Age of Dissimulation

James H. Johnson

in Venice Incognito

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780520267718
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520948624 | DOI:
Age of Dissimulation

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This chapter discusses the age of dissimulation. During this period, the mask was a matter of survival. Dissimulation provided people with the means to protect themselves. In the age of dissimulation, dissembling was not just about masking the truth. For many, it was about finding a way to do so that was both ethical and protective. Prudence need not to come at the expense of rectitude. As Torquatto Accetto contends in his On Honest Dissimulation, dissembling was not a deceit, rather the mask was sometimes the truth’s only defense. He also asserted a clear distinction between simulation and dissimulation. Simulation according to him was the art of pretending, a show of works and actions. Dissimulation on the other hand withholds the truth, relying instead on silence and omissions. Simulation according to him cannot be called honest, nor can circumstances make it legitimate. It injures both the deceiver and the deceived. Dissimulation by contrast is defensive, a shield and a way of avoiding harm rather than provoking harm. Instead of circulating untruths, dissimulation grants some repose to truth which can be revealed at the proper time. Dissimulation is “a veil of honest obscurity and violent propriety.” This view led to the renewed view of masks not as an accomplice to guile or trickery or intimation of the underworld, but as a modus vivendi, intended to preserve rather than to disrupt. The notion of dissimulation as honesty recast the mask from the devil’s tool to an instrument of virtue.

Keywords: age of dissimulation; masking the truth; Torquatto Accetto; dissembling; simulation; dissimulation; honest obscurity

Chapter.  5916 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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