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Bob Dylan and Philosophy: It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Thinking) (Popular Culture and Philosophy) Paperback – December 16, 2005
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The book does what it says it's going to do. It examines Dylan's work in a reasonably serious way and filters it through the lens of philosophy. In other words, it takes the implications of Dylan's lyrics and explores them in an intellectual sense. It does that admirably. They did take the artist's work seriously and they treated it respectfully. I was afraid the book might be one of those snarky type affairs where they lance the artist with humor and sarcasm. There is one fault I found in this regard, but I'll go into that after my next point.
The thing is, as I read it, I realized that this kind of high intellectual philosophizing and Dylan's music don't mix well for me, personally. I love reading Kierkegaard, Camus, Nietzsche, Sartre, on their own terms, but Dylan is different. The beauty of Dylan's music lies in its mystery. That's where the magic comes from. It is the beauty of dreams, not the beauty of science. In a way, I felt like disassembling his words to try to unearth whatever Dylan's worldview might be was sort of cheapening the art for me.
If you read Dylan's earliest interviews, when he was much less distrustful of the media and a little bit more apt to open up, he actually spoke a bit about his view of the role of the artist, and it was precisely to share a Rimbaud-like, transcendent vision. He was not ever trying to communicate a cohesive political or philosophical worldview, and to approach his music from that direction is to miss out on its greater magic. That's the point I think this book largely missed.
Still, as I said, I give it 4 stars because it's not the book's fault that I ended up not wanting to look at Dylan's music in this way. The book does what it says it's going to do, and it does well.
Much has been written about Bob Dylan over the years, some good, some horrible. This book would be a good addition to anyone that seriously considers the content and meaning of Dylan's poetry, that is until Bob gives us a philosophy textbook of his lyrics himself.
In case any of you are not familiar with Jim Spiegel, he is a professor of philosophy at Taylor University who teaches a wide variety of philosophic disciplines such as epistemology, ethics, history of philosophy from ancient to modern (two different semesters), philosophy of mind, and of course one of his favorite "Taylormade" course aesthetics. Normally, one would have to enroll as a undergraduate student to enjoy the philosophic theatrics of Dr. Spiegel, but here featured within this volume the public is able to catch just a brief glimpse at the Spiegel-geist manifesting himself in one of his favorite topics aesthetics, which, of course, according to the Spiegel definition is the study of rock 'n roll as it emerges out of philosophy.
According to Spiegel, philosophy truly begins with rock 'n roll insofar as Aristotle sketches out the first rough outlines of the rock 'n roll program. Yes, it is true that there is not a single cultural movement that cannot be first attributed to Aristotle. Seriously, if it was not for Aristotle's album de anima where would Thomas Aquinas really be today? I can say this he would not be the most hard-core theologian of the medieval period.
Anyway, Spiegel traces out the theological dilemmas of Bob Dylan within the lyrics of his early and late career. Spiegel points out that Bob Dylan has not always held a consistent Calvinistic position. In some cases, Bob Dylan is overwhelmed with the immediate circumstance and is therefore unable to see God's sovereignty in specific circumstances of his life. This is a position to Spiegel labels as weak sovereignty. In other more positive cases, Dylan is able to rejoice in the fact that God has brought him through troubling circumstance towards a more firm understanding of things. This position Spiegel labels as strong sovereignty. Spiegel notes that the problem with too strong of the view of sovereignty is that sometimes Dylan is unable to see his own participation in the sovereign plan of God.
Spiegel then brings out what he calls compatiblism. This is a view that wholeheartedly understands God wonderful and sovereignly good plan without negating individual moral responsibility. Admittedly, Dylan does not always achieve this balanced understanding, but there are rare glimpses of sovereignly enabled freedom within the thoughtful lyrics of his songs. If you enjoy reading Spiegel's article, make sure to check out some of his books on Amazon such as: How to Be Good in a World Gone Bad, The Benefits of Providence: A New Look at Divine Sovereignty, and Hypocrisy: Moral Fraud and Other Vices