Petra Carlsson | Bob Dylan Is My Female Role Model


As a woman I have always found it difficult to locate female role models. Not because there are no fascinating and skilled women out there, but since few women have ever possessed the kind of freedom I have sought for in life, the kind of personal freedom that would make it possible for me to truly go deep, explore and live fully, not because other people wants it for me, but because the life moving within me wants to express itself spiritually, artistically, academically.

As Virginia Woolf once made clear, us women have historically not had rooms of our own. Few women have ever been able to close the door only for a few hours to be alone and play guitar, write incomprehensive lyrics, and search for words, thoughts, meaning, direction. Nor has it been imaginable for most women to shout “go away” when someone carefully knocks on the door.

There was a time when I listened to the Swedish rock artist Ulf Lundell every day. With titles like “The searching man,” “On the road again,” and “Don’t let the bastards take you,” he became my female role model. As a twenty-something woman, that was how I desired to live: open, free, searching, feeling, and alone at the rudder of my life.

Then entered into my life three other male rockers who became my female role models too; Bob Dylan, Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault. As might come as a surprise to some, Deleuze and Dylan actually inspired each other. Deleuze even quotes Dylan’s 11 Outlined epitaphs in one of his essays:

Yes, I am a thief of thoughts
not, I pray, a stealer of souls
I have built an’ rebuilt
upon what is waitin’
for the sand on the beaches
carves many castles
on what has been opened
before my time
a word, a tune, a story, a line
keys in the wind t’ unlock my mind
an’ t’ grant my closet thoughts backyard air
it is not of me t’ sit an’ ponder
wonderin’ an’ wastin’ time
thinkin’ of thoughts that haven’t been thunk
thinkin’ of dreams that haven’t been dreamt
an’ new ideas that haven’t been wrote
an’ new words t’ fit into rhyme
(if it rhymes, it rhymes
if it don’t, it don’t
if it comes, it comes
if it won’t, it won’t)

no I must react an’ spit fast
with weapons of words
wrapped in tunes
that’ve rolled through the simple years
teasin’ me t’ treat them right
t’ reshape them an’ restring them
t’ protect my own world
from the mouths of all those
who’d eat it
an’ hold it back from eatin’ its own food
hundreds thousands
perhaps millions
for all songs lead back t’ the sea
an’ at one time, there was
no singin’ tongue t’ imitate it)
t’ make new sounds out of old sounds
an’ new words out of old words
an’ not t’ worry about the new rules
for they ain’t been made yet
an’ t’ shout my singin’ mind
knowin’ that it is me an’ my kind
that will make those rules . . .
if the people of tomorrow
really need the rules of today
rally ‘round all you prosecutin’ attorneys
the world is but a courtroom
but I now the defendants better ‘n you
and while you’re busy prosecutin’
we’re busy whistlin’
cleanin’ up the courthouse
sweepin’ sweepin’
listenin’ listenin’
winkin’ t’ one another
your spot is comin’ up soon

When Deleuze commented on the lyrics he said that he wanted to teach like that; that he wanted to lecture the way Dylan wrote poems. He wanted to teach in pride and humility, while not listening to any rules but his own, and also by sometimes going against his own rules to show that even his own thoughts sometimes appear as strange and different to himself. He desired to express himself in the middle of experience rather than as if his thinking were always the same, since in truth, our thoughts are never truly our own, they move through us. Hundreds of thousands of influences in motion, passing through us. To claim ownership or closure simply because our contingent wordings is the last in a long line of expressions seems only cheap.

Deleuze then writes that he wants to discover, encounter and steal, rather than to regulate and approve, since to approve is the opposite to an encounter. These words have since I first read them functioned as a kind of theological underpinning for me, because as Deleuze says, to approve, tolerate or accept is all very far from facing the depth in someone else, to allow for a meeting to blur the boundaries between us, and to be transformed by the experience.

Ultimately, this is about living a life in openness towards what is other in the people we face, and also towards the otherness in ourselves. It is not a master morality aimed at judging the world, nor is it a slave morality where we submit in order to be loved. It is rather a Dylan-esque rock morality. A willful and deeply spiritual morality that aims for freedom, both for ourselves and for others, and which faces the world as a spiritual landscape in which we have the right to move, encounter, or simply say “fuck off” and shut the door. It is a rock morality for women of our age.

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