Literature, It Is a-Changing

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bob-dylan

In case you missed it, this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan.

Yes, that Bob Dylan.

What does it mean for the world of literature when the best it has to offer is not a poet (in the traditional sense) or a novelist or a playwright, but a rock star?  In the words of the Nobel committee, Dylan received the award for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”  Dylan’s poetry is certainly poetry, capable of standing on its own in a volume of black and white print.  But the real power of his poetry lies in the fact that it is sung.  Is it even possible to read, “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,” without hearing the melody (whether in Dylan’s voice or Joan Baez’s) echo through your mind?  Unlike the lyrical works of many great poets that were later set to music by other people, Dylan’s poetry was born on the strings of his guitar.  It was delivered to the world by the vibrations of his vocal cords.  If only the black and white print existed, does anyone believe he would have been half as influential as he is now?

So, the obvious question arises: Is music literature?

As both a musician and a writer, I have so long been intimate with both forms that my neural pathways are hard-wired to see (or rather, hear) good music and good writing as a single string being plucked in different ways.  For me, writing is music and music is story.  When an idea runs so deep that it cannot quite be grasped in words, it is the job of music to convey it; likewise, when the abstraction of musical sound is not concrete enough for human understanding, words step in to frame our thoughts and tell our tales.  Each serves its own purpose, and each can exist quite well without the other, yet the marriage of the two is as old as humankind.

But is music itself literature, or only literature’s symbiotic partner?  That depends how you define the word “literature,” of course.  Most dictionary definitions confine it to the realm of the written word and thereby condemn the Nobel committee’s choice.  There is, after all, something to be said for labels, organization, and not confusing everybody by trying to redefine well-established concepts.  But there is also something within a strictly writing-based definition of “literature” that fails to capture its spirit.  Writing is only a visual representation of sound.  Writing exists only as an extension of the oral – and aural – traditions of language.  How many of our most cherished folk tales were passed on by mouth before they were ever written down?  What of the troubadours, who recorded history with song?  The psalms would never have reached us if they had not first been sung.  Music is the foundation and the beating heart of literature.  The traditional structures and rhythms of literature can all be traced to the mathematics of music, just as the traditional dynamics of music correspond to the dynamics of storytelling.  Literature and music might be two separate branches of human endeavor, but they carry the same waters from the source.

Or maybe – if the Nobel committee is right – there’s no distinction between them at all.

As Dylan might put it:

Gonna change my way of thinking, make my self a different set of rules. Gonna put my good foot forward and stop being influenced by fools.

Karen Ullo is the author of the vampire saga Jennifer the Damned.  To find out more, go to www.karenullo.com.

Quotes for Election Day

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I wrote this two years ago for the mid-term elections (published over at Dappled Things), but it seems even more apropos now.  Enjoy!

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euripides

I don’t know about you, but I always seem to leave the voting booth with my eyes closed and my upper lip curled from the stench of… well, you know. Since misery loves company, I decided to console myself with the electoral cynicism of greater minds than mine.

From Winston Churchill:

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

And T.S. Eliot:

An election is coming. Universal peace is declared and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry.

Abraham Lincoln:

Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.

However, it turns out that when you search for quotes about “election,” you also get things like this:

I have not yet elected to bestow the grace of my saliva upon another human being. I have never… kissed anyone. ― Laini Taylor, Night of Cake & Puppets

Riiiight…

Okay, the Greeks invented this democracy stuff. Surely, they couldn’t have been jaded about it back when it was still all shiny and new?

In a democracy, someone who fails to get elected to office can always console himself with the thought that there was something not quite fair about it. ― Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War

To win the people, always cook them some savoury that pleases them. ― Aristophanes, The Knights

When one with honeyed words but evil mind Persuades the mob, great woes befall the state. ― Euripides, Orestes

So why, exactly, did we come back several thousand years later and decide that these guys had it right? Oh, well, too late. No roundup of cynicism would be complete without Douglas Adams:

The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them. To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. ― The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

All right, enough patriotic wallowing. Let’s get out there and rock the vote!

Karen Ullo is the author of the vampire saga Jennifer the Damned.  To find out more, go to www.karenullo.com.

Louisiana Book Festival

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I have been selected as a Featured Author at the Louisiana Book Festival in downtown Baton Rouge on Saturday, Oct. 29!  I will be doing a Book Talk about Jennifer the Damned from 10:45 am to 11:15 am in the Capitol Park Welcome Center Meeting Room, followed by a book signing in the Barnes and Noble tent from 11:30 am – 12:15 pm. This is always a wonderful event with over 220 authors, panelists, storytellers, etc. And it’s free!

Mark your calendars, and come get ready for Halloween with your favorite vampire.