Facebook Twitter



Some of the best scholars I know are also some of the most generous. Some are even generous to the point of promoting ideas in journals and books without much thought of remuneration. Most are generous on a very personal level. I met some generous scholars while working on a recent project, and now I have used some of their work to enrich a course.

In the process I was taught. Two of these scholars have never met me. One I may probably never meet.I was preparing a lecture for a general humanities course. I'm not the regular teacher but was invited to speak to four combined class sec-tions. I was supposed to address an important issue, art as propaganda.

The idea is that some art, including music and literature, seems to have as a purpose the promotion of some idea. It isn't art for the sake of art. The idea is that some company, government, religion or individuals feel that some idea can be expressed or promoted with a picture, sculpture, piece of music or poem. Anyone who has visited Eastern Europe has seen art that glorifies the worker, flagrant propaganda. Both the good and bad art of religion is often blatantly promotional in its tone.

At the same time I was thinking about art as propaganda, I was reading some Irish literature. I like the work of Joseph Mary Plunkett, who was one of the martyrs of the Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland. He was one of the poet revolutionaries who occupied the General Post Office and was captured and executed by the British. His story is especially poignant because he was to be married on that Easter morning and went to fight instead.

While in Kilmainham Jail, under British guard, he was allowed to marry his Grace on the eve of his execution. It is a scene that is laden with emotion. A couple weds under the guns of prison guards and is allowed no time together. The next morning he dies, a martyr of a revolution.

Wonderful songs have been written about this act of patriotism and some, even though beautiful, are what I would call propaganda.

Propaganda may be a harsh word for music in this context. I've walked the halls of Kilmainham Jail. There is something there to feel as well as see. It packs the same emotion for me as the Vietnam War Memorial and the fields of Gettysburg. It is a feeling that requires an artist because there are no words. It doesn't require propaganda.

The irony is that Joseph Mary Plunkett wrote a year earlier that good art is not propaganda. "Propaganda has rarely produced a great poem. A great poem, whether of religion or patriotism, is rarely other than the cry of a poet calling to his God or his country as if he alone experienced the emotion that he sings. . ."

I needed to know more. I needed someone to talk this over with. I went looking for books first. Since most college library card catalogs are available from the computer on my desk, I started there. I found books at Brigham Young University and Boston University. The books helped, but I needed a person.

I called the curator of the Kilmainham Jail Museum in Dublin. A couple exchanges of letters with Niamh O'Sullivan and I now have a tape of the Songs of Kil-mainham, pictures, education packets from the jail used by elementary and secondary teachers in Ireland, a booklet published by the Kilmainham Jail Restoration Society and a book titled "Last Words."

This volume contains the letters and statements of the leaders executed after the rising at Easter 1916. It is out of print and not available in the United States. It is evidence that the best scholars are the most generous.

Although, I may never meet Niamh O' Sullivan, the fact that we worked on a project together separated by only a continent and an ocean makes us colleagues. Her generosity has enriched my understanding of things Irish and has helped me better understand the art, poetry and music of the Easter Rising.

But I also needed someone to talk with. I called English departments in the state looking for someone who teaches Irish literature. Claudia W. Harris is a generous scholar at BYU. She sent me her course syllabus for Modern English and Irish Literature and for 20th Century Irish Theater. What she sent represents hours of work, and it was sent with no strings attached to someone she has only met on the Internet.

I've never met Claudia Harris. We correspond via e-mail. She cautioned me about my use of the word "propaganda."

"They don't have the same spin on the word that we do. I was very aware when I first went to Ireland in 1983 to do my Ph.D. research and talked to many members of the IRA that they saw propaganda as having a positive connotation. That has been reinforced for me many times as I have returned almost yearly. . . . In Ireland first-person propaganda is what we believe, second- and third-person propaganda is lies. In America we don't have any first-person propaganda that can be believed."

I found Harris has also walked the halls of Kilmainham Jail. A singer friend of hers recorded a song there that is no longer propaganda to me. Harris and O'Sullivan have gently convinced me that what I found in Kilmainham is art, and it speaks to the soul. It is evidence that the best scholars are generous.