Philosophy of Time and Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks

This article is the sixth piece of a weekly series on Bob Dylan.  The previous one is here: Dylan Deserves What He Hasn’t — Legitimacy Theories and the American Poet


There has been much discussion on the notion of time.  British philosopher McTaggart, for instance, argues in Unreality of Time that our naive conception of time is either circular, insufficient, or inconsistent.  This is a shabby argument, but the idea is fun. Compare it to Dylan’s words. I wanted to defy time, so that the story took place in the present and the past at the same time.  When you look at a painting, you can see any part of it, or see all of it together.  One observes that, while McTaggart tries to approach the matter by arguing what time should be and what time should not be, Dylan, in contrast, paints a picture in which the experience of time is not normal, straightforward, or linear.


Linear Conceptions of Time —— Ordinary Listening Experience

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Alternative Conceptions of Time —— A-historical Listening Experience

Figure 1.


Applying this insight to the Blood on the Tracks Album, I decided to take the following approach to it.  First, read the 2009 piece in The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan by Carrie Brownstein; second, read the 2001 speech by Rick Moody; at last, after realising that both pieces told the tale of the album chronologically, listen to the album from the last to the first.  Locally, each song is to be listened to from the last stanza to the first stanza; each stanza is to be listened to from the last line to the first, and so on.

This, I argue, is the natural way to approach any album that’s not by Pink Floyd.  One does not first take note of the inspirations of a song — one almost always meets the final product first.  One does not first listen to a song — one almost always hears of the influence and importance of a song first. One does not remember a love story from its genesis to finale — one recalls most easily the highlights and the endings of the experience to mind.  If Dylan is that influential, I must have been listening to those influences in his imitators and apprecenticers for years before I first encountered him.  It’s therefore a natural approach.

The following noted sentiments and ideas, therefore, serve as examples of the products of a deliberately anachronistic and a-historical approach towards the formation of our listening experiences.

    1. A simple way to add poignancy to your readings of stories, is to read them backwards.  The beginnings are the most hurtful. It’s most touching to start the first battle, having lost every battle.  If I woke up by the roadside, think then about how I spent the night.
    2. The Shelter from the Storms myth is a psychological insight.  Everybody in his times of weakness longs for such a mythical delivery.  One does not enter or exit such a stage. One only dares not to want it as much after a while.
    3. If you see her, if you do see her, you’re seeing a part of my past.  One laments not just the going of the girl, but also the passage of oneself.  If you see her, say Hello.
    4. We are fully apart, but do recall our short and sweet conversations.  Simple memories that soften me everywhere I go. They are still the best thing that has happened to us.

 

  • Simple Twist of Fate does not stand out as a story.  It stands out as a perspective — namely, how transient the word fate can be.  It lends a cosmological lens to the one reviewing his love experiences.

 

  1. After all these years the most beautiful thing that happened to us was still, simply, our conversations were short and sweet.

 

You know so nasty and you’re so bad — But I said I love you, yes I do.

 

 

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