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

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

11
“I Got My Bob Dylan
Mask On”: Bob Dylan and
Personal Identity

PETER VERNEZZE and PAUL LULEWICZ

Most people believe they are the same person from birth to death. Philosophers have a field day exposing the weaknesses in their justifications for this position. So does Bob Dylan. It shouldn't surprise us, then, that Dylan's art and life can serve as an entryway into the problem of personal identity.


The Mask of Zimmerman

The quote in our chapter title comes from Dylan's October 31st, 1964, concert at Carnegie Hall. During some banter with the audience Dylan remarked: “It's Halloween. I got my Bob Dylan mask on.”1 The audience laughed, but it's worth probing the implications of the statement.

To say that someone is wearing a mask of a living person is to say (obviously) that one is not that person. If you are wearing a Dick Cheney mask in order to scare your friends, it means you are not Dick Cheney. But what does it mean to have the person headlining the October 31st concert at Carnegie Hall announce that he's wearing a “Bob Dylan” mask? It implies at least that the person speaking is not Bob Dylan. The statement is puzzling precisely because we assume that the person making the statement is Bob Dylan. But if Bob Dylan is not Bob Dylan, who is?

Tackling this issue will require a philosophical investigation into the topic of personal identity. Most of us identify with some aspect of ourselves. We become our jobs, for instance, or define

1The Bootleg Series, Volume 6: Live 1964.

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