Bob Dylan And Post-Post Modernism


by Larry Fyffe

There are those who examine the inherently, if not deliberately created, figurative language of artists. Some look at art to uncover it’s meaning by referencing a standard outside the work, a moral standard that’s accepted by the culture at large (ie, its ‘God’). But other critics assert that to examine the piece of art by referencing the culture in which the artist lives is of little help – for how can anyone possibly know the ‘mind’ of an Almighty entity? In the end, what that measurement be is construed to be what it is by the examiner of the work at hand.

And there’s more trouble – double, trouble. What that absolute be is also construed to be what it is by the individual reader/listener to the work that’s been created. According to other analysts, you can throw in the fact that at least in western society the economic system known as capitalism dominates its cultural aspect. So assert today’s Marxists anyway. In short, everyone, including a supposed ‘objective’ examiner of a work of art, is a product of his/her own times.

Trudging on literary critics do by reducing the culture’s ‘god’ to being the author/creator of the piece of written or spoken art. But ultilizing this method, declare other critics, in order to ascertain the meaning of the work is likewise of little avail – what’s in the artist’s mind cannot really be known by an examiner thereof, and surely not by an uninformed reader/listener of the art work in question. Indeed, say other critics, the artist/author may not even be sure him/herself of what s/he thinks or believes. Furthermore, say others, the subconscious mind is by definition not under the control of an individual; as a consequence, surrealistic and symbolic imagery, often Freudian and sexual in nature, are consciously placed in the work of art in a dubious attempt to get around that problem.

Accordingly, as far as some analysts are concerned, the only way out at least for the artist to escape these conundrums is to release his/her grip on the work s/he creates, leaving the meaning thereof deliberately open so that the audience of the work takes part in the interpretation of what the meaning thereof might be. In effect, both god and author are ‘killed off’.

The following song lyrics can be interpreted as a sarcastic, albeit double-edged, reply to the Post Modern viewpoint (though it’s not quite clear whose side the author is on):

As I walked out in the mystic garden
On a hot summer day, a hot summer lawn
"Excuse me, ma'm, I beg your pardon
There's no one here, the gardener is gone"
(Bob Dylan: Ain't Talking)

On another level, the lyrics above can be considered an ironic reference to the visit by Mary Magdalene to Christ’s tomb where she’s given instructions as to what to do.

The lyrics of the poem below make it rather clear that the creator, the ‘god’ thereof, be the
poet/author himself – earlier the preRomantic poet composes ‘The Lamb’:

When the stars threw down their spears
And watered heaven with their tears
Did he smile his work to see
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
(William Blake: The Tiger)

Nonetheless, the reader/listener who has an orthodox religious bent can claim that both poems by William Blake refer to a tough God who is softened by His Son Jesus. But then who or what made God in the first place is left unanswered.

Works of art by Modernists, seeking to make their art anew, often dispense with the chronological order of Time, but not with the search for an ideal utopia while Post Modernists fragment any mirror that reflects an Ideal of what is good and what is bad for humankind.

That the figurative tiger of terror can be interpreted as equally on par with the peaceful lamb raises the red flag of alarm for a number of artists as well for the literary analysts confronted with a Post Modernist viewpoint that presents oppressors and their victims as complementing one another. Some Post Modernists venture boldly onward, and predict that those on top today will be on the bottom tomorrow, and vice versa.

Post-Post Modernists like Carl Jung with his concept of ‘collective unconscious archetypes’ attempts to restore the ‘Romantic’ notion that goodness lies at the root of human nature. A difficult task indeed given that today’s world of high-technology leads to the development of thermonuclear weapons.

A negative view of human nature appears to be quite understandable, but not for the speaker in the song lyrics below:

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back every time you walk by
What good am I?
(Bob Dylan: What Good Am I)

Untold Dylan: who we are what we do

Untold Dylan is written by people who want to write for Untold Dylan.  It is simply a forum for those interested in the work of the most famous, influential and recognised popular musician and poet of our era, to read about, listen to and express their thoughts on, his lyrics and music.

We welcome articles, contributions and ideas from all our readers.  Sadly no one gets paid, but if you are published here, your work will be read by a fairly large number of people across the world, ranging from fans to academics who teach English literature.  If you have an idea, or a finished piece send it as a Word file to with a note saying that it is for publication on Untold Dylan.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *