Self-knowledge might be the most difficult of life’s rewards — the hardest to earn and bear. To know yourself is to know that you are not an unassailable fixitybut a set of fragilities in constant flux. To know yourself is to know that you are not invulnerable.
The actual encounter with that vulnerability is the wellspring of art: Every artist’s art is their coping mechanism for the extreme sensitivity to aliveness that we callby the world, to let something outside us stir something deep within us. All great art — and only art can be great — is, therefore, the work of vulnerability and all integrity, the function of fidelity to one’s fragilities.
Bob Dylan (b. May 24, 1941) addresses that with his penetrating poetics of insight in a 1977 conversation with Jonathan Cott — that uncommonly sensitive and erudite.
Cott prefaces the conversation in his collection( ), with a soulful and percipient encapsulation of Dylan’s gift: His songs are miracles, his ways mysterious and unfathomable. In words and music, he has reawakened and altered our world experience. In a statement (“He not busy being born is busy dying”) and in the image (“My dreams are made of iron and steel / With a big bouquet / Of roses hanging down / From the heavens to the ground”), he has kept as vates — the visionary eye of the body politic — while keeping himself open to a conception of art that embraces and respects equally Charles Baudelaire and Charley Patton, Arthur Rimbaud, and Smokey Robinson.
Dylan’s virtuosity with the mysterious and the miraculous has always sprung from his ethos of. In discussing his film Renaldo and Clara — which Dylan describes as being about integrity, about “naked alienation of the inner self against the outer self” — he tells Cott: Human emotions are the great dictator.
You can’t be a slave to your emotions. If you’re a slave to your feelings, you’re dependent on your feelings, and you’re only dealing with your conscious mind… You must be faithful to your subconscious, unconscious, super-conscious, and intended. Integrity is a facet of honesty. It has to do with knowing yourself.
True integrity necessitates the honesty ofthat great valve between us and the world, through which reality rushes into the chamber of our being and art pours out. Dylan observes. It would help if you were vulnerable to being sensitive to facts. And to me, being vulnerable is just another of saying that one has nothing more to lose. I don’t have anything but darkness to lose. I’m way beyond that.
When the conversation turns to humanity’s most significant spiritual sages — the teachers from various traditions best able to access and teach the eternal truths — Dylan counters Cott’s observation that “they speak and teach with more emotion,” redoubling his defiance of feeling as an organizing principle for truth:
A generation after Aldous Huxley reverenced music as the great illuminator of theDylan exalts music as a supreme instrument of a revelation: its inherent honesty, its elemental fidelity to truth — the temporal and the eternal, the personal and the universal:
It may be that Bob Dylan is the Bach of our time — the rare vessel for universal truth whose music contains
Complement with three centuries of uncommon minds onand Nick Cave on the , then revisit psychologist Erich Fromm on , philosopher Martha Nussbaum on and philosopher-poet Kahlil Gibran on .