The Nobel Prize is in fact the ultimate example of bad faith: A small group of Swedish critics pretend to be the voice of God, and the public pretends that the Nobel winner is Literature incarnate. All this pretending is the opposite of the true spirit of literature, which lives only in personal encounters between reader and writer. Mr. Dylan may yet accept the prize, but so far, his refusal to accept the authority of the Swedish Academy has been a wonderful demonstration of what real artistic and philosophical freedom looks like.According to Mr. Kirsch, Dylan's ignoring of the Nobel Prize is simply an instance of existential authenticity. Well, that's as good an explanation as any! We live in a world where, more and more, the institutions and mechanisms of bureaucracy define and delimit us. Big Data has our number and there is a regulation governing every possible action. As J. R. R. Tolkien said in a different context, this is impertinent and irrelevant. It is so heartening and refreshing when someone simply ignores the false authority of one of these institutions. It is particularly powerful when the institution is one that supposedly is entirely beneficial. What's wrong with the Nobel Prize in Literature? As someone said once, only race horses get prizes--or something like that! In other words, the very notion of awarding a "prize" for some sort of aesthetic or intellectual achievement is hopelessly corrupted by all the associated politics and fashion. If you go back and look at the composers and writers that were most honored with prizes in their lifetimes you encounter a list of desperately mediocre artists--so mediocre that they could be fully appreciated by their contemporaries. The list of those who refused prizes probably includes the more significant figures.
My favorite example is the great Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman who in 2006 was awarded the Fields Medal (a kind of Nobel Prize in Mathematics) which he declined saying: "I'm not interested in money or fame; I don't want to be on display like an animal in a zoo." In 2010 he was going to be awarded the Clay Millenium Prize for solving one of the thorniest problems in mathematics, the Poincaré conjecture. Like the Nobel Prize, it comes with a cash award of one million dollars. He turned this down as well as other honors. I suspect that, no matter what he accomplishes in future, the powers that be will refrain from trying to give him further awards.
So let's listen to some music by that refuser of prizes (this one anyway), Bob Dylan, in a live performance of "Like a Rolling Stone":