Ulterior Significance in the Art of Bob Dylan


  • Glenn Hughes St. Mary's University, San Antonio, TX


Bob Dylan, Ulterior Significance, religion and art, Bernard Lonergan


This essay examines the songwriting art of Bob Dylan as a vehicle for exploring and clarifying elements in Bernard Lonergan’s analysis of art. The elements focused upon include Lonergan’s treatment of symbols and symbolic meaning as the communicative medium of art, and, at greater length, Lonergan’s account of art’s capacity for what he calls “ulterior significance,” its ability to suggest depths of meaning—including divine or ultimate meaning—that we surmise to lie beyond our comprehension. Examining songs from the full range of Dylan’s fifty-year career, the essay shows that from his early songwriting in the “folk” tradition and his breakthrough achievements of the mid-1960s, Dylan’s best art has been characterized by an unusual concision and power in its use of symbolic imagery, as well as by a recurrent ability to evoke, with artistic originality and effectiveness, mysteries of “ulterior significance.” These analyses are then brought together in a discussion of the religious, often eschatological, character of some of Dylan’s most significant work.


Author Biography

Glenn Hughes, St. Mary's University, San Antonio, TX

Glenn Hughes is Professor of Philosophy at St. Mary’s University, San Antonio. He is the author of A More Beautiful Question: The Spiritual in Poetry and Art (2011), Transcendence and History (2003), and Mystery and Myth in the Philosophy of Eric Voegelin (1993), all published by University of Missouri Press; editor of The Politics of the Soul: Eric Voegelin on Religious Experience (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999); and co-editor (with Stephen A. McKnight and Geoffrey L. Price) of Politics, Order, and History: Essays on the Work of Eric Voegelin (Sheffield Academic Press, 2001)[PU1] . He has authored many published articles and has received numerous awards, including a Fulbright Scholar Research Grant to work at the International Peace Research Institute of Oslo (2008). His poetry has appeared in the chapbooks Sleeping at the Open Window (2005) and Erato (2010), both published by Pecan Grove Press, and in many U.S. poetry journals.

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