Bob Dylan’s “deconstruction” of the “American Dream Machine”

justification-for-higher-education-cars-static-cling-poster-print_10180_500

It seems appropriate to close out the “old” year with some deconstruction! After all, out with the old and in with the new, right? So what kind of “deconstruction” do I have in mind? John D. Caputo provides a description that seems aligned with my purpose, in his attempt to explain deconstruction in a nutshell, by stating:

“Whenever deconstruction finds a nutshell—a secure axiom or a pithy maxim—the very idea is to crack it open and disturb this tranquility. Indeed, that is a good rule of thumb in deconstruction. That is what deconstruction is all about, its very meaning and mission, if it has any. One might even say that cracking nutshells is what deconstruction is.” (From Wikipedia, see 2.10)

In this early song Dylan “deconstructs” the nutshell of the car, the tranquility we gain from the car, the “American Dream Machine” (Leon C. Wood), with his disturbing vision of the car’s irrelevance for justification before God’s unbiased judgment.

You’re gonna have to walk naked
Can’t ride in no car
You’re gonna let ev’rybody see
Just what you are
Hey, hey!
I’d sure hate to be you
On that dreadful day

Don’t get me wrong! I like cars, and more practically, most of us need them (along with trucks) to support our livelihood. But don’t you sometimes wonder why we are so prone to becoming impolite, egotistical, or even practitioners of “road rage” when we get behind the wheel? Is it simply that such unbelievably potent horse-power is simply too much for us to harness? Or does it go to our head as we buy into the propaganda that our “car carrying” status means that we have achieved, arrived, or otherwise been justified?

dream machine

Did Bob Dylan read Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood” or like her, did he just sense that for modern people cars signify more than a mere means of getting from here to there? Did he sense that we moderns use material things, perhaps not altogether self-consciously but used nonetheless, to in a sense justify our selves? In “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” he sings a famous and pointed lyric that shows that outward status and achievement do not cover what we essentially are nor translate into justification.

But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked

God has made us in his image, which partly means that we are also creators like him. It is thus natural to delight in the things we have created, but we have the manifest propensity to forgot who gave us creative ability. And when we forget, or worse yet – consciously rebel and seek independence, we are in danger of the nihilism of self-justification and the misuse of technology that results in alienation and injustice, or basically “death and all his friends” (thanks to Coldplay for the term).

Look at what happened to Adam & Eve & family when they decided they wanted to be only creator and not also creature. They met “death and all his friends.” So, our propensity to be only creator and not creature, is what is called “sin.” Murray Jardine explains:

…putting this in terms of our model of creating a world through speech, sin is the attempt to become creators only, instead of cocreators, and to create our own little world. This is precisely what one does when one lies; one attempts to replace the world created by God and the speech of other humans with a world created only by oneself. (Murray Jardine, “The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society” p. 187)

Jardine continues to say that,

Stating the idea of sin in these terms makes it clear that fundamentally, sin comes from lack of faith, that is, a lack of trust, in God and his created world; it is an attempt to replace God’s creation with our own. Sin means essentially unfaithful human acts.

“I’d Hate to Be You on that Dreadful Day” is a seemingly simple song, yet it “deconstructs” the car of modern man, meaning that it deconstructs our propensity for self-justification as “sin,” our creatorhood seeking to transcend creaturehood. Thankfully God has begun reconstructed humanity in Christ the creature/creator, who was faithful to the Father/Creator and thus was “without sin.”

Sometimes cars, or at least what they signify,  just need to be abandoned when they no longer serve their primary purpose…

We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West (Bob Dylan)

I’d Hate To Be You On That Dreadful Day

Well, your clock is gonna stop
At Saint Peter’s gate
Ya gonna ask him what time it is
He’s gonna say, “It’s too late”
Hey, hey!
I’d sure hate to be you
On that dreadful day

You’re gonna start to sweat
And you ain’t gonna stop
You’re gonna have a nightmare
And never wake up
Hey, hey, hey!
I’d sure hate to be you
On that dreadful day

You’re gonna cry for pills
And your head’s gonna be in a knot
But the pills are gonna cost more
Than what you’ve got
Hey, hey!
I’d sure hate to be you
On that dreadful day

You’re gonna have to walk naked
Can’t ride in no car
You’re gonna let ev’rybody see
Just what you are
Hey, hey!
I’d sure hate to be you
On that dreadful day

Well, the good wine’s a-flowin’
For five cents a quart
You’re gonna look in your moneybags
And find you’re one cent short
Hey, hey, hey!
I’d sure hate to be you
On that dreadful day

You’re gonna yell and scream
“Don’t anybody care?”
You’re gonna hear out a voice say
“Shoulda listened when you heard the word down there”
Hey, hey!
I’d sure hate to be you
On that dreadful day

Copyright © 1964,68 Warner Bros. Music, Renewed 1992 Special Rider Music
Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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