Three and a half months ago I wrote a post on Bob Dylan as an Enneagram type Four (Here’s that link). I said I was going to write a number of posts on this theme, but I ended up only doing the one. Now I have a few days in between my block class and the start of the semester, which I’ll use to go a bit deeper into the topic. If you don’t know about the Enneagram, you can start on my old post. The subject is so vast that I don’t feel nearly competent enough to introduce it fully and all at once, so I’ll be explaining it as I go along. I’ll also include the full names of books whenever I quote or reference a book, and those would be good references to check out from the library.
It would be easy to write a book on Dylan as a Four—the same way someone wrote a book on Thomas Merton, the Catholic monk, as a Four (Merton Enneagram book)—so it’s difficult to know where to start.
Let’s start with identity, a preoccupation of Dylan and of Four’s in general. “All I can do is be me—whoever that is,” said Dylan in an interview. This sentence just about sums up the Four stance. About Four’s, Don Riso in his book Personality Types writes, “Their sense of identity is not solid, dependable, in their own hands. They feel undefined and uncertain of themselves, as if they were a gathering cloud which may produce something of great power or merely dissipate in the next breeze” (1996, p. 139). There is a hint here of what creativity means to a Four, how inspiration cannot be nailed down, or called upon at will. In his biography on Dylan, Time Out of Mind, journalist Ian Bell writes how, for Dylan, “Sometimes songs just come…that kind of claim makes his gift sound like a fragile thing” (2014, p. 341). ‘A fragile thing,’ ‘a gathering cloud’ which may ‘merely dissipate.’
Dylan expresses this lack of definite identity in the first stanza of the song ‘Shelter From The Storm’ from his 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks
‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue, the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”
He also gives voice to this concept in interviews: “Sometimes you are held back by your name. Sometimes there are advantages to having a certain name. Names are labels so we can refer to one another. But deep inside us we don’t have a name. We have no name” (Essential Interviews, p. 206). We identify each other by name; if deep inside us we have no name, then deep inside us we also have no way to be identified, no identity.
Because the Four’s identity is ‘undefined’ and ‘not solid,’ because he is ‘a creature void of form,’ the Four begins a search for self, or for some place, some home where he can feel himself, where his formlessness will be given shelter, given time to form or allowed space to remain formless. The formlessness feels like the wilderness; the self a mystery, unknown. Dylan gives clearest expression to this search for self in his autobiography Chronicles when he writes, “There was a missing person inside of myself and I needed to find him” (147). And Nora Guthrie, the daughter of folk singer Woody Guthrie, who Dylan first came to New York on a quest to visit, said of Dylan, “I think he’s very much an experimentalist, looking into himself all the time, saying what do I want to do now…he’s experimenting with his own soul” (Ballad of Bob Dylan, p. 74).
Dylan’s quest to visit Woody Guthrie is a uniquely Four-ish endeavor. Richard Rohr writes in Discovering the Enneagram, “The life program of FOURs could be described as an eternal quest for the Holy Grail” (1990, p. 85). Dylan felt something in Guthrie’s music and sought the man himself, went on a quest to meet him. Guthrie’s music was Dylan’s ‘Holy Grail’ at that time in his life. Guthrie was sick, in a hospital, not famous or even known outside the folk music circle. Dylan also was not famous or known at that time in any circle. Yet Dylan would go and sit by his hospital bed, sing Guthrie’s own songs to him.
Many 4’s, including Dylan, express this ‘eternal quest’ in art:
In the creative moment, healthy Fours harness their emotions without getting lost in them, not only producing something beautiful but discovering who they are. In the moment of inspiration they are, paradoxically, both most themselves and most liberated from themselves. This is why all forms of creativity are so valued by Fours, and why, in its inspired state, creativity is so hard to sustain. Fours can be inspired only if they have first transcended themselves, something which is extremely threatening to their self-image. In a sense, then, only by learning not to look for themselves will they find themselves and renew themselves in the process. (Personality Types).
This is Riso again, who writes mainly about the Four’s search for self. I quoted Rohr above who said the Four is searching for the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail is not the ‘self,’ but Fours have an intuition that the Holy Grail could be found within themselves, yet they also find something when they are ‘liberated from themselves.’ As Riso makes clear, Fours feel most themselves when liberated from themselves. But this experience is transient, it doesn’t last, it keeps the Four on a continual quest to experience this liberation again. Permanent liberation, even if feasible, often doesn’t seem like a worthy goal. In Ballad of Bob Dylan, author Mark Epstein expresses this predicament well, writing of what may have been Dylan’s happiest time in the late 60’s, spent with his wife and children:
The problem with paradise on earth, as one might expect, is the day-to-day sameness. There is little variety in perfection and one might find it boring—particularly an artist who thrives on the tension between the real and the ideal, the knowledge of suffering and longing, his own and other people’s (214).
If the Four were in a state of permanent liberation, a ‘paradise on earth,’ what would there be to search for? Since the Four feels his identity is based on this ‘eternal quest,’ what would his identity be if the quest were completed, if liberation were lasting and unending? Yet Dylan sings in “Ain’t Talking”, “The suffering is unending.” Better the unending suffering of the quest or the unending liberation that may lie at the quest’s completion? Will the quest ever be complete? And is liberation ever without end? The quest is full of questions.
Thus, as the identity of Fours is based on being on the ‘eternal quest,’ Riso writes that self-transcendence is ‘extremely threatening’ to the Fours’ self-image.
In most of the songs Dylan writes, this quest—whatever it is for, whether the self or the Holy Grail or heaven—this seeking quality, is present. Let’s look again and a bit closer at the song off his 2006 album Modern Times called “Ain’t Talkin’. The last stanza to that song goes,
Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Up the road around the bend
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
In the last outback, at the world’s end.
When I hear the phrase, “quest for the Holy Grail,” I think of a pilgrim walking, a vagabond, perhaps in vagabondage, chained to the road, pursuing salvation. The lyrics above could be the words of a pilgrim, walking, questing, still yearning at age 67. Going to ‘world’s end,’ if necessary, or as Dylan sings in “Dignity”:
Searching high, searching low
Searching everywhere I know
Dylan is always ‘walking’ in his songs. Take “Love Sick,” the first song on Time Out of Mind, released in 1997. The first line in that song goes, “I’m walking through streets that are dead.” And the second track on that album, “Dirt Road Blues,” has a line: “Gon’ walk down that dirt road until my eyes begin to bleed.” I could pick out a line from each song on the album that is an apt expression of the walker on some sort of pilgrimage, but perhaps no song is as apt as “Trying to Get to Heaven.” Each stanza in that song ends with the refrain, “I’m trying to get to heaven before they close the door.” The first stanza ends with:
I’ve been walking through the middle of nowhere
Trying to get to heaven before they close the door
What could be a better expression of the pilgrim’s purpose? Heaven, salvation, redemption, self-transcendence, liberation—all words used to describe the Holy Grail the Enneagram Four is seeking on the pilgrimage through life. Walking through the middle of nowhere, looking for the everything that exists in the midst of that nowhere, perhaps in the middle of it, in the center, at its heart.
I’ll end this post here. In the next post, because I ended this one with ‘heart,’ I’ll go into how type Four fits in to the Heart Triad, which is also referred to as the Image Triad, and how Dylan gives form to some of the common conundrums that Triad is faced with.