HUMS 040, Bob Dylan As A Way Of Life

Meeting Time: 
Tu/Th 2:30-3:45
Fall 2023

An introduction to college-level study of the humanities through intensive exploration of the songs of Bob Dylan. We touch on Dylan’s place in American cultural history but mostly treat him as a great creative artist, tracking him through various guises and disguises across his sixty-year odyssey of self-fashioning, from ‘60s folk revivalist to voice of social protest, abrasive rock ‘n’ roll surrealist to honey-voiced country crooner, loving husband to lovesick drifter, secular Jew to born-again Christian to worldly skeptic, honest outlaw to Nobel Prize-winning chronicler of modern times and philosopher of song. Throughout, we attend to Dylan’s lifelong quest for wisdom and reflect on how it can inspire our own. Topics include: the elusiveness of identity and the need for selfhood; virtue and vice; freedom and servitude; reverence and irreverence; love, desire, and betrayal; faith and unbelief; aging, death, and the possibility of immortality; the authentic and the counterfeit; the nature of beauty and of artistic genius; the meaning of personal integrity in a political world.


Attendance, participation (15%)

Reading/listening responses, 1 per week (15%)

Short presentation on one album (10%)

3 short papers, ~5 pages (20% each)


Available at Yale Bookstore. (All other readings/audio/video will be posted to Canvas.)

Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Volume 1


Week    1. Intros, overview; Scorsese: No Direction Home; readings: Wilentz, Hajdu, Rotolo

              2. 1961-2 - Village folk scene & Woody Guthrie: Bob Dylan; [+chs. 1,2,5 from Chronicles]

3. 1963-4 – Protest & Disavowal: Freewheelin’, Times They Are a-Changin’, Another Side

              4. 1965 - Going Electric: Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61, Don’t Look Back (65 tour)

5. 1966 - Thin Wild Mercury Sound: Blonde on Blonde, Live 66 (Eat the Document), Tarantula

              6. 1967-1969 - Accident & aftermath, Nashville: Basement Tapes, JWH, Nashville Skyline

              7. 1970-74 – Family Happiness: New Morning, Planet Waves [+Chronicles ch. 3 on NM]

8. 1974-5 – Love and Strife: Blood on the Tracks

              9. 1975-8 - Desire & Rolling Thunder Revue (Live 75, Hard Rain, Renaldo/Clara), Street-Legal

              10. late 70s-80s: Faith and Unbelief: Slow Train, Saved, Infidels, Burlesque

              11. 1989-97 – Late Style 1 (Lanois): Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind [+Chron. ch. 4 on OM]

              12. 2000s – Late Style 2: Love and Theft, Modern Times

              13. 2010s-2020 – Late Style 3: Tempest, Sinatra covers, Rough and Rowdy Ways

              14. 2022 and beyond - Dylan in the Tower of Song: The Philosophy of Modern Song