Saturday, August 23, 2014


After my previous post, Richard Dietrich emailed me (yet again!) saying that he "would have bet his last dollar" (sic.) that that quotation was to be found in The Quintessence of Ibsenism.

While all ISS members are keeping their fingers crossed that Dick's gambling problem is just a question of understanding figurative language - given that he is also de treasurer of the ISS - it is also true that he is not entirely wrong. 

Indeed, there are a couple of passages in The Quintessence that stress how often people mistake blunt sincerity for cynicism. Actually, the question is that the exceptional person will be the one who can see the truth in everything - no matter how unpleasant it is. Thus, the following paragraph sums up the idea that 

"We then have our society classified as 700 Philistines and 299 idealists, leaving one man unclassified. He is the man who is strong enough to face the truth that the idealists are shirking. He says flatly of marriage, "This thing is a failure for many of us. It is insufferable that two human beings, having entered into relations which only warm affection can render tolerable, should be forced to maintain them after such affections have ceased to exist, or in spite of the fact that they have never arisen. The alleged natural attractions and repulsions upon which the family ideal is based do not exist; and it is historically false that the family was founded for the purpose of satisfying them. Let us provide otherwise for the social ends which the family subserves, and then abolish its compulsory character altogether." What will be the attitude of the rest to this outspoken man? The Philistines will simply think him mad. But the idealists will be terrified beyond measure at the proclamation of their hidden thought — at the presence of the traitor among the conspirators of silence — at the rending of the beautiful veil they and their poets have woven to hide the unbearable face of the truth. They will crucify him, burn him, violate their own ideals of family affection by taking his children away from him, ostracize him, brand him as immoral, profligate, filthy, and appeal against him to the despised Philistines, specially idealized for the occasion as SOCIETY. How far they will proceed against him depends on how far his courage exceeds theirs. At his worst, they call him cynic and paradoxer: at his best they do their utmost to ruin him if not to take his life. Thus, purblindly courageous moralists like Mandeville and Larochefoucauld, who merely state unpleasant facts without denying the validity of current ideals, and who indeed depend on those ideals to make their statements piquant, get off with nothing worse than this name of cynic, the free use of which is a familiar mark of the zealous idealist. But take the case of the man who has already served us as an example — Shelley. The idealists did not call Shelley a cynic: they called him a fiend until they invented a new illusion to enable them to enjoy the beauty of his lyrics — said illusion being nothing less than the pretence that since he was at bottom an idealist himself, his ideals must be identical with those of Tennyson and Longfellow, neither of whom ever wrote a line in which some highly respectable ideal was not implicit."

George Bernard Shaw by Edmund S. Valtman ppmsc.07950

When I read this passage, there was another one that inmediately came to my mind because of its identical theme and its strikingly metaphorical mode of expression. Specifically, I recalled the anecdote Shaw recounts about when he had an argument with an artist who 

"…lectured me for not consulting my eyes instead of my knowledge of facts. "You don't see the divisions in a set of teeth when you look at a person's mouth," he said: "all you see is a strip of white, or yellow, or pearl, as the case may be. But because you know, as a matter of anatomic fact, that there are divisions there, you want to have them represented by strokes in a drawing. That is just like you art critics &c, &c. "I do not think he believed me when I told him that when I looked at a row of teeth, I saw, not only the divisions between them, but their exact shape, both in contour and in modelling, just as well as I saw their general color."

This story is quoted in several secondary sources, but I believe Shaw included it in print for the first time in The Sanity of Art

At any rate, whether in the plastic arts, in drama, or in sociology, I guess many of my readers agree that Shaw had an exceptional eyesight - sometimes even foresight and second sight, if you ask me. 

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