GREEN PASTURES AND ANCIENT FOOTSTEPS: Review of Richard F. Thomas, Why Dylan Matters

Richard F. Thomas, Why Dylan Matters
London: William Collins, 2017, ISBN 978-0-00-824549-8, vi + 358 pp.

Back in 1962 on his very first album, Bob Dylan spoke of ‘the green pastures of Harvard University’ (it was there, he says, that he met folksinger Eric Von Schmidt, who introduced him to the song ‘Baby, Let Me Follow You Down’). Across the endlessly a-changing times, writers and critics have produced no lack of rigorous and serious studies focusing on Dylan’s songwriting and poetic achievement: among the best are the successive editions of Michael Gray’s Song and Dance Man and Stephen Scobie’s Alias Bob Dylan, but neither has advanced beyond, respectively, their third and second avatar (Gray 2000, Scobie 2004). Much water has flowed under the Dylan bridge in recent years, but there has been a dearth of updated, textually oriented critical work that would take due account of more recent developments. That gap is now filled, by this excellent and wide-ranging volume signed by Richard F. Thomas, George Martin Lane Professor of the Classics at, appropriately, Harvard.

Apart from his teaching and research in ancient Greco-Roman literature, Richard Thomas also teaches, every four years and also at Harvard, a course for freshers on … Bob Dylan. He believes the singer-songwriter is ‘the genius of my lifetime in his artistic use of the English language’ (15), and shows in this book an encyclopaedic knowledge of Dylan’s work. In recent years – let us say since the late 1990s/early 2000s – Dylan’s followers have had the task of assimilating a whole artillery of new developments: ‘all that and more and then some’, to quote Dylan from 2001, indeed! This includes: the publication in 2004 of Chronicles, Volume One, with all the reliability issues that memoir raises; the Theme Time Radio Hour programme that ran from 2006 to 2009 with Bob Dylan as DJ; the fixed (or all but fixed) setlist phenomenon that has characterised recent tours; the evidence of Dylan’s composition methods revealed in the work-in-progress material on various Bootleg Series releases, and notably for 1965-1966 on the Cutting Edge set; the debate over the literary borrowings on “Love and Theft” and Modern Times; the creation in 2016 of the Bob Dylan archive at the University of Tulsa; the variorum volume of the lyrics prepared by Christopher Ricks in 2014; the unexpected retro turn to Great American Songbook covers starting with 2015’s Shadows in the Night; and, last but not least, the award in 2016 of the Nobel Prize for Literature and the resultant polemic. There was indeed a pressing need for a new study that would take on board all this, and Richard Thomas has risen to the challenge. His study ranges across Dylan’s career from the first album to 2017’s Triplicate, and includes discussion, to a greater or lesser extent, of each and every one of the ‘new’ Dylan facets I have enumerated.

Priority goes to the textual dimension – Dylan’s songs as sung poetry, as words on the page but also words in performance – as is only fitting for one now a Nobel laureate. In that framework, it makes sense that the author, given his academic interests, should lay primary stress on Dylan’s links with the classical Greco-Roman authors, though other literary connections are not ignored (the Bible, Shakespeare, the Anglo-Scottish ballads, and, in the 21st century, Dylan’s controversial use of the till then obscure Junichi Saga, Japanese writer, and Henry Timrod, Confederate poet). Thomas has, rightly, little time for the plagiarism argument, placing his bets on intertextuality (and reminding us that Virgil too borrowed from Homer). As he puts it, ‘plagiarism is about passing off as your own what belongs to others’, while ‘intertextuality [enriches] a work precisely because when the reader or listener notices the layered text and recognises what the artist is reusing, that recognition activates the content of the stolen object, thereby deepening meaning in the new text’ (131-132). There is also a fascinating discussion of the sequence in Chronicles where Dylan inventorises the library, real or imaginary, of the New York apartment of his acquaintances Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiel – a couple who ‘some readers and reviewers believe are fictional’ (101). In a task which needed doing, Thomas dissects this library in all its Borgesian complexity, clarifying which books actually exist and which (like, say, the ‘lectures and letters’ attributed by Dylan to the historian Tacitus) are non-existent titles, even if ascribed to real authors (110-116).

The Dylan songs examined in detail are for the most part either early-period (intertextuality and sources for ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ or ‘Masters of War’) or from the last two decades, i.e. from 1997’s Time out of Mind on (close readings of the likes of ‘Tryin’ to Get to Heaven’ or ‘Early Roman Kings’). There is little on the intervening period, Blood on the Tracks apart – thus, nothing or virtually nothing on the basement tapes, or the religious period, or the underrated gem that is Oh Mercy. However, others have written up that material – as in, for instance, Michael Gray’s masterly analyses in Song and Dance Man III of mid-period songs like ‘Dignity’ or ‘Caribbean Wind’ – and what Thomas concentrates on does have the advantage of broadly corresponding period-wise to the contents of Dylan’s more recent setlists.

The core of this book consists of the material assembled by the classical scholar on Dylan’s debt to the Greco-Roman world, and the evidence marshalled is indeed impressive. Notably and for Dylan’s later work, Thomas’ textual comparisons take in Virgil (‘Lonesome Day Blues’ from “Love and Theft”, where the tenth stanza is a clear rewrite of lines from Book VI of the Aeneid (193-195)), Ovid (whose poems of exile, via multiple textual echoes, lie behind two songs from Modern Times, ‘Ain’t Talkin” and ‘Workingman’s Blues #2’ (240-245)), and Homer, proven as present in various songs from Tempest, notably ‘Tin Angel’ (258-259). For these and other allusions, the author is also to be congratulated on identifying the translations Dylan has read (Robert Fagles for Homer, Peter Green for Ovid), thus pointing up the role of translation, alas often rendered invisible, in the intertextual process.

Going back in time, Thomas also registers Dylan’s interest in things Roman from earlier in his career, as in the 1971 song ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’, which begins: ‘Oh, the streets of Rome / Are filled with rubble / Ancient footprints are everywhere’. Thomas meanwhile admits that Dylan’s ‘early Roman kings’ have nothing to do with Rome and are an eminently American gang from the Bronx. His analysis misses some of Dylan’s earlier classical references – the song titles ‘Temporary Like Achilles’ and ‘Open the Door, Homer’, the mention of Nero in ‘Desolation Row’ – and for the later work, omits the possible Homeric allusions in the “Love and Theft” song ‘Honest With Me’, in which the song’s ‘stark naked’ protagonist ‘came ashore in the dead of the night’, as if the shipwrecked Odysseus arriving among the Phaeacians. Even so, such absent references also serve to prove the author’s general point and further underscore the presence of the classical in Dylan’s songwriting.

The book’s final chapter is devoted to the story of Bob Dylan’s Nobel prize, and may be considered a highly useful, even definitive, account of the vicissitudes of that award. Thomas chronicles such key aspects as: the initial nomination back in 1996 by US academic Gordon Ball; Patti Smith’s Stockholm performance, deputising for Dylan, of ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’; the address by Nobel grandee Horace Engdahl, in which he recalled that ‘in a distant past, all poetry was sung’ (295); and Dylan’s own eleventh-hour Nobel lecture, in which he gloriously confirms the Harvard professor’s argument by naming and evoking Homer’s Odyssey as one of his three key books of all time.

For Richard Thomas, the 2016 award has finally validated the work of decades by Dylan scholars, himself included, striving, against the prejudice attaching to ‘popular’ genres, to secure official recognition for Bob Dylan’s work as ‘literature of the highest order’ (295). The successful outcome of that process is wholly to be welcomed, and this book, with its argument stretching across time between the Greco-Roman classics and our own day, is both a vital work of Dylanological reference and an eminently valuable tribute to the timeless creative energy of Bob Dylan.

Note: Why Dylan Matters is the UK title. The US version (New York: Harper Collins, 2017), is entitled Why Bob Dylan Matters.

 

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Monet and Architecture at London’s National Gallery

Between 9 April and 29 July 2018, the National Gallery in London is hosting an exhibition which will be special for all lovers of French Impressionism, devoted to ‘Monet and Architecture’. No less than 77 canvasses are assembled, ranging from celebrated works from the gallery’s own holdings to rarely viewed paintings loaned from private collections.

The leitmotif is, as the title suggests, architecture, and the paintings’ locations vary from coastal scenes integrating humanity and nature to the fully-fledged modernity of Paris and London. Present too are Monet’s impressions of Amsterdam, Venice and Rouen cathedral, and his well-known ‘series’ orientation is not neglected. The scenes are captured with light effects corresponding to the different seasons, from glowing summer to the depths of winter.

The catalogue, compiled  by Richard Thomson, includes all  the paintings from the exhibition and more. It is rare indeed to be able to view so many of Claude Monet’s works at a single sitting, and the National Gallery is to be congratulated on this enterprise.

Rewriting songs, LGBT/gender and Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has contributed on numerous occasions to collective albums, especially of the tribute variety, but he breaks new ground with his participation in a new collective mini-album (consisting of six tracks, three performed by women and three by men, and available on-line and on vinyl), entitled Universal Love – Wedding Songs Reimagined, and consisting of jazz and pop standards with their lyrics rewritten for gender in LGBT-friendly fashion. The songs are offered by the issuing company, MGM Resorts International, as suitable for same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Dylan performs, in the retro mode familiar from his recent albums of vintage material, a rewrite of She’s Funny That Way, a song written by Neil Moret and Richard Whiting in 1929 and recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1938, now rebaptised He’s Funny That Way. The other performances are: Benjamin Gibbard, And I Love Him (original: the Beatles, And I Love Her); Keke Okereke, My Guy (original: the Temptations, My Girl); Kesha, I Need a Woman to Love (original: Janis Joplin, I Need a Man to Love); St Vincent, And Then She Kissed Me (original: The Crystals, And Then He Kissed Me); and Valerie June, Mad about the Girl (original composed by Noel Coward as Mad about the Boy; best-known version by Dinah Washington).

In the past song lyrics have often been rewritten when the song is covered by a person of opposite sex to the author or original performer. Dylan’s own Mama, You’ve Been on my Mind was covered by both Judy Collins and Joan Baez as Daddy, You’ve Been on my Mind; Leonard  Cohen’s Ballad of the Absent Mare was recorded by Emmylou Harris as Ballad of a Runaway Horse, even though the song is in is third person and about a steed. The intention, conscious or otherwise, behind such transformations was no doubt to avoid any suspicions that either the performer or the song’s author might have gay or lesbian tendencies.

On this album the rewritings work in the opposite direction, to open up the songs’ emotional potential and permit their adaptation to a possible LGBT context. A Beatles classic like And I Love Her is thus no longer a hymn exclusively to heterosexual love, and comes over as just as moving converted into And I Love Him. The performance of He’s Funny That Way fully partakes in the atmosphere of the project, and it is gratifying to see Bob Dylan, after a long absence from direct social intervention, allying himself once more with a progressive cause.

For more, see:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/05/style/bob-dylan-sings-about-gay-love.html

Jim Farber, ‘Bob Dylan Sings about Gay Love’, New York Times, 5 April 2018

EDGAR ALLAN POE AND CARLOS FUENTES: PAPER, CONFERENCE OF THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF INTER-AMERICAN STUDIES, COIMBRA (Portugal), March 2018

EDGAR ALLAN POE Y CARLOS FUENTES: PONENCIA, CONGRESO DE LA ASOCIACIÓN INTERNACIONAL DE ESTUDIOS INTER-AMERICANOS, COIMBRA (Portugal), Marzo 2018

From 22 to 24 March 2018 I had the pleasure of participating in the 5th CONFERENCE OF THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF INTER-AMERICAN STUDIES, held in Coimbra (Portugal):

http://www.ces.uc.pt/en/agenda-noticias/agenda-de-eventos/2018/reinventing-the-social/apresentacao

The programme was extremely varied, featuring sociology, political science, literature and more, and the plenary speakers ranged from the President, Josef Raab (University of Duisburg-Essen) to Prof. Boaventura de Sousa Santos (Universities of Coimbra and Wisconsin-Madison). The official languages of the conference were Portuguese, Spanish and English.

My own paper, ‘Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Carlos Fuentes’ “Aura”: the fantastic and the feminine in inter-American dialogue’, was a contribution to the round table ‘Poe and (Post)Modernism(s): Across the Americas, Over to Europe’. The other contributors were Margarida Vale de Gato (University of Lisbon) and Santiago Rodríguez Guerrero-Strachan (University of Valladolid). In my paper, I trace the similarities and differences between two of the most important texts in the fantastic genre by authors from the US and Mexico respectively. The paper was well received and the round table concluded with a stimulating debate.

The paper is on-line at:

http://www.yatrarollason.info/files/PoeandFuentesCoimbra2018.pdf

**

Del 22 al 24 de marzo de 2018 tuve el placer de participar en el Quinto Congreso de la Asociación Internacional de Estudios Inter-Americanos, celebrado en Coimbra (Portugal):

http://www.ces.uc.pt/en/agenda-noticias/agenda-de-eventos/2018/reinventing-the-social/apresentacao

El programa fue muy variado, abarcando sociología, ciencias políticas, literatura y más, y entre los oradores plenarios se pueden destacar figuras como el Presidente, Josef Raab (Universidad de Duisburg-Essen) y el profesor Boaventura de Sousa Santos (Universidades de Coimbra y Wisconsin-Madison). Los idiomas oficiales del congreso eran portugués, español e inglés.

Mi ponencia, ‘Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Carlos Fuentes’ “Aura”: the fantastic and the feminine in inter-American dialogue’, se integraba en el marco de la mesa redonda ‘Poe and (Post)Modernism(s): Across the Americas, Over to Europe’. Los otros participantes eran Margarida Vale de Gato (Universidad de Lisboa) y Santiago Rodríguez Guerrero-Strachan (Universidad de Valladolid). En mi ponencia, analizo las semejanzas y diferencias entre dos de los más importantes textos en el género fantástico de autoría estadounidense y mexicana respectivamente. Fue bien recibida, y la mesa redonda terminó con un debate estimulante.

La ponencia se ubica en línea en:

http://www.yatrarollason.info/files/PoeandFuentesCoimbra2018.pdf

 

 

THIS BLOG CELEBRATES 100 000 VISITS / ESTA BITÁCORA CELEBRA SUS 100 000 VISITAS

This blog has now reached 100 000 visits! This video celebrates the occasion!

Esta bitacora ha alcanzado 100 000 visitas!! Este video celebra la ocasión!

Chronicler of turbulent times: Salman Rushdie’s THE GOLDEN HOUSE

Salman Rushdie, The Golden House (London: Jonathan Cape, 2017), 370 pp., ISBN (hardback) 9781787330153
**
The Golden House is Salman Rushdie’s thirteenth novel and eighteenth book. The Indian-born, today US-resident writer is now aged 70, and it is now almost three decades since the worldwide polemic over The Satanic Verses, his fourth novel, marked him down as controversial for life. The new novel catapults him into the Trump era and finds him engaging novelistically with a number of the critical issues of our time.

It would be a mistake to see the Rushdie of today as an ‘Indian writer’: he has been too long out-station. His more recent work is the product of globalisation and cultural hybridation, of a chronicler of our times who ‘belongs’ in no single place. The Golden House, while set mostly in New York, reaches back in part to Rushdie’s origins, narrating the chequered fortunes of a wealthy, Manhattan-resident migrant family, the Goldens, originating in Bombay/Mumbai (as it happens of Muslim background although religious issues play almost no role in the novel).

Generically, the new novel is notable in its author’s canon for totally eschewing magic realism, the genre of which Midnight’s Children, his second novel, is considered a textbook exemplar to rival Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad. Rushdie’s more recent efforts include the fantasy-imbued The Enchantress of Florence (2010) and the One Thousand and One Nights pastiche Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (2015), both magic realist and neither of them among his most successful creations. I have argued elsewhere (on this blog, entry of 22 December 2005) that Shalimar the Clown from 2005 – which uses magic realism only sparingly – may actually be Rushdie’s best, or at least best-written novel. In The Golden House, it is realism that rules. The novel is cast as a first-person narrative, with as narrator not a member of the Golden family but a neighbour and associate of Belgian origin, named René and aspiring to the status of film director (though other characters get to speak in the first person via the device of embedded monologues).

Meanwhile, the most prominent characteristic of Rushdie’s writing in this novel is allusiveness: much as in his rock-era novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1997), whose photographer narrator, Rai, René in some ways resembles, the text is imbued with quotation and allusion from multiple cultural sources, indiscriminately of high-culture, low-culture and hybridated provenance, drawing on literature, visual art, comic books, Indian epics, popular music – including, as I note elsewhere (on this blog, entry of 14 January 2018), a fair crop of Bob Dylan references – and, above all and with an intensiveness without precedent in the Rushdie canon, cinema. Indeed, there are passages bristling with allusions to the likes of Federico Fellini, François Truffaut or Luis Buñuel that look like nothing if not the monthly programme of the onetime Cambridge Arts Cinema, a venue avowedly oft-frequented by Rushdie in his days as a King’s College undergraduate. Among other things, this novel must surely be read as its author’s tribute to the cinema, a summa of the seventh art – and be it added, not in exclusively Eurocentric or Western-oriented fashion, for among Rushdie-René’s cast of directors we also find Japan’s Akira Kurosawa and Bengal’s Satyajit Ray.

The narrative is structured around the lives and deaths of the three adult sons of the protagonist, the fugitive ex-Mumbai businessman known as Nero Golden. Those sons (all given Greco-Roman names which they later distort) are, respectively, Petronius (Petya), diagnosed with high-functioning autism, Apuleius (Indianised, in a Satyajit Ray allusion, as Apu), a fashionable painter, and the youngest, Dionysus, who reduces his name to D. All three Golden scions come to a problematic end, Apu on a visit to India and Petya and D In Manhattan. Apu is eliminated by Mumbai gangsters; Petya falls at the hands of irrational violence in its American guise, victim of a mass shooting by a crazed gunman. It is D’s fate, however, that lies closest to a preoccupation at the heart of this novel, namely its author’s response to a number of the controversial cultural and ideological issues currently facing Western society.

The issues evoked include extremisms of both right and left. On the right, Rushdie tackles the gun lobby, the ‘Gamergate’ scandal, and above all, the rise of Donald Trump, thinly disguised as ‘the Joker’, whose campaign rumbles in the background and culminates in his election, to the horror of René and, surely, through him Rushdie. René laments apocalyptically: ‘after the election the Joker – his hair green and luminous, his skin white as a Klansman’s hood, his lips dripping with anonymous blood – now ruled them all’ (p. 348). On the left, the novel weighs in on identity politics, including transgender issues and their impact on language, and on the trend towards campus censorship.

D’s partner, Riya, works at a (fictional) Museum of Identity, herself as an Indian-Swedish American having no one identity. The narrative charts in detail how D becomes gradually aware of his transgender identity and eventually commits suicide under multiple pressures, as well as Riya’s ambiguous reaction to his death and partial forswearing of identity politics as she resigns from her job. The portrayal will not necessarily please the transgender community, but this is a novel, not a tract, and there can be no doubt of Rushdie’s openness to engaging with the issue. Rushdie also wrestles – and directly so, as writer – with the controversial question of transgender pronouns. An associate challenges D: ‘You should think about pronouns … If you’re giving up he, who steps in? You could choose they’ (p. 111). Rushdie/René chooses the strategy of referring to D in his earlier stages of transition as parenthetically masculine ([he], [his]) and at a more advanced stage as italicised female (she, her); nowhere is resort had to invented pronouns like ze, though their existence is mentioned. Thus we have sentences like: ‘I still used the male pronouns when I thought about [him], though that felt increasingly wrong, and so as a gesture towards [his] ambiguity I put them in square brackets’ (p. 246). The chosen strategy may work on the page, but would not be reproducible should the novel be read from live.

Rushdie said in 2015 that ‘we are living in the darkest time I have ever known’  – http://bookhaven.stanford.edu/2015/07/salman-rushdie-we-are-living-in-the-darkest-time-i-have-ever-known -, specifically with censorship in his sights. His new novel appears at a time characterised, notably but not only in the US and the UK, by increasing rejection in ‘liberal’ circles, especially academic, of that very free speech of which Rushdie has been an icon for three decades, and also by the practice of ‘sensitivity checking’ (i.e. novelists submitting their manuscripts for ideological approval by presumed representatives of minority groups), a trend which we may presume he has not followed. The Golden House engages with the campus censorship issue only once, but in an eloquent paragraph whose examples could all or nearly all be shown by research to refer to real cases.

The paragraph revolves around René’s parents (who would both be killed in a car crash), old-school academics who find themselves shocked at the new student generation’s rejection of free speech. The examples include cancelling a performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues because it might offend transgender students, banning of Pocahontas costumes at Hallowe’en, no-platforming of apostate Muslims because ‘their views were offensive to non-apostate Muslims’, and ‘their colleague on TV with a twenty-year old female student screaming abuse into her face from a distance of three inches because of a disagreement over campus journalism’ . The ‘apostate Muslims’ allusion might appear to target Rushdie himself, but in fact relates less to him than to other lapsed Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali who are not welcome on campuses. In terms that might recall Winston Smith’s recoiling from Oceania’s totalitarian generation of children in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, René chronicles how his parents note with despair that young people have become ‘pro-censorship, pro-banning things, pro-restrictions’: ‘how did that happen … we’re beginning to fear the young’ (pp. 28-29).

With almost three decades having passed since the outbreak of the so-called ‘Rushdie affair’, The Golden House, and indeed all of its author’s work, stands as an emblem of intellectual and artistic freedom. Now as in the past, Rushdie is not afraid to tackle difficult issues head-on. Meanwhile as another anniversary of the fatwa approaches, it is not easy to be sanguine about the prospects for writers and the arts. As I was about to put this review on-line, news broke that the Manchester Art Gallery had ‘temporarily’ removed one of its best-known paintings from view, invoking gender politics – https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/jan/31/hylas-and-the-nymphs-jw–waterhouse-why-have-mildly-erotic-nymphs-been-removed-from-a-manchester-gallery-is-picasso-next . If one looks back from 2018 to 1989, yes, it may be concluded that Rushdie himself survived (and went on to build up a massive œuvre), and so did The Satanic Verses (no Western country has banned it). As to whether artistic freedom will survive, the jury is out.

Bob Dylan and Salman Rushdie – Dylan allusions in Rushdie’s ‘The Golden House’

Salman Rushdie is known to be a long-term Dylan admirer (indeed, Dylan is even quoted in ‘The Satanic Verses’), and in 2017 effusively welcomed the songwriter’s controversial Nobel Prize in Literature. I have been following Rushdie’s Dylan allusions, across a large part of his fiction and non-fiction, for some time, – notably with reference to his rock-era novel ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’:

http://yatrarollason.info/files/RushdieGFupdated.pdf

and now bring the matter up to date with the Dylan harvest from his latest novel, ‘The Golden House’ (I did the same for the preceding novel, ‘Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights’, on this blog – entry for 9 October 2015 –  at:

https://rollason.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/salman-rushdie-and-bob-dylan-2015-the-allusions-continue/).

‘The Golden House’ (London: Jonathan Cape, 2017), set mostly in New York, is a novel of contemporary life in which the Indian-born author addresses a whole range of current issues, from the rise of Trump to transexuality and identity politics. Despite Rushdie’s fame as practitioner of magic realism, it is written entirely in realist mode, with a first-person narrator who is an aspiring film director. As is typical with Rushdie, the text is shot through with cultural references, to books, films, songs and more, straddling high culture and mass culture, and amid this throng of allusions I am pleased to locate half-a-dozen, explicit or implicit, to Bob Dylan, in what is Rushdie’s first novel since the Nobel conferred a new gravitas on Dylan the songwriter.

Bob Dylan is mentioned by name twice (pp. 12, 27) as a former – if ‘long gone’ – resident of the part of Greenwich Village where the Golden family (the book’s main protagonists) live. There is also a reference to the famously demented Dylanite A.J. Weberman (p. 35) and his habit of searching through his idol’s trashcans.

Next, we are told that one of the Golden family, Petya, a young man diagnosed with high-functioning autism, boasts among his achievements that of knowing Dylan lyrics by heart, and proves it by reciting in its entirety one of Dylan’s longest songs, ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’. It is not the first time Rushdie has cited this song: it also makes a bow in ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’ and ‘Fury’. Here, Petya is said to recite it ‘as reverently as if it were a companion piece to [John Keats’ poem] “La Belle Dame sans Merci”‘ (p. 44), with Rushdie thus weighing in, it may be a shade late in the day, on the ‘Dylan vs Keats / popular art vs high art’ debate that at one time wracked the Anglophone academy.

Later, Petya engages in a melodramatic twelve-hour one-person walk across Manhattan, at which point the text exhibits a number of embedded quotations from Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ – uncredited, but too many to be anything but deliberate (again, Rushdie has quoted from this song before, in ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’). The narrator imagines the walk proceeding with ‘the sound of a tambourine at each footfall’: then come an explicit reference to a ‘tambourine man’ and the phrases ‘the haunted, frightened trees’ (p. 201), ‘far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow’, and ‘to dance. Beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free [Rushdie’s punctuation]’ (p. 202), all straight from a Dylan song which Rushdie may be reading as invoking the kind of parallel reality into which his afflicted character Petya retreats.

A final Dylan reference, again uncredited, appears in the run-up to Petya’s death at the hands of a demented gunman, when the narrator retrospectively asks: ‘Was I the only person in the Golden house that day who heard the beating of fatal wings, the proleptic sighs of the guilty undertaker, the slow falling of the curtain at the end of the play’? (p. 281): the ‘guilty undertaker’ hails straight from of the first line of Dylan’s ‘I Want You’.

Once again then, in ‘The Golden House’ Bob Dylan is numbered among the multiple textual influences on Salman Rushdie’s writing, and receives his due from a major literary chronicler of our time.

Note added 2 February 2018: I have now given ‘The Golden House’ a full review on this blog – entry for 1 February 2018.