American Corner Innsbruck

    Lecture by Professor Benedict Giamo

    Bob Dylan's Protean Style

    Monday, 23 May, 8.30 a.m., HS 7 (GeiWi building, ground floor)


    [download invitation - pdf]

    The American Corner Innsbruck was very happy to welcome two professors of Notre Dame University, USA. The renowned university in Indiana, USA, and the University of Innsbruck have held a longtime friendship agreement, which has enriched both institutions with a lively intellectual exchange, and which has made the visit of these two professors possible. On today’s occasion, Prof. Benedict Giamo, Associate Professor of American Studies, gave an engaging and highly informative talk on Bob Dylan’s protean style.

    Bob Dylan, who is to celebrate his 70th birthday on May 24, 2011, has influenced and shaped popular culture and the public zeitgeist for more than half a century now, always both assuming and challenging its very center.

    As Professor Giamo has shown in his very illuminating talk, it is actually wrong, though, to speak of one Bob Dylan. Throughout his remarkable career, the singer/songwriter, following the Rimbaudian dictum of “Je est un autre/ I is another,” has constantly reinvented himself and appropriated a number of vastly eclectic personae. Starting as an interpreter of traditional folk songs in the late 1950s, Dylan soon began to write his own songs, voicing social discontent and moral dilemmas shared by an entire generation. In the mid-1960s he once again revolutionized the folk scene by introducing electric guitars into his music, transforming himself into a highly symbolic and metaphoric rock poet.

    In the tradition of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, to whom Robert Allen Zimmerman owes his famous stage name, Dylan has thus persistently defied any attempts at creating a fixed and circumscribed notion of identity, giving way to a self that is always in flux, always in the process of becoming, and thus ultimately not singular but plural. For, as Prof. Giamo aptly put it, the only thing that you can expect of Bob Dylan is that you cannot expect anything.

    (text: Christof Diem and Martina Netzer)

    Bob Dylan’s protean style - the shape-shifting quality of the musical poet and expeditionary - is the subject of Todd Haynes’ recent film, I’m Not There. The film employs six actors - including Cate Blanchett - to portray Dylan’s varied personae and refract the breadth and flux of a long career. My aim is to make reference to the impressionistic pieces and fractured style of Haynes’ film while probing the nature of Dylan’s transformations. The existential thrust towards becoming has inspired Dylan’s many transitions. Moreover, Dylan has made theater out of such multiplicity. I will examine the self-process that has enabled Dylan to turn himself into a deeply-felt aesthetic object time and again. In addition, my presentation will conclude by raising questions regarding cultural radicalism, consumer capitalism, and the economic advantage of the protean style.


    Benedict Giamo
    Benedict Giamo is an associate professor of American Studies. He holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from Emory Universtiy, Atlanta, and an M.A. in Clinical and Social Psychology from the New School for Social Research.
    His interests include poverty and homelessness, literary and cultural studies, and creative nonfiction. Giamo’s most recent book publications are Notes from the Bowery: Hybrid nonfiction that blends the personal essay, literary documentary, and cultural history, focusing on New York City and skid row homeless of the old Bowery (2009) and Homeless Come Home, an effort in creative/documentary nonfiction and true crime (forthcoming 2011).


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