Bob Dylan and Philosophy: It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Thinking)

By Peter Vernezze; Carl J. Porter | Go to book overview

6
“Far Between Sundown's
Finish An' Midnight's Broken
Toll”: Enlightenment and
Postmodernism in Dylan's
Social Criticism

JORDY ROCHELEAU

When Bob Dylan started singing that the times were a-changin' in 1964, he expressed the hopes of a generation of social critics for a freer and more just society. Dylan's analysis of racism, poverty, militarism, and repression brought social content into popular music previously dominated by banal professions of love. Yet Dylan quickly backed away from the role of progressive spokesperson. After the early 1960s, his work emphasizes uncertainties and ambiguities in understanding society and skepticism regarding all ideals. Dylan was booed at folk concerts after the mid-sixties not only for going electric but also for featuring music with ambiguous political content. His trajectory from social critic to skeptical individualist has been compared to that of his own sixties generation. But it is also a transformation that provides an instructive lesson in the history of political thought.

Dylan's protest music, which led to his being embraced as revolutionary spokesperson, exhibits Enlightenment social philosophy, while his work since this period provides an introduction to the political insights and ambiguities of postmodernism.


Enlightenment, Progress, and Courts that Are
on the Level

The quintessential Enlightenment philosopher, the eighteenthcentury German Immanuel Kant, defined enlightenment as “man's emergence from his self-imposed slumber.” He called

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