As you probably know, Bob Dylan, a musician, was awarded the Nobel prize. He was the first musician to receive the Nobel prize.

The Nobel committee, notably, seemed to avoid the word music when explaining why the prize was awarded. The press release simply states that the prize was awarded to Dylan "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition", i.e. that the committee is awarding the prize based on Dylan's ability as a poet. Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, described Dylan as a "great poet in the English tradition"; a poet, not a songwriter. And Danius also said that Dylan "should be read"; that's an odd statement to say about a musician, whose works are intended to be listened to.

All of this made me wonder: how does the Nobel committee define literature? I suspect that they describe Dylan as a poet because they consider poetry literature. But I then decided to look for a explanation for where exactly they draw the line, but I wasn't able to find one.

How does the Nobel committee define literature?

  • 4
    What makes you think they have a definition of literature, rather than simply "I know it when I see it"? (As a mathematician, I always want rigorous definitions of terminology, but I've come to accept that outside of maths many terms have no properly rigorous definitions.)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Nov 26, 2017 at 11:53
  • @Rand if they don't have a rigorous definition of literature, then that would make for an answer, wouldn't it? But I suspect that they do have some sort of idea, even if it's not rigorous. They're very reluctant to describe Bob Dylan's work as music, for example. There is, to me, clearly some sort of boundary involved here.
    – user111
    Nov 26, 2017 at 11:57
  • I'm rather amused that a question asking for the definition of a term as used by some committee is not a question about terminology. I've to retract my upvote since now I have no idea what this question is about.
    – muru
    Nov 26, 2017 at 15:27
  • @muru this is not worth arguing about, so I rolled it back.
    – user111
    Nov 26, 2017 at 15:29
  • It's not worth arguing about, but it is worth discussing, because Rand raises an interesting point that leads to alternate formulation: how does the committee decide what works to consider when evaluating candidates? That would a) include the definition of literature if they use "works of literature" as a criterion, b) make the terminology tag inapplicable, c) if they don't explicitly set literature as a requirement, but some other criteria, then an answer listing those would be more useful and d) also make the main concern of your question as listed in the edit summary clearer
    – muru
    Nov 26, 2017 at 15:38


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