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Accusations about Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize lecture rekindle old debate

In this  file photo, Bob Dylan accepts the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year award at the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year show in Los Angeles. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Invision/AP, File)
Photo by Vince Bucci/Invision/AP, File
In this file photo, Bob Dylan accepts the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year award at the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year show in Los Angeles.

Perhaps it was just a matter of time.

Bob Dylan makes a major artistic statement, and eagle-eyed students of his work soon find evidence that he had “borrowed” — or, to be less kind, plagiarized — significant parts of it.

It has come up in song lyrics and in passages from Dylan’s memoir, “Chronicles: Volume One.” The sources have included the work of a Japanese doctor and a Confederate poet, and fed an unending debate about whether Dylan is a Rauschenberg-esque master of pastiche or simply a thief. The stakes for Dylan’s reputation are even higher now that he has been elevated to a Nobel laureate.

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The latest allegation, in fact, is related to Dylan’s Nobel lecture, which he delivered in a recording last week as a requirement of accepting last year’s Nobel Prize in literature. In the speech, Dylan recounted how he was influenced by Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” and Homer’s “The Odyssey” — the kinds of well-worn classics that most students encounter in school, and may consult a study guide to help understand.

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A Slate article on Tuesday accused Dylan of doing what schoolchildren get scolded for every day: cribbing lines from that study guide and passing it off as his own work. The author, Andrea Pitzer, combed through Dylan’s 4,000-word speech and, in the case of his 78 sentences of commentary on “Moby-Dick,” found at least 20 examples in which phrases from his text closely resemble lines in a SparkNotes online guide to the novel.

For astute Dylan fans, such accusations are nothing new.

Some lyrics on his 2001 album “’Love and Theft’” closely resemble lines from “Confessions of a Yakuza,” a 1991 book by Dr. Junichi Saga about the life of a Japanese gangster. In 2006, lyrics on Dylan’s album “Modern Times” were found to have been lifted from works by Henry Timrod, an obscure 19th-century writer who has been called the poet laureate of the Confederacy.

A spokesman for Dylan had no comment on Wednesday. (ThNew York Times)