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New in the MIT Reader
Bob Dylan in Trumpland: The Working Man in ‘Modern Times’

In a new essay in the MIT Reader, Timothy Hampton, author of Bob Dylan’s Poetics: How the Songs Work, discusses themes of the working man in Dylan’s album ‘Modern Times’ and its poignancy in the era of Trump. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full essay. An excerpt appears below:

“Bob Dylan came to prominence in the early 1960s, on the basis of a series of ‘protest’ songs written to expose injustice, racism, and war. In the more recent work of ‘Modern Times,’ he reinvents his moral voice. The crisis of America is seen, not as a problem of false consciousness (‘The Times They Are a-Changin’‘) or misplaced priorities ('Blowin’ in the Wind’), but as a breakdown of knowledge, of language, of the self, which cannot grasp or understand its own alienation. Dylan’s songs on the album feel like fieldwork, a deep dive into the very language of the dispossessed, an imaginative excavation of the ruins of the self in confusion, lost in a ruined landscape, devastated by greed and polluted by rumor. These songs stand a good way from the revolutionary fervor of the songs that made Dylan famous. In these more recent songs Dylan chronicles the struggle of life, of ‘modern times,’ as the everyday grappling, not only for dignity and a living wage, but for a language that would give voice to suffering. In the age of fake news his heroes speak through the remnants of the language of the Other, through clichés and rumors, conspiracy theories and dimly remembered phrases. He offers a less romantic account of political struggle than the vision generated in his great work in the 1960s. But it is the struggle of this moment, our moment, absolutely modern.”