BU professor visits Barnard, discusses Bob Dylan and misogyny

Last night, Christopher Ricks, professor of English at Boston University (and Bob Dylan enthusiast), lectured on the major music icon to a full house in Sulzberger Parlor on the third floor of Barnard Hall. Spec's Katherine Rietberg sums up the main points of the talk after the jump.

Ricks started off his lecture with a quote (from a 2006 New York Times article written by a woman), “No woman really loves Bob Dylan. His music is something that women pretend to enjoy to please men, like camping or golf.” We’re so fixated on saying we want to abolish stereotypes, but how are we defining terms like misogyny?

“Art has to be able to contain ugly feelings,” Ricks said, “You can’t ever create great works of art by playing it safe.” Unlike many of the critics he quoted, who commented on Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” without explanation or evidence, Ricks handed out copies of the lyrics and discussed specific lines. A few listeners had questions about the meaning of the line, “She takes just like a woman.” Ricks responded by reminding us that "take" isn’t necessarily bad---though we tend to think of it as meaning greedy and selfish as opposed to "give." Dylan never says that men don’t "take" or "fake," and there’s no evidence that he’s saying women are genetically predisposed to fragility. The speaker seems to be referring to a woman who, according to Ricks, plays the “little girl card.” Someone who has times when she regresses to being childlike---who can’t live up to the best part of herself. Ricks noted that what is said is always influenced by how it’s said. When you hear Dylan sing, he sounds disappointed and heartbroken (though some women said they thought the tone was angry). There’s a feeling of exclusion in the lyrics, “I was hungry and it was your world,” and Ricks referenced the woman in “Like a Rolling Stone”---the “princess on a pedestal.”

Many people still wanted answers to speculations that the song is based on Warhol factory girl Edie Sedgwick or a girl from Dylan’s childhood, but Ricks said he doesn’t care about biographical information: “Works of art cut the umbilical cord between them and their parents.” Everyone can understand the feelings and the relationship described in the song, so why does it matter if Dylan wrote it with one woman in mind? Beats us.

It was clear that Ricks is a lover of Dylan---he listened to each recording with his eyes closed in pure ecstasy, and those in the room bowed their heads in a sort of reverence while listening to Dylan’s voice .


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Anonymous posted on

Enjoyed your article about the lecture. Great discussion with great music!

Dylan Fan posted on

The audience made it clear that Dylan's music is stiil powerful whatever your feelings about him personally might be. Love the music video link on "Just Like a Woman", as well as the other llinks.