By David J. Gordon
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Extra resources for Bernard Shaw and the Comic Sublime
The dream of merging is irrepressible but is mostly fought off; the image of the strong, mothering woman, on the other hand, looms large, while the threat of her devouring force is deflected by a stress on her own self-sufficiency. And this imbalance has more than personal significance when we consider the relation between the sublime and the beautiful in a Freudian age. Hume, Burke and Kant were concerned with the perception of magnitude and force in natural bodies and only to a lesser extent in works of art.
That is why his hypocrites (for example, Ann Whitefield and Alfred Doolittle) can be enchanting, his prigs and dolts (for example, Stephen Undershaft and Charles Lomax) endearing. Only occasionally - and always disastrously - does he truly jeer at one of his characters: Burgess in Candida, the journalist in The Doctor's Dilemma, Spintho in Androcles and the Lion, De Stogumber in Saint Joan. It is difficult, therefore, to describe Shaw as a satirist, even in the complex sense that Dickens was a satirist, for the Shelleyan or visionary strain is compounded with the satirical in his sensibility.
Fortunately, the critic does not need to impose his own modification of the term superego. It has evolved within psychoanalytic literature itself. As attention has shifted from the Oedipus complex to a pregenital model of conflict, Freud's superego has to some extent been replaced by the more flexible concept of the 'ego-ideal', a term that Freud himself once referred to as the heir of primary narcissism. In the words of Christopher Lasch (1984), summarising the development of the ego-ideal within psychoanalytic literature: the concept is indispensable [because] it calls attention to the links between the highest and the lowest forms of mental life, between the most exalted aspirations for spiritual transcendence and the earliest illusions of omnipotence and self-sufficiency.
Bernard Shaw and the Comic Sublime by David J. Gordon