In 1999, Bob Dylan (b. 1941) was included in the ‘Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century’ as a “master poet, caustic social critic and intrepid, guiding spirit of the counterculture generation”. In 2008, the Pulitzer Prize jury awarded Dylan a special citation for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power”. In May 2012, Dylan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. In 2016, the artist was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. The New York Times (13-10-2016) reported: “Mr. Dylan, 75, is the first musician to win the award, and his selection on Thursday is perhaps the most radical choice in a history stretching back to 1901…In choosing a popular musician for the literary world’s highest honor, the Swedish Academy, which awards the prize, dramatically redefined the boundaries of literature, setting off a debate about whether song lyrics have the same artistic value as poetry or novels”.
After the official Nobel announcement, opinions divided the public and critics. CETAPS (Centre for English, Translation and Anglo-Portuguese Studies) and CESEM (Sociology and Musical Aesthetics Research Center), NOVA University of Lisbon, decided to analyze and celebrate the aesthetic, historical, political, and cultural significance of Bob Dylan’s musical, literary and artistic (visual) work, as well as its influence(s).
The initial expression in the conference’s title is the title of the biographical musical drama film I Am Not There (2007, directed by Todd Haynes and co-written with Oren Moverman), which intercuts the storylines of seven different Dylan-inspired characters. According to Haynes, “the minute you try to grab hold of Dylan, he’s no longer where he was. He’s like a flame: If you try to hold him in your hand you’ll surely get burned. Dylan’s life of change and constant disappearances and constant transformations makes you yearn to hold him, and to nail him down. And that’s why his fan base is so obsessive, so desirous of finding the truth and the absolutes and the answers to him – things that Dylan will never provide and will only frustrate” (apud D. Dalton, Who Is the Man?: In Search of the Real Bob Dylan, 2012).