All Art Aspires to the Condition of Bob Dylan

I just want this line on the front page of the blog and this is the way I can do this.

As you were. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

10 thoughts on “All Art Aspires to the Condition of Bob Dylan

  1. Who’s The Gardener?…..And where is he gone?….And why is he addressing a “Ma’am”?….just some questions that you might be willing to give your views on….Why did you choose this as the URL for your website?…just hoping for some of your thoughts, ideas, insights….thanks, HiF.

    • Hello, and thank you so much for taking the time to post a comment. I think when I began my little blog, Ain’t Talkin’ was the song ringing through my brain day after day. The first time I heard it, I saw so clearly in the mystic garden with its awful wounded flowers the last moments of Paradise Lost. Adam and Eve turn their backs to the blasted garden: –The world was all before them, where to choose/Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,/Through Eden took their solitary way–. And it seemed–and still seems to me–that Ain’t Talkin’ takes this myth and makes it live in such an extraordinary and even terrifying way. The song is all about “wandering steps and slow”, and it is all about the consciousness of a world that is barren and fallen through human despair, anomie, and violence. But there’s movement and change and self-awareness in the world outside the timeless and changeless paradise–the singer sees his own fallen self, but also knows that “the light is never dying,” (although what that light illuminates remains his business). He also sees himself in others “on this long and lonesome road” and he generously offers us his vision and his candor. And he keeps going, facing the world with each step. Either the blow in the garden in the first verse knocks this vision into his head, or knocks him out of the garden–and he comes to, or returns at the end. And now he finds he’s not alone, and when he politely approaches this “Ma’am” (who could she be? some kind of Lilith? or just another enduring and suffering creature?) she cuts off his question before he asks it, it can’t matter what he wants to know, since “there’s no one here. The gardener is gone.” As someone else said about the world seen through dark eyes: ” tis an unweeded garden,/That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature/Possess it merely.”
      I want Ain’t Talkin’ to be one of the great places people go when they want company and not consolation for just plain being human–I want “there’s no one here, the gardener is gone” to join the last lines of Paradise Lost, and the death of Socrates, and Dante’s Inferno, and Hamlet’s speeches and soliloquies, and Fear and Trembling, and Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus… It’s not that I want some general abstract affirmation that “Bob Dylan is as great an artist as Shakespeare.” I want something more practical. We’re already led to Milton and Shakespeare and Kierkegaard when we need them, and I want this mystic garden to join these places, with its mysterious presences and absences, and the gift of the singer’s making all this endurance truthful and beautiful enough to want to revisit it many times.
      So there you go. I don’t think I answered your questions and I hope I didn’t! The song is there to help you ask them, not answer them. And thank you again for prodding me to think about this. Which obviously I never tire of doing.
      Take care.

  2. Doesn’t Mary Magdelene mistake the risen Christ for “the gardener”? (Gospel of John, I think). She’s be the Ma’am, come looking for Christ’s body. “Gone” could either mean “resurrected” or “God’s gone, the only one here is me, the singer” A striking ambiguity: the song either reaffirms Dylan’s insane apocalyptic Christianity or gives us a poignant god-is-dead atheist vision. I hope it’s the latter–I fear Dylan is backsliding into some (admittedly milder) form of Christian or at least theistic belief, which would be a real shame, from where I stand.

  3. I think Dylan’s ambiguities are a vast palette that can shade a vast variety of responses. The story you mention here, of Mary Magdalene and Christ as gardener is one color scheme that invites one set of responses to the image of a green and growing bounded place whose life is become corrupted–and either the corruption is the cause or the result of the guardian of this life, the gardener, to leave the place. I find “There’s no one here, the gardener is gone,” to be one of the great great spiritual statements in all art, I can’t limit its evocativeness to one story.

    As far as whether Bob Dylan is personally Christian or Jewish or both or neither, I don’t have anything to offer there. I’m with philosopher Simon Blackburn who points out that we don’t even examine what we are saying when we use the term *belief*– what language or images or stories Bob Dylan the man employs to get him through his own dark moments or bolster his bright ones, or how Bob Dylan explains the origin of all the matter in the universe, are all his own business. I ask his art to inspire my own experience of dark and light and everything in between. I hope someday he’ll be recognized for radicalizing religious art and religious language, more in the tradition of Dante than Cotton Mather.

  4. Thanks to both Epicurus as well as Eduke for their thoughts and comments. After reading both of them, there’s one thought that keeps walkin’ and a-talkin’ through my head, namely: The very fact that the Gardener is gone is the one and only absolute proof that the God-is-dead atheists are in fact themselves dead wrong! Nobody in history has ever achieved to explain the lack of logic behind the empty grave and the rolled-away tombstone and all those radically changed fishermen who turned from being to afraid to admit they knew the Gardener even when asked by a little slave girl to powerful preachers in front of thousands after only forty days who ALL ended up giving their lives for something they knew right from the start it was just a lie, because of course he was still in the grave….or was he…????….maybe not….??? It’s the most important puzzle anybody ever gets to solve during his or her lifetime, all the rest is just mere details. Have a great weekend y’all !!!

  5. Well, since we’re dealing with a myth, whatever its power may be for any one person, there’s no point to asking for “logic” to “solve” it. Proof of anything religious can only be personal. We select our own important puzzles. Back to Bob Dylan…..

  6. Nina:

    I just stumbled on this entire thread, and I want to pick up your observation that we need to examine what we mean when we use the word “belief” (and its cognates). It’s an unfortunately duplicitous word–unfortunate because of the way its duplicity has been exploited by many who claim to be Xtians. Its duplicity can be traced to the fact that it it almost always used in sentences that elide part of their own logic. Thus, I can say, in all honesty, both that “I believe that Christ rose from the dead” and “I do not believe that Christ rose from the dead”–because, to fill in the elisions, “I believe that [the spirit of] Christ rose from the dead” and “I do not believe [it to be a literal historical fact that the flesh-and-blood crucified] Christ rose from the dead. That is, I take the so-called New testament to be a true story the same way I take Moby-Dick to be a true story. Which is not to say I respond to the New Testament as mere literature; rather, I respond to Moby-Dick as scripture. And scripture is myth, which (to borrow a way of formulating the matter from Ezra Pound) is a story containing truth–and I mean “contain” (another duplicitous word) in the sense not of “my wallet contains all my cash” but of “the Cardinals have so far done a surprisingly good job containing the Rangers offense.” That is, contain not as “includes” but as “corrals.” You believe a myth when you know that the truth is in there somewhere and you just have to find it. Myths always throw us back on our own resources. (And I certainly agree with you that “Ain’t Talking” is an almost overwhelmingly potent little myth.)

    As to Dylan’s current religion, I think we should refer to a definition of religion implicit in Dylan’s response (within the last 5 years or so, I think) to a question an interviewer put to him about someone treating something as their religion. Dylan was skeptical of the premise and asked (not quoting directly) “Religion? really? what sacrifices to they make? what rituals do they practice?” That strikes me as very shrewd, and from that point of view I think we have to admit 1) we know (and have always known) little about what if any religion Dylan practices/observes and 2) all reports we do know of are of Jewish observances. Being a fan of Jesus does not make one a Christian–and I should know.

  7. I believe Gregor Samsa is a gigantic insect with thoughts and feelings, according to the story of Gregor Samsa, in the same way I believe that Jesus rose from the dead, according to the story of Jesus. But conventions of language that I would like to destroy encourage me to use the word believe also to declare that I believe the Great Wall of China is a wall in China although I’m certain I’ll never stand close enough to it to touch it or smell it. We need a new vocabulary of real things. Well, that’s what art gives us, n’est pas?
    I want to explore religious art as a field where great and enduring games are played, where myths are made and toyed with and broken and repaired with the cracks showing, and I want to find as many lamps as I can to light up Bob Dylan’s great and enduring games on this field. I want also to let Bob Dylan’s personal rituals and sacrifices alone. And as Leonard Cohen says, “And that’s the way I want to end it,” pretty much as far as this discussion goes. Any contributions specifically on the experience of Bob Dylan’s art are always already welcome here.

  8. My name is George Harris. I am 61 year old living in Costa Rica, retired from the States.
    I have a written a novel. I believe people who love Dylan will enjoy it. The book opens on August 30, 1965. It has one chapter, Chapter Nine, with nine subchapters. There is an interesting Dylan feature.
    The book is Four Fathers Volume Two “Huckleberry Friend.” It is available on Amazon. I am making the book available as a “free to own” download on Saturday January 26 for 24 hours, starting about midnight Pacific time until the end of the day on the 26th.
    If you are interested in Volume One, please let me know and I will make it available to you free of charge. If you deem fit, please let people with whom you communicate know about this free download opportunity. I will also make Volume Two available for 24 hours on February 2d.
    Here is a link-
    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=node%3D1286228011&field-keywords=george+pritchard+harris&rh=n%3A1286228011%2Ck%3Ageorge+pritchard+harris
    Thanks in advance,
    George

    • Mr Harris, I am pleased to include this link to the free download of your book for the interest of anyone reading this blog. Your self-promotion instincts are quite good, as you allude suggestively to “an interesting Dylan feature”… Good luck with your project.

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