If you want the official report, you can read it over at The Guardian, which sent a journalist to report on the conference and to root out the youngest, hippest people there to provide comments. It turns out that the youngest, hippest people did not include me; I was probably captured in the soul-murdering phrase "middle-aged music fans in soft-soled shoes". The BBC presented a slide show of Dylan photographs under the caption "Academics celebrate Bob Dylan at Bristol University". In some circles, being called an academic is not meant to be flattering, but it's life-affirming and vaguely respectable compared "middle-aged music fans in soft-soled shoes".
Why was this? Well, when people want to take somebody seriously, or be taken seriously themselves, they tend to avoid comedy. Girding the "serious" is a conviction about its formal stability and its endurance; comedy is whimsical, fleeting, and unstable. But more relevant to Dylan is this: when people want to take seriously somebody who is terrifyingly complicated, who demands to be taken with the utmost seriousness just when everyone thinks they're in on the joke, or dismisses as joking the most serious things he's done, trying to figure out what one can safely say is very hard. Dylan has defied his fans and his critics so many times that it is far safer to approach him with respect, which may be spurned from a distance, than with a keen eye for trying to get in on the joke, where dismissal is a personal affront. Or, to put it another way, deference may be humiliating, but it comes with its own meagre rewards and its own anaemic values; but few things are more personally and centrally humiliating than trying to share a joke and being told that not only do you not get it, but you're the butt of the joke. It would take a very brave man or woman to make a sustained argument about Dylan as a joker. Am I that brave man or woman? Time will tell. Meanwhile: