Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Celebrity



A recent rather thrilling experience caused me to reflect upon the notion of celebrity. A couple of weeks ago, Notre Dame celebrated the 10 year anniversary of her Dublin Programme, the programme I have been blessed to be a student in all year. We had four days of fabulous celebrations, field trips, lectures, and liturgies, offering us the opportunity to appreciate the strong ties Notre Dame has built with Ireland over the past ten years. The calibre of the Irish Studies and Irish Language and Literature faculty on Notre Dame's campus is unparalleled in Irish Studies in America, and that alone is impressive enough, but the relationship between Notre Dame and leading Irish intellectuals, politicians, and businessmen in Dublin is astounding. Case in point: in the space of four days, on account of their close relationship with the Dublin Programme, I was in close proximity to, and benefitted from the artistic endeavors of, Seamus Heaney, Stephen Rea, and the Chieftains.

One of my five best stories from studying abroad this year is a recent product of brilliant coincidences during the 10 Year Anniversary celebrations. On Friday of the anniversary weekend, I was meant to go on a programme field trip to Glendalough, which I was looking forward to, when a number of errands came up that I needed to take care of. A bit disappointed that I wasn't going to say one last goodbye to Glendalough, I in fact wound up being in the right place at the right time. While at Notre Dame's Dublin Centre picking up the petty cash I needed for the tasks I'd been given, the director of our Dublin Programme walked into the office, handed me a box of freshly-printed poems, and asked if I would mind running them over to Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney's house to get them signed for later in the weekend. I asked if he wanted me to just drop them off on my way to my other errands, but he said no, he needed me to sit with Heaney while he signed them to make sure that I got them back, autographed, to the Notre Dame Centre that morning. Seriously. So he gave me the address, I hopped in a cab, and I had the great honor to meet Mr. Heaney in his house and to talk to him for half an hour while he signed the poems. I kept feeling like I ought to have been nervous, but he was such a humble, kind man that it was impossible. Perfectly relaxed, we chatted about Notre Dame, the Dublin Programme, my experiences studying at Trinity College, my favourite parts of Ireland, his poetry, and the celebrations going on that weekend. I was really struck by how casual and normal the whole encounter was. This is one of the most famous and recognizable men in Ireland- I was actually in my local a couple of months ago when he happened to walk into the pub, and within minutes people were clustering around him, introducing themselves or just gaping at him from the back. And now here I was in his sunroom talking to him as casually as I'd just been talking to the cab driver, and he was calling me by name and smiling at what I said, and completely focused on the little task at hand. Can you imagine an American celebrity of that calibre being so humble and unassuming?

Another distinctively Irish aspect of celebrity which I've enjoyed this year is how much of a community Ireland's great artists and writers really are: they are personally connected to each other, they reflect on each other's work, and their work is truly a dialogue which the community engages in. It's not just in academia, although I certainly noticed it in my contemporary Irish poetry class, where poets were clearly responding to each other with their work, and where my professor was personally acquainted with many of the poets we studied. I was listening to a U2 song the other night and noticed that it quoted a line of Heaney's poetry, and U2 is as mainstream as you get. In America, celebrity is often an entirely hollow notion: it is not a recognition of a true aesthetic achievement, but simply a mark of popularity, trendiness, faddishness, or at most, mere entertainment. It rarely correlates to artistry, articulation, intellect, or originality. The "community" of celebrities are merely furred and feathered fops who try to out do each other materially in public. It is entirely self-serving.

This is my last night in Ireland. I will miss the gentle, unassuming, genuine nature of the great Irishmen I have met here.

1 comment:

Brandon said...

I read his translation of Beowulf.

You are so lucky Greer.