“I Used to Care, but Things
Have Changed”: Passion
and the Absurd in Dylan
RICK ANTHONY FURTAK
Those who admire Bob Dylan's entire career as a songwriter are used to hearing other people complain that his later albums are filled with cynical and pessimistic lyrics. And so they are—but this is no reason for anyone to disdain all of the recordings Dylan has made since the sixties. On the contrary, one of the virtues of his later work is its exploration of these gray areas—that is, bleak emotional landscapes and states of mind which are only a few shades removed from an absolutely black despair. At his darkest of moments, Dylan shows us something about the possibility of finding hope in a blighted world, and he even considers how one might continue to live without hope if necessary. In doing so, he makes a valuable contribution to the literature of the existential tradition, which is represented by such philosophers as SØren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) and Albert Camus (1913–1960).
Existential philosophy is preoccupied with questions about the meaning of life, and it takes very seriously the experience of anguish or disenchantment in which that meaning is at issue. This is not due to a perverse taste for unpleasant moods, but because such moods are viewed as revealing certain truths about the human condition. It's fully legitimate, Camus suggests, to ask whether or not life is worth living—indeed, he calls this “the fundamental question of philosophy.”1
1 Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (New York: Vintage,