“Machiavelli was not Machiavellian”, said Salman Rushdie today. “His writing has levels of irony and sarcasm that we have lost.”


Case in point: Machiavelli was imprisoned and tortured repeatedly, so when he wrote about whether a ruler should be kind or cruel, he (ironically) recommended cruelty, since everyone remembers cruelty but no one remembers kindness.

This might be the passage here in Chapter XVII Cruelty and compassion; and whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse:

So on this question of being loved or feared, I conclude that since some men love as they please but fear when the prince pleases, a wise prince should rely on what he controls, not on what he cannot control.

Rereading various passages of The Prince as irony, it really is quite snarky. From the chapter on “how flatteres must be shunned”:

…the only way to safeguard yourself against flatterers is by letting people undertand that you are not offended by the truth; but if everyone can speak the truth to you then you lose respect.  So a shrewd prince should adopt a middle way, choosing wise men for his government and allowing only those the freedom to speak the truth to him, and then only concerning matters on which he asks their opinion, and nothing else.

Too bad they didn’t have emoticons back then so Machiavelli could have made it clear which parts were supposed to be  sarcastic.

More Rushdie nuggets:

  • When you read a book: “a curious act of intimacy between strangers”.
  • Why he stopped writing the NYT syndicated column  1) he’d rather be “putting my energy where I wanted to put it which is making shit up.” 2) the idea of having to have a strong opinion once a month–it’s the nature of the column.  People like Friedman and Dowd who can have opinions he admires, but the column format doesn’t have room for nuanced ideas. “What they want to read is WRONG! RIGHT! YES! NO!” 3)The world’s attention span is short, you can’t write a column ahead of time because the subject is dead.  He would write his column the day before the deadline, looking in the paper for that day to find something current to write about (but a good exercise to learn this type of writing.)
  • Why Rushdie is so hard on his characters (they get tortured and die a lot) and in particular why no one has good love relationships: “Boy meets girl, they live happily ever after, the end.  There’s nothing there to write about.”
  • Writing explicit sex: Henry Miller and Philip Roth could write explicit sex without being embarrassing. Rushdie has always had his sex scenes take place off camera, but in his latest book it’s explicit, because of the explicit nature of the cultures he is writing about.
  • Dickens-admires Dickens very much, because his “surrealist elements grow out of closely observed reality“. More examples of closely observed reality: “100 years of solitude” (?) a railway train that takes forever to go past a town. The “Circumlocution Office” a government agency that exist to do nothing. (Emily Dickinson?)
  • How to finish writing a book: “if you keep beating your head against it it will probably give in in the end.”
  • The Two great tests of when book is finished: embarrassment and exhaustion 1) you’re not embarrassed to show it because you already know it isn’t right 2) you’re not making things better, you’re just pushing them around and making them different.  It’s not going to be perfect–perfection doesn’t exist.
  • The latest book The Enchantress of Florence, is based on “early crossings of what was then called ‘the ocean sea’; if you could avoid the leviathan, which you couldn’t, but if you did you would run into mud; if you could avoid the mud, which you couldn’t, but if you did, you would fall off the end of the earth.” Not written through a “narrow perspective like is it feminist or not”.  Original witches/enchantresses were old and ugly, idea can be taken from Durer painting.  Then going back in history found Circe, a beautiful enchantress, in Renaissance the enchantress was also a seductress.  Both physical beauty and the believed ability to do actual magic increases her power.  Of course, getting accused of witchcraft wouldn’t be a good idea, so she walks a fine line…
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