Monday, April 27, 2009

Dylan and Nabokov

Bob Dylan's song "Ballad of a Thin Man" is about a man who appears to be really intelligent, but he actually doesn't understand anything that is going on around him. Mr. Jones "walks into the room with a pencil in his hand", ready to take notes and describe everything. He is constantly asking questions and he thinks he is better than everyone around him (it's impossible that he is a freak). Mr. Jones has spent time with intellectuals like professors and lawyers and is "very well read", but despite this all the strange characters around him are insulting him, calling him a freak, a cow, and saying "there ought to be law against him coming around".  Bob Dylan seems to be poking fun at the same kind of person Nabokov was mocking in the introduction to Lolita. John Ray is a person who would seem to be very intelligent; after all, he does have a Ph.D. However, he doesn't really understand anything about the book on which he is claiming to be an expert. Ray reads Lolita as a case history and for a moral lesson, when in fact Nabokov did not intend for the book to be read this way. Both Mr. Jones and John Ray are characters who are definitely real people, out there somewhere, and Dylan and Nabokov have pointed out that while they may find themselves to be superior, they are in reality clueless. 

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