Pope Francis is to the Vatican as Bob Dylan is to the Nobel Prize in Literature. Both represent a promise, long overdue, finally made real.
In the case of the Vatican, the overdue promise is to embody Jesus’s goodwill. In the case of the Nobel Prize Committee, the overdue promise is, in Alfred Nobel’s own words, to award a writer whose work both moved in “an ideal direction” and offered “the greatest benefit on mankind.”
I dare anyone to name the past three Nobel Laureates (Svetlana Alexievich, Patrick Modiano, Alice Munro). As a writer, it’s hard to benefit someone who has not read you. Harder still to benefit those that have not even heard about you. But Dylan, people know Dylan. They get Dylan.
To award Dylan is to award his audience. It is delivery to deliverance.
Just as Pope Francis’s gentle message draws the Catholic Church closer to love-hungry hordes, Dylan’s simple lyrics deliver art to culture-starved crowds. Dylan’s Nobel legitimizes the Prize for a population increasingly distant from the tangible, written word, and in doing so, gives new relevance to Literature.
Institutions must be commercial if they are to wield influence. Barely in time, the Vatican recognized that its message was lost without the right messenger. Apropos, the Nobel Committee realized that #trending is a good thing.
Photo Credit: Dylan’s photo is by Paul Natkin (Getty). Pope Francis’s photo is from the AP.