Ulterior Significance in the Art of Bob Dylan

Glenn Hughes


This essay examines the songwriting art of Bob Dylan as a vehicle for exploring and clarifying elements in Bernard Lonergans analysis of art. The elements focused upon include Lonergans treatment of symbols and symbolic meaning as the communicative medium of art, and, at greater length, Lonergans account of arts capacity for what he calls ulterior significance, its ability to suggest depths of meaningincluding divine or ultimate meaningthat we surmise to lie beyond our comprehension. Examining songs from the full range of Dylans fifty-year career, the essay shows that from his early songwriting in the folk tradition and his breakthrough achievements of the mid-1960s, Dylans 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 Dylans most significant work.


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

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