Bob Dylan has been accused of stealing a number of sentences about the novel “Moby-Dick” from an online study guide and dropping them into his recent Nobel Prize lecture.
Inspired by commentary by writer Ben Greenman, who noted that Dylan appeared to have invented a quote from the sizable book, Slate’s Andrea Pitzer analyzed the portion of the lecture pertaining to Herman Melville’s book and found that “more than a dozen” of Dylan’s 78 sentences about it “appear to closely resemble lines from the SparkNotes site.”
“Most of the key shared phrases in these passages (such as ‘Ahab’s lust for vengeance’ … ) do not appear in the novel ‘Moby-Dick’ at all,” Pitzer said Tuesday.
In his lecture, Dylan also named “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “The Odyssey” as books that had stuck with him since childhood.
Greenman, in noticing the apparently invented “Moby-Dick” quote (“Some men who receive injuries are led to God, others are led to bitterness”) seemed to chalk it up to Dylan being Dylan and had no problem with it.
“It appears, from all available evidence, that Dylan invented the quote and inserted it into his reading of Moby-Dick,” he wrote. “Was it on purpose? Was it the result of a faulty memory? Was it an egg, left in the lawn to be discovered in case it’s Eastertime too? Answering these questions would be drilling into the American Sphinx, and beside the point anyway. As it stands, it’s very much in the spirit of his entire enterprise: to take various American masterworks and absorb and transform them. The mystery of it makes a wonderful lecture even more wonderful.”
Dylan, who won the Nobel in Literature prize last year, didn’t travel to Stockholm to accept the honor and its nearly $1 million prize on Dec. 10 but instead recorded the customary lecture in Los Angeles on June 4 and uploaded it to YouTube on June 5, just beating a six-month deadline to deliver it. The Nobel Foundation posted a transcript as well.
“Triplicate,” the 76-year-old’s newest release — a three-album set covering songs from the Great American Songbook, which followed two other albums of songs written by other people — came out at the end of March.
In his review, The Times’ Randy Lewis noted:
“(The) vast majority of the songs Dylan included on 2015’s ‘Shadows in the Night,’ last year’s ‘Fallen Angels’ and now this follow-up were popularized by Frank Sinatra.
“It’s therefore probably no coincidence that in form, content and title, ‘Triplicate’ echoes Sinatra’s latter-years magnum opus, ‘Trilogy,’ a three-album 1980 release organized with a different theme for each disc: ‘The Past,’ ‘The Present’ and ‘The Future.’
“In Dylan’s case, the separate discs are individually themed “Til the Sun Goes Down,’ ‘Devil Dolls’ and ‘Comin’ Home Late.”
In his Nobel lecture, Dylan summarized his takeaway from “Moby-Dick” thusly:
“Ishmael survives,” he wrote. “He’s in the sea floating on a coffin. And that’s about it. That’s the whole story. That theme and all that it implies would work its way into more than a few of my songs.”