and then the electric guitar – was what also connected these two performers. Dylan’s guitar playing style is already well established and proven; not so with Cohen. Yet, in the December 2016 issue of the heavily rotated and street-and-critic savvy guitar magazine Guitar World, tribute was paid to Cohen’s guitar style under the heading “Unsung Guitar Heroes: Tribute to Leonard Cohen”:

“When you hear the name Leonard Cohen, six-string mastery isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

But, in addition to his craftsmanship as a poet and songwriter, Cohen had a unique guitar style and musical approach that are worthy of praise – certainly no less so than other influential guitarist-singer-songwriters like Neil Young. Sylvie Simmons. Who wrote biographies of Cohen and Young, once said they both created a “one man genre.” (Guitar World)

Both Cohen and Dylan are equidistant from mainstream America. Dylan’s marginal and peripheral mode of functioning can be traced to his protest roots as well as his ability to morph with time and musical shifts in the first world; the more the centre shifts and incorporates the periphery, the more Dylan starts to slide towards the new margins. This almost cat-and-mouse game with the establishment could also be seen when he was awarded the Nobel Prize and his nonchalance at such recognition baffled the committee(s) that chose him and the world at large.

Mr. Dylan’s ambivalence to one of the world’s most prestigious honors, and the uncertainty about whether he will accept it, appears to have begun to wear on the Swedish Academy, which awards the prize. On Saturday, an academy member called Mr. Dylan “impolite and arrogant.”

“One can say that it is impolite and arrogant,” the member, Per Wastberg, a writer, told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, according to a translation by The Associated Press. “He is who he is.” (The New York Times 22.10.2016)

Dylan’s reaction to the prize can be read as his dilemma in being perceived as having been appropriated by the mainstream capitalist culture where prizes and acceptance by the multitude – the popular music industry’s equivalence of the Nobel: the Grammys – would be a betrayal of the roots of his singing-songwriting genesis. Talking about popular cultural and artistic prizes worldwide Dylan is the only artist to have won the Oscar, the Grammys and the Nobel[12]; and we seriously doubt if such a feat can be accomplished in our lifetime. Dylan has been nominated a whopping forty-three times for the Grammys and has won on twelve separate occasions – a paltry sum when compared to classical conductor Georg Solti’s thirty one wins – and his lone Oscar came from 2001’s ‘Things Have Changed’ from the movie Wonder Boys. Quite contrary to popular perception – and despite Dylan’s famous posturing eschewing the commercial and the popular – Dylan has been nominated for the Grammys since his debut album Bob Dylan was nominated for ‘Best Folk Recording’ at the 1963 Grammys. He won the first Grammy for George Harrison’s Concert For Bangladesh[13] in 1973; but it was a shared prize. Dylan had to wait till 1980 to win a Grammy for his solo effort – ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ from Slow Train Coming; he last won a Grammy in 2007 for ‘Someday Baby’ from the 2006 album Modern Times, and he was nominated at the Grammys this year for his 2016 album Fallen Angels. On the other hand Cohen has just two Grammy awards: the 2008 ‘Album of the Year Award’ for Herbie Hancock’s tribute to Joni Mitchell called River: The Joni Letters[14] on which he was a guest vocalist and the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ at the 2010 awards.

Thus, both Dylan and Cohen – especially Dylan – have street credibility and ability to shift CD-units off shelves at the local gas station and other low-end points-of-sale all over the world. One of the myths that need to be exploded is that these singers are not very accessible or come loaded with erudition and baggage of history: they are both immensely popular in the sense of Billboard charting and moreover, they have been doing this for the last six decades. Simply put, unlike the usual winners of the Literature Nobel who don’t have any recall at the street level – how many of us have read any works of Svetlana Alexievich, Mo Yan, Tomas Tranströmer or J.M.G. Le Clézio[15] – Dylan’s music and hence his poems cut across borders of nations, race and languages, as well as class and cultural stratifications. To be frank, music can more easily transcend boundaries than the written word simply because the word by existing on paper demands translation. Music, it seems, can slip through the urge of comprehension that the word entails. Thus, as artists, Dylan and Cohen can easily slip through gaps in culture that would not have happened if they had written rather than sung their poems.

Long before the Nobel Prize, the music fraternity celebrated Dylan’s thirty years in the music industry by having ‘The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration’[16] at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on October 16 1992, dubbed fondly ‘Bobfest’ by Neil Young. The list of performers who trotted out to pay their tribute to Dylan reads like a veritable who’s-who of contemporary popular music’s most hallowed names: from Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton to Lou Reed and George Harrison. Ironically, this major mega-event and the accompanying record was one year after a similar tribute to Cohen was produced by the French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles and released by major USA record label Atlantic as I’m Your Fan[17] – a play on the Cohen song ‘I’m Your Man’; the 1991 record cannot compare to the star quality in the Dylan tribute a year later, but it did have A-listers like RE.M. and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

The Dylan-Cohen or Cohen-Dylan hyphenation has a long history; like conjoined-twins, these two entities continue to enthrall and confound us. There are a lot of similarities, as well as dissimilarities, between these two performers – from overarching musical direction, lyrics, themes, composition and arrangements to general socio-cultural and national spaces. Yet, somewhere, beyond all the hype and the hoopla, all the accolades and the awards, all the early failures and later superstardom, they connect with us at a very personal level. And this is exactly what we are looking at through these essays.

II

The essays in this volume cover a myriad range of positions and approaches; the vast width and scope of these deviations attest to the centrality of these two singer-songwriters in the verbal and musical continuity of our times in – if I may be allowed to improvise – ‘Bharat, Bengal and Beyond’. As it is well near impossible to encapsulate the life, times and music of Dylan and/or Cohen in one essay, at first reading many of these essays will appear to be fleeting and unconnected; but as one of the reason for the critical and commercial durability of these two gentlemen is the desire and willingness to adapt and adopt, the very divisiveness and discursive nature of these essays actually attest to their relevance as musical and human documents of experience and existence. Thomas J. Haslam uses text data mining to analyse the changing shifts and patterns in Cohen’s songwriting style and musicianship while Ujjwal Kr. Panda uses postmodern humanistic geography to map and un-map the places and spaces in the songs of Dylan. Shobana Matthews posit Dylan as a poet of dissent and resistance. Goutam Karmakar does a commendable job untangling the complex web of psycho-social layering in the absurd positions in Cohen with reference primarily to his poems. Amlan Baisya and Dibyakusum Ray’s essay deals with the impression and influence Dylan had on Kabir Suman, the so-called Dylan of Bengal. Shrabani Basu looks at the pre-1965 Newport Folk Festival Dylan and traces the evolution of his songs and poems. Debanjali Roy and Tanmoy Putatunda paint a chameleon-esque Dylan who continually redefines his positions. All said and done, this clutch of essays touch just the tip of the iceberg in the Cohen and/or Dylan critical cargo; and I have a distinct feeling that more will be written on them as we grapple with the idea of the ‘poem-song hyphenation’, something that had already been thrust upon the world over a century back by the gentleman in whose educational institution I teach: Rabindranath Tagore.

 

Notes

[1] Released by Virgin after being fired from two record labels and banned from performing live in most parts of the UK, the album content – especially the word ‘bollocks’ gave rise to a massive controversy unparalleled in British music industry. Iconic music magazine Rolling Stone had this to say about the album in 1978 through the words of music industry A&R (artist and repertoire) executive and music reviewer Paul Nelson: “Musically, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols is just about the most exciting rock & roll record of the Seventies. It’s all speed, not nuance – drums like the Mai Lai massacre, bass throbbing like a diseased heart fifty beats past breaking point, guitars wielded by Jack the Ripper – and the songs all hit like amphetamines or the plague, depending on your point of view.”

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/albumreviews/never-mind-the-bollocks-heres-the-sex-pistols-19780223

[2] Are You Experienced and Axis: Bold As Love (both in 1967) and Electric Ladyland (1968) were studio albums on the Reprise label. His live album Band of Gypsys (1970) was released by Capitol and he also featured in the Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More (Cotillon, 1970) album but was among seventeen artists on the album; his Smash Hits (Reprise, 1968) was a compilation album.

[3] See Ira B. Nadel, Various Positions: A life Of Leonard Cohen, (New York: Random House, 1996), reprint 2010.

[4] Released in 1965 by Columbia.

[5] Published by McClelland & Stewart from  Random House in Toronto in 1964.

[6] See The New Yorker, October 17, 2016;  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/17/leonard-cohen-makes-it-darker

[7] From the album Grace, released by Columbia in 1994; this was Buckley’s only album before he died tragically drowned while swimming fully clothed in the Mississippi river in May 1997.

[8] From the live album Hope For Haiti released by MTV in 2010 as a response to the earthquake in Haiti. Timberlake was accompanied by Matt Morris and the guitarist-singer Charlie Sexton.

[9] At the Forum de Montréal on July 8 1988.

[10]  Not to be confused with his son John P. Hammond the blues singer-guitarist; in order to distinguish him from his father he is often referred to as John Hammond Jr. John Hammond (senior) is credited with having discovered names like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Holiday, Count Basie, Pete Seeger, George Benson, Stevie Ray Vaughan and for single-handedly reviving the music of the now-legendary delta-blues singer Robert Johnson.

[11] The ‘audience of dignitaries in Spain’ refers to the gathering at The Prince of Asturias Award in Oviedo, Spain, on October 21, 2011; the reference is from the speech by Cohen while accepting the award. See http://cohencentric.com/leonard-cohen-the-prince-of-asturias-awards-speech-with-annotations-commentary/

[12] See https://www.thequint.com/entertainment/2016/10/13/bob-dylan-first-ever-to-win-grammy-an-oscar-and-the-nobel-prize-academy-award-nomination-knocking-on-heavens-door

[13] Artists for the album/concert include  George Harrison (vocals, guitar), Ravi Shankar (sitar), Bob Dylan (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Leon Russell (vocals, piano, bass), Ringo Starr (drums, vocals), Billy Preston (hammond organ, vocals), Eric Clapton (electric guitar), Ali Akbar Khan (sarod), Alla Rakha (tabla) and Kamala Chakravarty (tanpura/tambura).

[14] Guest vocalists on the album include Cohen, Tina Turner, Norah Jones, Corinne Bailey Rae, Luciana Souza and Joni Mitchell.

[15] Nobel Prize laureates in Literature in 2015, 2012, 2011 and 2008; from Belarus, China, Sweden and France.

[16] See The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration. New York: Columbia. 1993. CD.

[17] See I’m Your Fan. New York: Atlantic. 1991. CD

Works Cited:

Dylan, Bob. 2004. Chronicles: Volume One. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Guitar World. New York: New Bay Media. 2016. Retrieved from http://www.guitarworld.com/lessons-acoustic-acoustic-nation/unsung-guitar-heroes-tribute-leonard-cohen/30415

Simmons, Slyvie. 2012. I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. London: Jonathan Cape.

The New York Times. 22 October 2016. New York: Arthur Ochs Sulzberger/The New York Times Company. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/23/arts/music/bob-dylan-nobel-prize-arrogant-impolite.html

Wald, Elijah. 2015. Dylan Goes Electric! Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties. New York: Dey St./William Morrow.

“I Is Another”: In Search of Bob Dylan’s Many Masks

Debanjali Roy1 & Tanmoy Putatunda2

1, 2Assistant Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Adamas University. Email: tanmoy.putatunda@gmail.com

Received March 9, 2017; Revised on June 17, Accepted June 17, 2017; Published June 28, 2017.

Volume 9, Number 1, 2017 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v9n1.s07

Abstract

The phenomenon called Robert Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan has always intrigued and fascinated the world for decades. The amorphous nature of his musical journey makes it difficult to map and define his career as an artist. Nonetheless, it’s been a while that academia has embraced Dylan and a number of books and research articles have since made their foray to analyse and appreciate a myriad career that has spanned across more than five decades. Through an overall study of Dylan’s musical oeuvre, this paper attempts to trace the diverse, fractured self that lies beneath the mask of the pop-icon.

Keywords: music, songs, self, enlightenment, postmodern, faith, protest.

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“Natural Innocent Love Salvaged from a World Gone Wrong”: Bob Dylan’s Early Songs (1962-64)

Shrabani Basu

Asst. Professor, Dept. of English Literature and Language, St. Francis College, Hyderabad. Email: cuckoobasu@gmail.com

Volume 9, Number 1, 2017 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v9n1.s06

 Abstract

The article attempts to look at the early stage of Bob Dylan’s lyrics (1962-64), before his iconic defiance of the tradition of folk music in the Newport Folk Festival of 1965, and to study the possibility of a cohesive argument connecting the phase with the changing tides of pan-American ethos. His songs over the first three years remain distinctive amongst his entire oeuvre with a prophet-like eloquence, where the image of a democratic poet emerges with a dream of salvaging “a world gone wrong.” With righteous indignation over reactionary politics, social injustice, inequality in the eyes of law, Dylanesque poetry creates a beaded tapestry of synecdochic fragments of a changing nation. Images of “crooked highways” connecting the disparate demography, where the artistic soul “crawls” away to defy stagnation, the unredemptive scaling of the skyscrapers of class binaries, the open spaces of hope and the “hard rain” of apocalyptic cleansing; add up to the disquiet of a Jeremiad narrative. The older-than-his-time oracle calls for answers from senators and politicians, writers and critics, parents and offspring that can only be found “blowing in the wind” with a dire prophecy that “…he that gets hurt will be he who stalls….” This First Phase of Dylan depicts a firm refusal of inherited ethos and strives to question the construction of the essence of the terra nova, as a unified, abstract, ‘democratic’ space. There is an attempt to trace out an America of his perception with streets and highways, muggy lights of New York and Wild West, with tired trumpets playing the swan song of the old order.

Keywords: Beat generation singers, Bob Dylan, folk imagery, folk-rock, Jeremiad tradition, rock poetry, Ginsberg

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The Liminal in a Diptych: A Study of Roots and the Ruminant in Bob Dylan and Kabir Suman

Amlan Baisya1 & Dibyakusum Ray2

1Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, NIT Silchar. Orcid: 0000-0002-5966-1108. Email: amlanb.1999@gmail.com

2Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, NIT Silchar. Orcid id: 0000-0002-9537-3277. Email: dibyakusum776@gmail.com

Volume 9, Number 1, 2017 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v9n1.s05

Received March 4, 2017; Revised on June 2, Accepted June 12, 2017; Published June 15, 2017.

Abstract:

This paper compares two certain sections in the musical career of Bob Dylan and Kabir Suman to look at a possible ideological heredity–1963-65 | 1993-97– these two timelines had established Dylan and Suman in their iconic status. My argument is that there is a liminal tradition– in four separate lyrics by the two composers– that transcends their geo-temporal boundaries. Dylan’s four songs—“Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Tambourine Man”, “Farewell Angelina”, “All I Really Want to Do” have been spiritually translated by Suman in the early to  mid 90s, when he was most productive musically. These songs, amongst others, not only established Suman as an avant garde musician but also seamlessly merged with his own vision of anti-establishment and non-belonging. Dylan was writing against the imperialist capital, Suman was writing against the parliamentary Left—they both assert the same bohemianism before proceeding towards iconic stasis. Dylan, after the 60s turns towards safer, politically inert aesthetics; Suman partially removes himself from music in favor of a fledgling political career. The bohemianism or the perennial non-conformity ends for both. What is the significance of this phase? How liminal are the lyrics divided by language, time and society?

Keywords: Bob Dylan, Kabir Suman, Liminal, Roots, the Other, Translation

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Locating an Interior world of escape in an absurd world: An Existential Reading of Let Us Compare Mythologies and the beginning of Leonard Cohen’s poetics of resistance

Goutam Karmakar & Shri Krishan Rai

Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Institute of Technology, Durgapur (NITD), India.

Volume 9, Number 1, 2017 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v9n1.s04

Received March 4, 2017; Revised on June 2, Accepted June 12, 2017; Published June 15, 2017.

Abstract

Being an intensely personal poet, Leonard Cohen, one of the most important and best known poets of Canada has tried to show the inner turmoil and existential crisis of a poetic mind caught in mechanized and violent society where dehumanization compels him to create an interior world of escape. He shows how man becomes confused, disoriented and dread because of the absurd condition of the world and also tries to precede existence before essence. His ‘The Spice-Box of Earth’ shows an attempt to escape this world by love and ‘Flowers for Hitler’ along with ‘Parasites of Heaven’ show his passive acceptance of existence before the violence of the outer world. Not only poetry but his novel ‘Beautiful Losers’ also shows his false hope of rebirth and renewed vision of life. His journey towards hope finds expression in ‘The Energy of Slaves’ and ‘Death of a Lady’s Man’. And finally his quest for peace culminates in ‘Book of Mercy’ and in later ‘Book of Longing’ as his journey from innocence to experience and in again to innocence is completed. But all these begin with his very first poetic collection ‘Let Us Compare Mythologies’ where he has made a comparison of Christian, Hebrew and Classical mythologies to show the isolation of an individual and his experience in a seemingly violent world and how he acts out of his freedom of choice to accept the absurd condition. Further more this volume marks the beginning of Cohen’s utmost desire to flee from this world into his own creation, a world of escape which is nothing but philosophical suicide. So this paper makes an attempt to show how Cohen from the very beginning has taken stance to emphasize the very existence of the individual by accepting the absurd with resistance in order to attain a sense of innocence with his desired purified version and experience.

Keywords: Absurd , Death, Cohen, Existence, Peace.

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Bob Dylan: Poet of Disruption, Dissonance and an Aesthetic of Dissent

Shobana Mathews

Christ University, Bangalore. ORCID 0000-0001-9700-9420.

Email: shobhana.p.mathews@christuniversity.in

Volume 9, Number 1, 2017 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v9n1.s03

Received February 27, 2017; Revised on June 10, Accepted June 12, 2017; Published June 15, 2017.

Abstract

This paper is a brief study of the pivotal figure of folk rock, Bob Dylan. Acclaimed as a songwriter and singer, he was also the poetic voice of the counter culture of the nineteen sixties in America. The counter culture sought to unseat the mainstream establishment that seemed obsessed with war, conservative ideals and religious nationalism. Dylan burst onto this scene ‘already a legend’ and ‘the unwashed phenomenon’ (Baez, 1975) projecting the image of the original vagabond and troubadour. A glance at a selection of some of his best known lyrics disabuses one of the notions of his being uninitiated into the discourse of philosophy and literature. He draws freely on and engages with ideas from texts that are sometimes even obscure. The Nobel he was awarded in October 2016 recognized his art for evolving new modes of poetic expression. This paper studies Dylan, the performer and the writer who has masterfully disrupted  most accepted  literary modes using the dissonance-rich space of Rock music while retaining some of the traditional forms of poetic utterance.

Keywords: Dissonance, disruption, aesthetic of dissent, folk song, protest, rock and roll, Bob Dylan

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Sense of Place: A Humanistic Geographical Approach to the Themes of Place, Memory and Displacement in Bob Dylan’s Songs

Ujjwal Kr. Panda

Assistant Professor, Government General Degree College, Dantan-II, Paschim Medinipur, West Bengal, India. Email: biju.ujjwal@gmail.com

Volume 9, Number 1, 2017 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v9n1.s02

Received February 19, 2017; Revised on June 5, Accepted June 10, 2017; Published June 15, 2017.

Abstract

The paper attempts to examine the themes of place, memory, displacement and placelessness in the lyrics of Bob Dylan from the point of view of postmodern humanistic geography. The term, sense of place, has been central to the understanding of the role of a place in the formation of the identity of people living in it in the sphere of humanistic geography. According to Yi-Fu Tuan, the Chinese-American humanistic geographer, place is more than a mere cartographical location as it lives in the experience and consciousness of people who render meaning to it. Dylan’s works are deeply rooted in various places he experienced in his life. His early displacement from a rural/semi-urban primary landscape and his passage to the big city of New York (secondary landscape) had given birth into him a kind of negative sense of place where there is “no direction home”. In the rapidly changing socio-political milieu of the sixties Dylan remains always an outsider with his incessant search for home.

Keywords: humanistic geography, place, memory, displacement, placelessness

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Mapping the Great Divide in the Lyrics of Leonard Cohen

Thomas J. Haslam

College of Liberal Arts, Shantou University, China.  Email: tjhaslam@msn.com

Volume 9, Number 1, 2017 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v9n1.s01

Received February 28, 2017; Accepted June 10, 2017; Published June 15, 2017.

Abstract

It is generally accepted that Leonard Cohen’s songwriting changed significantly in the early 1980s, due to Cohen’s choice of a Casio synthesizer over a guitar as his instrument of composition.  But this explanation begs fundamental questions of how we understand change and continuity in Cohen’s work across nearly five decades and fourteen studio albums.  This study draws upon text mining and data visualization results which map Cohen’s lyrical vocabulary.  Based on that data, it offers a reinterpretation of the Great Divide, the presumed departure in songwriting between Cohen’s first six and last eight studio albums.


Keywords: text mining, lyrics, Leonard Cohen, Judaism.

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Editorial: The Second Dimension in Art

Tirtha Prasad Mukhopadhyay Ph.D
Associate Professor, Digital Arte y Empresa, Universidad de Guanajuato, Campus Irapuato-Salamanca, Mexico.

Volume 9, Number 1, 2017 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v9n1.01

The question of art in the context of the more general concept of creativity has to be addressed from the foundations of science. The subjective notion of creativity, which still persists in the humanist attitude to things, has to be resolved and broken, indeed abrogated as it were, as an infantilic, or exilic dream. Admittedly the idea of a creative generator ensconced in the human soul does not stand the test of empirical query. It may turn out to be true if possibilities of other dimensions of resources and energy were assumed to be true – the question whether a “spirit”- like medium is part of the dynamics (as the ancients had suggested) is one which may not yet be encompassed by the perceptual instruments available to science. It is difficult to visualize gravity as described in the physics of relativity for example – for which there is a mathematical model, already in place in the hypothesized model of the “curvature of space” for example. Einstein’s explanation of gravity could be encountered as a mathematical possibility, although as easily as a tangible working mechanism.

For the arts empirical analysis is headed in two directions. One is titled ambitiously, as neuroaesthetics, and the other broader term involves studies on the psychology of what is called creativity – or in short “creativity studies”, which is again a broader rubric for studies on a greater variety of design and creative pursuits, and activities for the contemporary industry. Semantically, again the term ‘innovation’ is used more loosely with science and technological creativity or design. But these were very relevant issues to my enquiries as a student of the arts, and since an artist or designer, when one makes this choice, of wanting to create something ‘artistic’, under the social precepts of the genre and given one’s temperament – one already proposes a trajectory for oneself, that is one’s life and career, in an unremitting passion for designing something novel and unique – a desire to express oneself, to make the object of expression better and more perfect following an insatiable commitment that consumes everything else, like a fire, autonomous and ungovernable as it would seem. If there is ever a model of an artist’s autobiographical reflection for one’s personal diary then these would be the problems one had to face and understand. Creativity or art is no longer therefore assumed to have its origins in a story – because the priorities and contexts for an investigation have changed. The creative process is a function of the behaviorally engaging hominid, just as there is improvisatory behavior in other species in different chains of mutation. The animal sensitivity to the crude and enormous expanse of landscapes, the ocean, the rugged terrain of mountains, canyons, gorges, and then towards food, and shelter – and toward moments on a social frame, or toward emerging technological urbanscapes, or interplanetary vistas.

From a behavioralist perspective there was perhaps only one reference that finally seemed to me to be more pertinent for understanding the creative process. Since creative life seemed to be a full reflection of a total mental-physiological reflex system to tasks at first the Aristotelian term “praxis” appeared to me to be rather inclusive and comprehensive – as it indicated a broad overall attitude or tendency in the life of an artist. There are no long term goals that describe a creative project; although some aspects of Erikson’s developmental psychology recognizes this life-long engagement behaviors in a post adolescent contexts. The creative individual would adopt this pragmatic approach in the obsessions of a life-time. In fact the classical term “praxis” – I discovered – was ensconced in a Greek phrase praxis teleia (Gilbert Murray 1956). So what Aristotle means is that creative arts are fostered with practice, which is aimed with a telos or sense of an end -which suggests perfection, the true mark of the arts. Indeed Murray points out in his commentary on the Poetics there is a need to merge praxis with a more difficult, non-temporal concept of energeia or soul-drive. Behavioral creativity could be understood as praxis, which implies performing repetitive actions that could integrate the different classes of actions that carried formative sentiments in the components of their media. Finally praxis would be a state of performances in which the created objects would elicit pleasure. Therefore to confer on this sense of creativity we would have to refer to this Aristotelian element of praxis teleia or energeia but only in an empirical sense- since it does justice not just to art, but to the belief system involving a faith or hope in a an aesthetically satisfactory life. Creativity also inspires every aspect of life and its actions (as is said in Nichomachean Ethics for example)- of a moral as well as intellectual type, and is integral to what is metaphorically a journey of a souls – as would be defined by its energeia. Behaviorally as well ‘creativity’ implicates the whole of an individual, and seeks to define the outer limits of one’s efforts, of trying to elicit a more felicitous experience in things. Perhaps something of a synoptic bur discreet list of the tendencies present in creative tasks helps us better understand what goes on through the creative life, and with Guilford’s (1950) description of this larger system of creativity – and then Torrance’e attempts to quantify creative output on a psychometric scale came out a change in our view of creativity – which became mathematical, quantitative idea of innovative tasks (Torrance 1963; 1988). I refer to the notion of praxis since it best describes the scientific temperament for understanding one such basic instinct as creativity.

Again, that creativity has not been amenable to a good definition in modern neuroscience points to an important factor in recognizing the trajectory of the process. So why praxis – in this context. Because praxis refers to ‘doing’ or task execution of some sort -but this is exactly the empirical – or more specifically the behavioral quality of creative pursuits that are discussed in Guilford (1950), Torrance (1963) and Amabile (Amabile 1966). When Aristotle already defined praxis in Poetics, and in Book II of Nichomachean Ethics he was recognizing the contextual fruition of the human instinct to act in a creative way. I would say that praxis clarifies the non-subjectivist understanding of creativity and design innovation that has been appropriated for our contemporary pursuits of art and design — this is one common ground between classicism and empirical neuroaesthetics that I found, like the ground beneath one’s feet (for aesthetes still being groomed in a humanist tradition in the last decades of the twentieth century). But the problem of creativity was important because any effort to resolve the process down to its neurobehavioral components meant that we could apply to test and reinforce training for it, or eliciting guidelines for what Guilford called “divergent thinking”.

Indeed creative life composits its own search and destiny for itself; as such it has no use except to be available like a working manual – I shall briefly describe how one could be lead to the analytical part of the creative process. There is no explanation however for the compelling energy which drives creative people – ones who are now thought of as having a larger range of resources in terms of the choices available to them and their willingness to experiment with newer designs, and adopt newer formats. The only ground on which we find a semblance of the old perception of creativity as a kind of subjectively realised drive – is when, as Murray (way back in the middle of the last century) was saying with a faint classical suggestion that praxis could be incorporated with energeia – perhaps with reference to energeia as a tendency, with that sense of immanence that drives humans, and promotes innovations, both technological and ideational – and leads to the phases of transformative social life, and determines much of the way the belief system is absorbed and adapted to the needs of a renewed, and superior livelihood.

This practical or pragmatic energy of creativity may have been once assumed to have been this force capable of impelling an individual, and this is perhaps more in singular conformity with observed facts of life. The creative person has an energy-level and a strange obsession with tasks involving problem-solving strategies and – as modern behavioralists would like to believe, a tendency to re-adapt to priorities, in their attempt to revisit moments of heightened flow in executing and reinstating the design. Among other things behavioralism is the best option that we have in the context of the state-of-art of thinking about these formative aspects of life.

The journey of placing art in this empirical context – for me – began with the need first to understand the frame of visual art. The quest stood against the received discourse – but a longer period of contemplation guided me to believe that there was something unique about the arts. This included the visual arts, theater, music – although I had not yet deeply started thinking about it, and revision of issues set me on a trail. I felt I discovered something – and I wanted to find proof for it. This was a difficult task, given my physical conditions but the battle is also perhaps the same for everyone. I could objectify this discovery in terms of images – a few of these I shall show here. Discovery is culmination of a search, and for this project which I began it all started taking shape quite early – but I started articulating it once I got involved in my research the first time I came to the America. One aspect of this search of mine has taken shape entirely on this new continent, and its bearings are with me. Creativity, in the visual realm generates interesting results, and are not delimited by time or space – but ever accessible to the mind of the artist. In visual arts praxis – the limits are offset by the satisfaction derived from the continuous transmutation of frames and – the scientific resolution of imagery. Much hair has been split in the cognitive sciences regarding this discovery. What does the visual image represent – the acknowledgement that the visual image, whether it is in its two dimensional or three dimensional manifest, could correspond to a recognizable object in the world. Gibson had made this claim in the seventies- I felt that the artistic image, like that of a portrait of a face seen from an angle – or the shape of the body, or even any optical symbol seemed – in several instances to gain a character or a special quality.

If Gibson’s and Neisser’s study of the image were revealing of the spatial correspondences the research in cognitive science was no more than mute, if not oblivious, of the positive mental stress provoked by the artistic image. The paradox is that creativity here stands in need of an emotive component – and this research had been lacking.

A project developed from a humble University Grants Commission fund in India gave me this impetus to explore the emotive processing component of art and creativity – the fun element that is so crucial for survival and progress. The opportunity then was to tell others that there was this strange quality in the more artistic or crafted images – earlier I was groping around for a term. It seemed to me fit to call this property of the visual image “miniaturization”, in the absence of any word which to my mind could explain the process. What are the cognitive networks responsible for this kind of evocation? He had produced a photo and then asked me if I knew that this BW picture was in fact used by Cezanne to create a portrait. Because painting takes these visual cues and transmutes them into a stylized and textured format – here to me was a basis of all the visual arts, but more so the secret that explains the trajectory of creativity in its most elusive and precious manifest. The photograph was that of an Old Lady with a Rosary

Figure 1. Photograph original for Old Lady with a Rosary

Figure 2. Old Lady with a Rosary

Figure 3. Photograph of Gertrude Stein

Figure 4. Picasso Portrait of Gertrude Stein

Figure 5. Portrait of Jaqueline Roque

Figure 6. Portrait of a Woman 1907, Mask.

In all of these images what was mainly happening was -stylization. Looking intently upon this image reveals or carries us to a second dimension of visuality, a dimension marking a qualitative disjunction. We could re-frame the question this way that the cognitive invariants of the images are similar – in the more realistic impressions the parallels are visible, we do not fail to recognize the person in question. But unlike Renaissance portraits, the simulations of Holbein for example, the distracted innovativeness of such renderings are stupendous examples of divergent creativity. The creative energy is manifest in the vitality with which the art is made not to resemble the source, or the photograph but because of the ability of the artist to incorporate cognitive stimuli that only retains a limited amount of semblance and a greater freedom in divergence.

This liberation of the anxiety that the image represses creates the new image of the artist, If the origin of creativity takes for its departure the saddened and incommodious space of existence then the vision of the artist now creates a separate or ‘demarcated’ plane of perception. This to my mind is an important discovery – not because it may have the potential of catching something in the cognitive process that has not been identified with the degree of clarity that it deserves, but also because it fits in with the indices of what I held on were the best precepts of aesthetic creativity – this principle had to be registered and examined but also verified for extreme cases of divergence in creative design, and especially for non-events, which invited new opportunities in closet anthropology. The re-alteration of visual cues is not an easy task: it could only be successfully achieved with praxis, and re-arrangement of stimulus. The cognitive process that elicits such information for the visual system is also worth studying, although this could make us drift outward in uncharted maps of the brain.

Even if we had to preserve this sanctuary of ideas for the visual image we could then explore the other boundaries of creativity In fact the visual system was just one of the means of doing this- creative transmutation builds outlines of creative tasks, the lineaments which are meant to dissolve and the superstructures that are supposed to rise. The debris of things resurrects things to come in all the arts, music, digital realities, and technological posthumanism. This brief essay would show us why this process is important for the cognitive system – the suspected presence of an over-arching cognitive ‘process’ may be a reality , although any amount of research to show that there is a master-plan for a neural process that generates or evokes creative divergence now could only fall too short of being satisfactory; because of the enormous amount of data involved and the unknown functions within brain areas and the the dimension of networking involved -that this search under the instruments and capabiities of integration that we have on a conscious level is only a distant dream. This secret once uncovered might enlighten us on the road toward machine intelligence and independent autonomous creators.

The discovery of this premise in visual innovations should indicate something more precise – in response to the question elicited in the section on alteration of visual invariants by the artist and the penetration into a second dimension of effects. The ‘secret’ could be found in another approach to the creativity question – which I felt again only helped in comprehending how creative precepts are born and what are the elements responsible for their attractiveness.

Emotions

The transmuted image created an opportunity for me to understand what this other dimensionality might be like. Visual art crystallises a graph of a feeling through a synoptical, and totemic externalization of the subjects of representation – including in such contemporary art pieces as in the weird bionic insects designed by robotic artists from San Miguel de Allende – in the machinic caricature. In the juxtaposition of the comic and non-deleteriously happy perspective of everything that seems so predictable and clever in real life – there is the same reduction, or miniaturization at work. Miniaturization is just a visual aspect however because these artworks – like the paintings we discussed – were stylized miniatures – we could also call them “aggrandizements” depending on the components of the image that we choose to look at. In Cezanne’s Woman with the Rosary, Picasso’s Masks, and the great musical contrapuntal suggestions of Mozart, and Nam Jun Paik’s K-456 robotic installation – there is an undiminishing humor that redeems the past and resurrects the dead original or model to life. The interest that creative transformation generates is not attained with disposition, or disruption of expectations in gesticulation – perhaps it might involve simulation of a physical action, what is of essence here is emotion. The way a space-time module is reduced in creative production -that is stylized, miniaturised or aggrandized just as features miniaturized or aggrandized together -as in a binary recombination (we do not know if a formula exists) but in general the bipolarity of juxtaposed components only accentuates certain unexpected reflexes in our sensory packet. This is the reason behind the emotional focus that determines the artistic image – in fact for me ‘divergence’ represents this cognitive-emotive shift from one level of sensoriality to another level of heightened or attentive, sometimes singularly emotive transition. If we are to include the wider rubric of creativity for the wider ambit of non-art species, like technological innovation, design, or consumer outreach – and then machine design or architecture, and then virtual reality, (which are not -strictly speaking – spatially located but only perceptual cues and more radically divergent dispositions, then creativity still consists of this peculiar emotive evocation of an antecedent. How does the effect come about – in what angles of reception or appropriation does this work – perhaps the neural correlates are multinodal: indeed all experiments tend to show that an emotively symbolic visual pattern would involve an affectation of pre-frontal cortex just as much as as it would invite the norepinephrine and dopamine transmitters to generate effects. The cerebral process is at this stage beyond the purview, and indeed not much research on what Oshin Vartanian called neuroaesthetics discusses emotive resources of the arts. Probably in neuroaesthetics -as much as in more specific instances of research on this creative process there first needs to be an acknowledgement of this enfocussed miniature that evolves as a result creative practice.

Hereby I am perhaps coming close to take a call – creativity has hardly anything to do with non-emotive evocation even though non-emotive creativity may still qualify as a type of divergence. In twenty years of research by Guilford however we don not have any evidence of likening the emotive structure of divergence to the creativity question – in an earlier generation of Western criticism there was greater sanity in the acknowledgement of, I believe, what plausibly exists, the “demarcative” mental state of emotions. But demarcative may be problematic. Though creativity results in emotive conditions or reflexes these are not essentially different but may merely represent intensities on a spectrum. This is a view to which I am more strongly inclined under present states of enquiry -hints of which arise in the research on what modern cognitive studies refer to as valence states – rather than emotion alone. Such dichotomies do not exist in the art experience -even though they do so in analytical treatment of issues of creativity. So creativity

  1. Involves emotive circuits and reflexes
  2. Art objects provoke valence intensity for a positive state of emotions
  3. Creativity leads to automatism –

These are some of the problems in aesthetics -a description or psychometric analysis of such emotions may help us in defining a better trajectory for wellbeing and social progress – it could also have therapeutic potential for a good deal of manic-depressive states. These are some of the other issues that we need to explore.

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