The Trouble with Irony


What do you think of when you hear the name Machiavelli? If your like most people, and like I was until only recently, you imagine a devious plotting egotist who is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve power. Someone willing to cheat, steal, and even kill in his relentless drive for power. You know, someone like me!  (Did I say that outloud?)

You know what Machiavelli really was? A writer, and he was a damn good one (also like me). So good, in fact, that his name is to be forever linked with corrupt politicians, opportunists, and psychopaths.

Portrait of Niccolo Machiavelli
To be fair, he does kind of looks the part.

So how did this happen? I’ll tell you. He was a master of Irony. Now stop right there! If you just started singing Irony by Alanis Morisette, you are wrong! That is not the irony to which I’m referring, that’s cosmic irony, but I’m talking about a different kind of irony. Namely, this kind (as presented to you by Bender the educational robot):

You see The Prince by Machiavelli was written after the corrupt Medici family hired some thugs to reduce Machiavelli into a fleshy bag of broken bones. The Medici family had recently overthrown the Florentine Republic, a o that Machiavelli both worked for and found incredibly sexy. Nothing turned him on like a good beaucratic process. In fact most of his writings dealt with the the inherent superiority of republics over dictatorships. Well when Medici took over again, the first thing they did was torture and exile Machiavelli for his dangerous ideas of liberty and such. Machiavelli wrote The Prince as a giant literary middle finger to the Medici government and tyrants everywhere. Unfortunately for Machiavelli, the context of The Prince was lost over the centuries and became a how-to guide for tyrants, completely unaware that the satirical work was actually mocking them.

And that’s the trouble with Irony, the risk of the reader taking it literally. With sarcasm, spoken irony, it’s easy to understand because we can detect the mocking tone of voice. Though even then people sometimes take it literally. However there is no sarcasm punctuation mark, and putting sarcastic quips in quotations just makes you look like a pretentious ass. So your left having to very carefully word your ironic statements and try to make it clear that your being sarcastic. Mark Twain was a master of irony, in fact his books are irony distilled into a perfectly refined oil. You could liquefy Mark Twain’s books, inject it into someone, and instantly transform them into Jon Stewart.

The trouble I’m having is that obviously I know when I’m being sarcastic, but in order to tell if anyone else will be able to tell I need to let them read it. But of course isn’t that the point of writing? To let others read it?

Well yes, at a certain point. However, I’ve made the mistake of letting people read roughdrafts of my stories, friends who have insisted I let the read it, who then swear they understand what roughdraft means. Only to find that, after they’ve read it, they’ve renounced all their worldly possessions and moved to Tibet to pursue a life of quiet tranquility.

Half these people are here because they read a roughdraft of mine.

So, with these experiences in mind, I’ve taken to not letting anyone read anything until its a second or third draft, which takes loads of time and work to actually get to. By the time someone gets around to reading my story, it might end up that half the story didn’t come across right because the irony was lost in translation. Which is a royal pain in the ass because I then have to go back and rewrite half the story (yeah I use irony alot), but that’s just part of the writing process. The real trouble is when the irony backfires so horribly that I come across as an arrogant and pretentious asshole.

Working on It’s Always a Sunny Day I’ve found myself using irony a lot to provide juxtaposition from some of the darker moments in the book when I talk about my depression. After all, the point of It’s Always a Sunny Day is that things get better, and to give people suffering from depression hope. Last thing I want to do is drown them in 100,000 words of crushing despair. But, I also don’t want to come across as bragging or preachy either, and I find irony is often a great way of getting a point across without appearing to be either.

So what’s my solution to this dilemma?

Well I may just have to bite the bullet and let some people read the early drafts of this story. In all honestly, it’s not just a fear of subjecting people to a horrible first draft that I fear. This book represents something I’ve never done before, exposing my flaws for everyone to see. To let people inside my mind and rummage around to figure out what makes me tick. I wasn’t a very pleasant person when I suffered depression, and of course no one suffering from a debilitating illness is expected to be pleasant, but to reveal my unpleasant past to friends who have only known me post-depression and to complete strangers, makes me apprehensive to say the least.

I may end up posting excerpts on here and testing out my Irony skills on y’all to see if it holds up. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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