“Shaw His Own Doppelgänger?”


An Editorial by R. F. Dietrich


April 14, 2004

(Best viewed by a monitor set to 1024 X 768)


          PLEASE NOTE: This article kills two birds with one stone.  While explaining the iconography chosen for the ISS, it also illustrates the possibilities of this editorial feature.  And while the ISS president will likely be the primary author of such editorials, others will be invited from time to time to express opinions related to the conduct of the ISS and the pursuit of Shaw Studies.



Those who have looked at other web pages I’ve constructed for Shaw Studies may have noticed a motif developing, one that is developed even further in the ISS stationery we’re experimenting with.  The letterhead of our stationery currently looks approximately as follows:






P.O. Box 728

Odessa, FL 33556-0728





This twinning effect is easily achieved by photo software that allows one to mirror the image.   In most cases, a simple mirroring, as at the top of the ISS Symposium website at http://chuma.cas.usf.edu/~dietrich/ 2004_Symposium_Flyer.htm, does not cause the literal-minded to protest much, although a right-eared Shaw transmutes into a left-eared Shaw on the right: 



C A L L I N  G   A L L

S H A W   S C H O L A R S 







Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

23-25 July 2004



I also used this mirrored image for the Membership Application website at http://chuma.cas.usf.edu/~dietrich/ISS-Membership-Application-2004.htm:












This mirroring effect also works well in the doubling used for the Bernard Shaw Society website at http://chuma.cas.usf.edu/~dietrich/shawsociety.html, where the transmutation of a protruding right arm into a protruding left arm is not all that troubling:


I love a good debate.


Especially with myself!


Advisory Board

The Independent Shavian


Next Meeting

Benefits & Performances


Book Discounts

NEW: Shaw Symposium



Search Engine



But this latter image has been captioned in a way that suggests what I’m up to with this doubling motif, as it points to the inner debate that, I believe, is at the core of every Shaw play, as Shaw debates himself while debating with the world.


          This point is elaborated in an article I published in SHAW 15 entitled “Shaw and Yeats: Two Irishmen Divided by a Common Language.”  On p. 77 I referred to one of the many ways Yeats misunderstood and misrepresented Shaw in quoting Yeats’ passage: “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric [what he thought Shaw was doing], but out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry [what he thought he was doing].”    Yeats being typical of those who try to dismiss Shaw as a purely “objective” man, a mere social reformer whose prosaic works are not up to artistic standards because merely utilitarian propaganda concerned exclusively with the material, external world, I thought showing how misguided Yeats was in this would help counter that view.  And so, among the many ways that I demolished Yeats’ argument, I showed how, quoting from Eric Bentley, Shaw’s plays are “personal and expressive” as well as “public and informative.”  A good example would be the debate that rages in Candida between Marchbanks and Morell, which is clearly between the poet and the utilitarian reformer in Shaw himself, whatever else it is, an internal debate that gives the lie to Yeatsian notions of Shaw.  


           And so these doubling images I’ve been using are meant to establish iconographically Shaw’s standing as a dramatic poet.  But I also mean them to reveal Shaw as an anticipator of certain postmodernist linguistic principles having to do with the binary nature of our language.  To explain what I mean by the latter, take another look at the letterhead at the top.   


          The mirroring in this case does not entirely work for the literal-minded because it converts a right-handed Shaw into a left-handed Shaw and reverses the “ISS” on the paper Shaw is writing on, both contrary to literal fact.  For those who are not literal-minded, however, this mirroring may be seen as a figurative expression of Shaw’s postmodernist disposition to see all points of view as linguistic/social constructs caught in inevitable but over-simplifying binaries and needing to be artistically jarred to break their rigidifying effect on people.  The crossed legs of the two Shaws, the teeter-totter effect between them, and the balancing of a spinning globe by both Shaws are also contributory to the idea of the difficulty of the balancing act we call life, especially as language enters into it and forces us to teeter to one side or the other of a world split linguistically and conceptually into opposites.   Better we should cross our liberal and conservative legs, so to speak, keep our balance, and spin the world rather than let the world spin us.   The true artist is one who shows us how to have our cake and eat it too.


          If we understand Shaw’s meaning, it should not surprise us when we discover that among Shavians are those of the political Right as well as the political Left, for that potential is inherent in the inner debate that is at the core of Shaw’s plays, one that acknowledges the binary foundation of the language that frames and expresses the debate and that happily provides him with “strong drama.”   Realization of this inner debate and how Shaw uniquely resolved it is what led Eric Bentley to the most brilliant of insights in understanding Shaw’s works as examples of “Both/And” thinking, of the resolving of a clash of opposites in an artist’s way by taking the best of any way of thinking in its most concrete manifestation (a character doing or saying something) and combining it with the best of the opposite way of thinking in its most concrete form (another character doing or saying something) to suggest either a new synthesis or to establish a creative tension between opposites.   When a priest wrote to Shaw that in Saint Joan he saw “the dramatic presentation of the conflict of the Regal, sacerdotal, and Prophetical powers, in which Joan was crushed” and opined that “it is not the victory of any one of them over the others that will bring peace and the Reign of the Saints in the Kingdom of God but their fruitful interaction in a costly but noble state of tension,” Shaw replied in his Preface, “The Pope himself could not put it better; nor can I.   We must accept the tension, and maintain it nobly without letting ourselves be tempted to relieve it by burning the thread.  This is Joan’s lesson to the Church.”  


          All points of view, Shaw knew, ultimately refer back to a common human experience that has been complicated and obscured by a various attempt to cope with it and various expressions of that coping in various languages, which, through invisible rules that seem to govern language, eventually shake down into oppositional formulations such as individualism versus collectivism, freedom versus authority, diversity versus unity, and so on, which then ultimately find their way into melodramatic political oppositions that allow Conservatives to demonize Liberals and vice versa.  Shaw would have us employ our debates to break through the rigidities imposed by such oppositional formulations to touch again the experiential commonality from which they came and, in remembering that, feel inspired to search for common ground on which we may build a better, more harmonious civilization.   


          Now go look at the ISS home page (imperfectly reproduced below) at http://chuma.cas.usf.edu/~dietrich/iss.htm and then come back here by hitting the back button at the top left.  



T H E 




S H A W   S O C I E T Y













Copyright Ó by the

International Shaw Society, 2004


The ISS logo on this website is meant to convey the idea of Shaw the juggler of ideas facing off against himself and unafraid of the confrontation, knowing that an honest facing off against himself was necessary to an honest facing off against the world, which incidentally is spinning beneath his feet as emblem of the constant change and uncertainty the world throws at us to complicate matters further.  This facing off of the two Shaws is opposite to the tactic of Janus the hypocrite and evader of contradictions, whose two faces face away from each other, and, like most who govern us, seemingly, whose right hand does not know what his left hand doeth.  The facing off of jugglers in this ISS logo is the sign of a willingness for and insistence upon open confrontation between opposing ideas and an awareness of paradox in their opposition, along with a sense of the difficulty in resolving it with meaningful action (Think of the very complicated three-way debate that is at the heart of Major Barbara and how difficult and problematic the juggler’s resolution).  But note that the face on the Shaw juggler is undaunted and rather inspired by the challenge.  


          And thus, I hope, this face-off between jugglers is a fit symbol for an ISS that will present Shaw as one who urged and exemplified the establishing of forums for civilized, good-humored debate and negotiation, within and without the self, to replace a tendency to resort to increasingly destructive warfare to resolve oppositional, melodramatic thinking, and who relished the challenge of this task’s difficulty.  


It would be great to get feedback on this feature of the website.

Please email dietrich@cas.usf.edu with comments.