Propaganda



“Propaganda has so broad a meaning that it is almost impossible to define on the basis of specific literary values that may be recognized in traditional literary forms like the sermon, treatise, or tract. Historical contexts are critical in understanding what propaganda is, what its uses are, and how it is perceived by its analysts and proponents. Historians agree that the origin of the term dates from the Catholic Church’s Congregation de propaganda fide in 1622, which sanctioned missionary projects throughout the world. However, definitions of propaganda vary depending on the contexts in which opinion forms. Propaganda, then, may have a neutral or descriptive meaning, or it may be used, as it tends to be in modern times, with negative connotations. Rene Wellek’s classic Theory of Literature (1949) argues that “The term ‘propaganda’ is loose and needs scrutiny. In popular speech, it is applied to doctrines viewed as pernicious and spread by men whom we distrust. The word implies calculation, intention, and is usually applied to specific, rather than restrictive doctrines or programmers.” Wellek claims, as would many literary theorists, that literature as art is opposed to propaganda; yet if we argue that all writers sincerely attempt to influence, then all writing may be “propaganda.”
“Wellek’s views are influenced by propaganda as a problem in the function of literature in the period after World War I, when the partisanship and political engagement of writers were linked to social movements, and questions of ethics and belief in literary interpretation were on the agenda. Instructive was T. S. Eliot’s turn to Christian culture as a solution to democratic individualism, collectivism, and fascism. Eliot’s essays like “Journalism and Literature”(1931) and “Christianity and Society” (1939) attempt to answer the question of belief and unbelief versus disinterested truth. Eliot even says that Dante and Lucretius are “good propagandists” ( “Poetry and…

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