John Miles Foley, Founding Editor

A Face like a Mask and a Voice that Croaks: An Integrated Poetics of Bob Dylan’s Voice, Personae, and Lyrics

Abstract

This article seeks to examine the literary pleasures derived from Bob Dylan’s songs, paying special attention to how Dylan’s poetical texts are performed and rhythmically rewritten by his voice, as well as the ways in which Dylan uses the songs to “write himself” through the creation of numerous and competing personae. Close reading of the lyrics, this article argues, must therefore be supplemented by a “poetics of the voice” and a detailed analysis of the theatricality of his “games of masks.” While a stylistic approach to the lyrics reveals a thrust towards writerly openness and new poetical idioms that fuse oral traditions with high poetry, the aesthetic and semantic uses Dylan makes of his voice are equally sophisticated. A study of Dylan’s “masks” will show that the artist uses archetypal poetic identities (prophet, trickster, man of sorrow, and so on) as fictional figurations of himself offered to the audience.

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