Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Scott Warmuth Sheds Light On Some of the Games Dylan Plays

"Art is anything you can get away with." ~Marshall McLuhan

I find it interesting that nearly everyone who hears the above quote attributes it to Andy Wahol. Evidently he must have gotten away with it, for no one recalls him ever giving credit to the original source.

In recent years Dylan has been accused of borrowing without giving credit. Many of his fans defend him, assuring us that he is an artist above the rabble of such accusations. Sean Wilentz defends him in his Bob Dylan in America, but there are others who just refuse to let it go. One of these seems to be Scott Warmuth who has now made a very visual presentation on Pinterest detailing the extent of Dylan's original source material.

At this point I am curious where the lines are to be drawn regarding a borrowed turn of phrase and true plagiarism. Here are a couple examples from my own fiction.

Thirty years ago I wrote a story based on a New Testament incident from the book of Acts in which I was trying to decide how to describe a character. I looked in a variety of books to see how faces are described, much like a high school art student might imitate a Picasso or a Matisse. From one of the stories in Outline of Great Books edited by Sir J.A. Hammerton, I lifted a phrase describing someone's eyes. Even though I'd done this but once, it seemed improper for some reason, for instead of describing what I'd observed myself or imagined, I took something I had not created and later felt guilty about it.

And yet, in a different way I never felt guilty about another kind of borrowing I've done. Sometimes when I am writing I am also watching movies on my iMac. And occasionally, not often but I've done this, I take portions of lines from the film and work them into my story. I like word games, and it just seems like the words are there, or a set of words, they just flick off my fingertips into the seams of my blog entry or story and they fee like they belong.

In one of my stories titled "A Poem About Truth" I copied word for word the first paragraph of a 600 page book about General Erwin Rommel. After flipping a sentence into it, I used it as a springboard to create something entirely other. It was a game.

In another very short story titled Harry Gold I assembled complete sentences from a variety of sources -- Under the Volcano, a Hemingway story and several others -- to form a narrative that is essentially, if only briefly, an entertainment. When sharing it here in 2011 I observed, "I think it interesting how a sentence, placed in a new context connotes new meanings through the reconfigured relationship." (I now wish I could find my documentation of where all those sentences originated.)

Unmasked and Not So Anonymous

But Warmuth's portrait of Dylan is on a totally other scale. For more than ten years Warmuth has been gathering data to make his case. An article in the New Haven Review cohesively lays it out in an article titled Bob Charlatan: Deconstructing Dylan's Chronicles: Volume One.

Perhaps capitalizing on the growing visual nature of internet content, Warmuth has assembled a Pinterest site with boards devoted to his quest to shed light on Dylan's borrowings and make them not so anonymous. One of the boards is titled A Bob Dylan Bookshelf. It's an extensive collection of sources that demonstrates am impressive degree of research on Warmuth's part. Authors in this collection include George Orwell, Michael Crichton, Willa Cather, William Burroughs, Alec Wilder, H.G. Wells, Carl Sandberg, Jim Bouton, Ovid, Homer, Joyce Carol Oates, Jack London, and on and on and on.

A second Pinterest board is titled A Tempest Commonplace, in which Warmuth gathers findings that may have influenced the songs on Dylan's last album of original work. The author/musician/disc jockey acknowledges the assistance of collaborators on this board.

Warmuth's third Pinterest board is not directly related to Dylan, and yet there is a connection. The board is titled The Wonder Pack of the Universe, and it consists of Svengali decks. Like Dylan, who once stated that if he could go back in time to any moment in history it would be to see Houdini's escape when he was dropped into the East River, Warmuth is evidently fascinated by magic.

The fourth Pinterest board managed by Warmuth explores Dylan's use of the works of Robert Louis Stevenson in Chronicles: Volume One, beginning with Stevenson's short story "The Story of a Lie."

What surprises me most is how unsurprising this seems. Dylan has always clothed himself in fictions, from the early days when he made up stories about his roots on through the charades of Hollywood and the Rolling Thunder Revue. And even if the man himself were a fiction (and some say Shakespeare was) this Minnesota-born storyteller has given a lot of people something very real through his music, songs and performances. And it's been good. 


Anonymous said...

Isn't it ironic, then, that Scott Warmuth is capitalizing on the very activity that he suggests that Bob Dylan engages in. What has he created other than a compilation of connections between OTHER people's work? Where is the original thought?

Anonymous said...

How does the word "charlatan" enter into this? Have some respect for Bob Dylan, Scott. It seems that everyone on earth, except Scott Warmuth, appreciates Bob Dylan’s art of intertextuality. Are you a fan of Bob Dylan’s music, Scott? Perhaps this pursuit of yours, at this point, is only a reason to constantly obsess. Ask the guy who wrote Confessions of a Yakuza, he said he wanted to thank Bob Dylan - a lot of people do.

Ed Newman said...

Thank you for the comments. I would like to hear Scott's rebuttal here. If nothing else, he has done an impressive volume of research, though he's not been at it alone, has had others like Ed Cook (a professional researcher) assisting, I believe.

EDLISCafe said...

I think the use of the word "charlatan" was sparked by Bob Dylan's use of “The Science of Charlatanism, or How to Create a Cult in Five Easy Steps.” from Robert Greene’s 1998, The 48 Laws of Power. Scott amuses himself showing the tricks behind the smoke and mirrors that Bob Dylan employs in his circus act. We all love the show, to some degree!



DonaldFlanky said...

Scott has nailed Bob red-handed. OK. Before the extent of Bob's borrowing emerged, I was listening to an old, obscure blues record and heard "sugar for sugar salt for salt". I laughed. "Bob, the thief". OK. Bob is a thief. But that is the BEGINNING of the discussion, not the end.
What do I mean?
I once saw a comment from Bob's mom, Beatty Zimmerman, about a visit to Bob's house. Mrs. Z. Said: "the books! OMG, the books! So many books!"
Let us pause.
Bob Dylan is one of the most literate persons of our generation and perhaps a thief too - but I don't care. So what if he recycles stuff.?
Dylan has READ: the bible, Shakespeare, civil war poetry, Virgil, Shelley, and "all of F Scott Fitzgerald's books"!
I am a becoming a reader probably BECAUSE of BD.
So yes. We caught Bob plagiarizing. No question. And I was duped by him.
But when the dust clears, BD has done more for literacy in America than all the high school teachers combined.
Get real folks. This is a SCHOLAR. Bob Dulan is an inspirational scholar. And I love him. But he's also a thief. He's got a bit of Albert Grossman in him.
That's OK. Keep it up, Zimmy.

Rob Geurtsen said...

You wrote:
"Sometimes when I am writing I am also watching movies on my iMac. And occasionally, not often but I've done this, I take portions of lines from the film and work them into my story. I like word games, and it just seems like the words are there, or a set of words, they just flick off my fingertips into the seams of my blog entry or story and they fee like they belong."
I have it in a similar way. When I read an article my mind might get started and I start writing while thoughts come up triggered by words, sentences, or opinions and observations in the article or book, or website I am reading. I copy paste like a wild man...
The next step is to shape my thoughts and writings into something that sort of appears structured, when that is done, I leave it for a few days.
Pondering and reminiscing about what I want to say... is it my own idea, my reasoning, my story, argument or a response to the text that got me started in the first place? When i hav made a decision I go back to the text and saart editing, sometimes keeping sentences alive, sometime deleting them, something crate my own words or those in line with the rest of the article...
When I listen to the radio while I am writing, or like you having a movie going on in the background, it makes sense something from the outside world slips sliding into our own imaginairy world we created with the keyboard or voice input.

Unknown said...

This century is obsessed and perverted by the idea that we have to give a reward to anyybody who seems to have "invented" something, this is the world of royalties and copyrights! Man can not "create" only God can, man can transform,even transmute anything surrounding him.That's a necessity if we want to keep the world go round. Everytime you copy something you change it, you transform it as ED explained when he said he changed a whole story just in adding a phrase! .There is something called the Cultural patrimony, we got the right to know it, study it use it and even transform it...even Bob Dylan and if he changes only one line of a song we can consider it's his. This was the culture of the Blue and the Folk music.

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