When Dylan claims he writes or performs in order to "stop time" - I have always believed he is referring to his deep absorption in the process of creating which makes him unaware that time has passed during the period of creation. If that supposition is true, he would be "stopping time" just as much when he is writing or playing alone than he is when performing before an audience. Having an audience is just "gravy", not the primary reason for the enterprise.
There's overwhelming evidence that Dylan is referring to the art itself stopping time - to it being an effect of the art. Here he is speaking to Matt Damsker, on the Blood On The Tracks songs : "the ones that have the break-up of time, where there is no time, trying to make the focus as strong as a magnifying glass under the sun". In the interview Dylan gives for Renaldo & Clara with Pierre Cottrall and Allen Ginsberg, he talks about how it is the work of art that stops time, and then specifically refers to the effect a work of art has as "stopping time" for the audience : "We try to make something better out of what is real. If we want to be successful as an artist, we make it better, and give meaning to something meaningless." Interviewer : What's your idea of "better" - your direction of "better"? "You can make something lasting. You wanna stop time, that's what you wanna do. [...] And if you succeed in doing that [stopping time], everyone who comes into contact with what you've done - whatever it might be, whether you've carved a statue or painted a painting - will catch some of that; they'll recognise that you have stopped time - they won't realise it, but that's what they'll recognise, that you have stopped time. [...] And this movie stops time in a way that no American movie ever has and I don't think will. What we've done is hold onto something which seemed to be escapable, and we captured it and made it real."
To Jonathan Cott on the same movie : "I also used that quality of no-time. [...] The movie creates and holds the time".
Trev and Rev,
The play with time that is such a big part of Dylan's experience and work after his apprenticeship with Raeben seems to me to have undergone a change in his late work -- Say LT, M&A forward.
There is clearly an earnest grappling with time in the BOTT, Desire, Renaldo and Clara era work. Surely it continues after that. The narratives are interesting and powerful reconfigurations of our experience of time. Tangled Up in Blue is the one everyone points to. And it is a perfectly good example. The narrator moves through time, past, present future are fluid. It's almost as if Dylan were thinking of some kind of reincarnation theory. The same soul moving through time in different incarnations, but with the experience of moving between them freely.. That's one way to talk about it.
I think that the incorporations can lead us to think of Dylan's writing and his play with time differently.
In the later work, there seems to be another tweak of that idea of refusing the common experience of time as a line, and as irreversible, a rethinking of the idea of past and present and future as we typically think of them.
Dylan seems to collapse history, overlap it, in order to multiply or intensify what his narrator's words mean.
He brings the American Civil War, Roman wars (and civil war), Empires, whole eras to overlap and we are led to experience the words, feelings, situation of narrator in the song in radically different conditions. And now, he does it not by putting the narrator explicitly in a new setting (Tangled Up in Blue moves around into different historical settings that we recognize from Dylan's descriptive writing about what's happening with slaves and revolutions, right?), but instead by having Virgil or Ovid or Timrod speak for/as his narrator.
I'll keep this very brief here and say just this:
When our narrator is singing, we start in the present, the words have meaning for us in relation to our current social circumstances (e.g., High Water and September 11th). And we experience the statements of loneliness or anxiety or rebellion in that context. But, when we learn that the narrator is either speaking in Timrod's or Ovid's words, or has been replaced by Timrod or Ovid in the song, if we recognize that shift in narrator, and know the the overall sense of the original poem that the lines come from, and if we know the historical conditions in which the "quoted" lines were written, then we can overlap Ovid's or Timrod's experience as well as all the implications of the Civil War or the collapse of Rome onto our 21st century narrator. Suddenly, Dylan's narrator is telling us that what looks like an ironic or smirking crack about our times is, in combination with the incorporated lines (and the world they bring with them), in fact a statement of a coming catastrophe or of a sense of a deep corruption, or a kind of loneliness that isn't possible to imagine in our times anymore.