Friday, 6 March 2009

American Space, Jewish Time: Essays in Modern Culture and Politics

by Stephen J. Whitfield

Dylan managed to draw upon the cryptic imperatives of the modern literary imagination, and upon gnomic references that established him as a seer in a genre whose verbal resources stressed accessibility and immediacy, a field largely barren of such arabesques. One of the few other Jews in the folk and protest music of the 1960s, Phil Ochs, claimed of Dylan that, "from the moment I met him, I thought he was great, a genius . . . I had an increasing lot of secret fear: 'Oh, my God, what can be do next? He can't possibly top that one.'" When Ochs played Highway 61 Revisited (1965) for the first time, he "just laughed and said it's so ridiculous. It's impossibly good. . . . How can a human mind do this? The writing was so rich I just couldn't believe it." With that album, Ochs concluded, Dylan had "done it. He's done something that's left the whole field ridiculously in back of him. He's in his own world now." Dylan flew through the end of the envelope because, though a drop-out from the University of Minnesota (honorary degree, Princeton University), he has been so receptive to the complex possibilities of serious contemporary poetry.

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