proust – pivot – lipton

There’s a semi-interesting article in The New Yorker titled How the Proust Questionnaire Went From Literary Curio to Prestige Personality Quiz. I say ‘semi-interesting’ because it takes what I think is an interesting idea — the evolution of a questionnaire a lot of folks are familiar with — and turns it into a fairly pretentious exercise (which is a thing most of us love and hate about The New Yorker). The New Yorker is one of the few places where you’ll find a line like this:

It’s safe to say that, today, the Sainte-Beuvian paradigm has triumphed—if not among literary critics, then certainly in the culture at large.

I guess that IS safe to say, if only because hardly anybody would know what the fuck you were talking about, unless they’d read the article in The New Yorker. And maybe not even then. But despite that, it’s actually interesting to have some glimpse into the origins of the questionnaire.

I became familiar with the questionnaire because of James Lipton’s odd talk show, Inside the Actors Studio. Lipton interviews actors (or directors, and an occasional screenwriter) about their craft. It began in 1994 as a sort of filmed seminar for students in the Actors Studio Drama School — a one-one-one informal but intensely personal interview with somebody who actually works in the business. Over time it’s become a popular show in its own right. The show often reaches a pretension level that can rival The New Yorker, but I’ve never seen an episode that wasn’t worth watching. That said, I wouldn’t entirely disagree with the Sunday Times critic who described the show as:

“[J]ust a chat show on satellite, but the veil of education and posterity is held decorously high, so everybody turns up and talks with a smile.”

Each episode ends with Lipton asking a series of ten questions that he attributes to French television personality Bernard Pivot, who did a similar show devoted to writers. Pivot said his list of questions was inspired by Marcel Proust. Proust got the idea from a popular 18th century parlor game he learned from Antoinette Faure. And the green grass grows all around, all around. If you’re really curious about all this, then you’re probably the sort of person the article in The New Yorker was written for, and you should probably go read it.

Most folks, though, are primarily interested in the questionnaire — the actual ten questions themselves. Some of the questions are pedestrian, some are silly, some are insightful, but it was always interesting to see how various actors/directors/writers would answer them.

Obviously, I’m going to give the questions and my own answers — but I’m genuinely curious to see how other folks would answer them as well. So, here we go:

What is your favorite word? Ownself. It’s a Southernism, I think. At least I’ve never heard anybody outside of the Deep South use it in the same way as Southern folk do. It means ‘yourself’ or ‘myself;, of course, but in a more deeply personal and possessive sort of way. Saying “my ownself” or “your ownself” emphasizes the ownership of whatever the hell you’re talking about. For example, saying “I’ll do it myself” doesn’t carry the same level of investment or commitment as “I’ll do it my ownself”, which is less invested than “I’ll do it my own damn self.”

What is your least favorite word? Any hateful slur — kike, nigger, faggot, pick one.

What turns you on? Smart people.

What turns you off? Willfully stupid people. You know, folks who are capable of learning and understanding, but either can’t be bothered to learn or refuse to learn because it would make them doubt something they believed. Willfully stupid people can fuck right off.

What sound or noise do you love? Water rippling around stones.

What sound or noise do you hate? Leaf blowers. I fucking hate leaf blowers.

What is your favorite curse word? I don’t really have a favorite. I’m sort of partial to ‘cocksucker’, though it’s not an expression I use. I like it because it was used beautifully and creatively in the HBO series Deadwood. HBO’s The Wire did something similar with ‘motherfucker’, but The Wire‘s motherfucker lacked the deep, profound sense of commitment to obscenity that we saw in Deadwood‘s cocksucker.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Architect, maybe. Or investigative epidemiologist.

What profession would you not like to do? Anything to do with accounting.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? I always have trouble with this premise. It’s like saying “If you had your own personal dragon, what would you do with it?” But you have to play the game by the rules, so IF heaven existed and IF there was a god waiting to greet me, I guess I’d like to hear her say “Hi, come on in, we have an extensive library. And there are no leaf blowers.”

So that’s me. What about you?

20 thoughts on “proust – pivot – lipton

  1. extemporaneously… like those “Top X Desert Island _____” lists, it will change with some time. very small amount of time.

    What is your favorite word?
    » dang. because it is such a ridiculous, bad sounding, word. yet, it does not reveal anything to the extent of how something affected me: so it is masking word, as well.

    What is your least favorite word?
    » “no”. not the negative answer to my question, but when the person answers it to themselves without having asked a question.

    What turns you on?
    » imagination.

    What turns you off?
    » solipsism. (and all the consequences that affect a conversation or getting to know someone.)

    What sound or noise do you love?
    » a laughter (due to surprise)

    What sound or noise do you hate?
    » a fly near my ear.

    What is your favorite curse word?
    » “coño-carajo-me-cago-en-la-puta-madre” (never said to anyone)

    What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
    » own a little store in Paris that allows people to write letters, with loaned pens and paper they buy on the spot. during the 98.76% of the time with no customers, then I do my current pursuits of math/writing/photography untainted by reality.

    What profession would you not like to do?
    » anything for which I have to speak in platitudes/bromides… so salesman?

    If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
    » “I didn’t write the bible. I had other ideas, but that is what happen when humans take dictations with all of their biases.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. evapotranspiration (I like saying it and I know what it means)

    ‘whatever’ (I use it and I don’t like that I do) ..

    sundresses ..

    arrogance (in men, women, cats … a forgivable offence in teenagers)

    crunch of gravel

    the sound of a dead car battery …

    farktard (its wrong, not often used .. but it makes me giggle)

    attempt is misleading .. if all accumulated knowledge was transferred from current to new .. and I had to …. from scratch .. I don’t know .. if I were to write it here I might have to make the attempt and that is not appealing right now .. forest fire fighter .. there I said it! .. fine a writer .. but not a good one. .. god I would starve (of course I would be in shape then to fight fires) ..

    car salesman .. circus clown (they are the same)

    and God said ‘ Gramps is here ….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sundress — I am a total sap for a sundress. Seeing a woman in a sundress is one of signs that summer is actually here, and it’s entirely happy-making.


  3. Interestingly, I read your piece, thought I was interested, copied the questions in anticipation of answering them, and then found that I wasn’t sufficiently interested in them to actually answer.


  4. Pingback: Questionings – An Existential Crayon

  5. I’ll see if I can muster up the will:

    what is your favorite word?
    Gumption. It’s a humble, homely word that represents the kind of indomitable will that gets things done. With no pretense or pride. It’s the kind of word I would like to be.

    what is your least favorite word?
    It’s a long list, but any word intended to make another person feel less than they are.

    what turns you on?
    Watching anyone work who is really good at something. It could be an artist or baker…frankly anything. I once watched a guy build a wood floor for an outdoor shower. I swear, in his hands the act was art.

    what turns you off?
    Meanness. I live in Alabama so I see it a lot.

    what sound or noise do you love?
    Genuine laughter. We have a young woman in our office this summer. An college student interning. She sits just outside of my view and today she kept choking on her laugher, like someone who REALLy wants to laugh but is embarrassed. Only the laughter will NOT be held in. I think she was listening to songs from Book of Mormon; she’s into show choir music. And all I could hear were these choked off explosions of joy. Hear that and it is IMPOSSIBLE not to smile.

    what sound or noise do you hate?
    That sudden intake of breath when your client is reviewing your work and they are just about to say they HATE your fucking idea. Even though it about killed you and the only reason they don’t like it is because there is a dog in the background of the image you used and they once were bitten by a dog when they were 9 and they really hate dogs and anything that ever walked past a dog. That’s a terrible sound.

    what is your favorite curse word?
    I’ll go cliche and say Fuck. I love it’s versatility (noun, verb, adjective, adverb; fuck it, whatever). I think a well-placed Fuck is about the most people think in the English language.

    what professions (other than your own) would you like to try?
    Teaching. There are a lot of teachers in my family and I know it’s a thankless, merciless, brutal career path. But the good ones seem to love their jobs more than just about anyone I know. Or a painter. I’m a writer and every writer I know would rather have a barbed-wire enema than sit down to write. But painters all seem to LOVE to paint. I’m jealous of those fuckers.

    what profession would you not like to do?
    Be Donald Trumps manservant. Not enough eye-bleach, kitten photos on the internet for that.

    If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you get to the pearly gates?
    c’mon in. you’re friends are out back on the deck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mac, back when I had a…well, not a straight job, but a job that was recognizable as a job…I had an office that overlooked a construction site. I used to look out the window and watch this one guy operate a backhoe. I’d no idea a machine like that could be made to do such delicate, detailed work. The operator was like a dirt surgeon. I was completely fascinated, and to this day I still stop whenever I see construction workers operate big machines, and I judge their work based on that guy’s standard.


  6. Well, I’m a sucker for a bit of time wasting; especially at the start of the day when I’m tired and putting off looking at the work emails.

    Here we go then….

    Discombobulated – it rolls off the tongue nicely, and kind of sounds a bit like what it is, and I feel this way quite often. Perhaps because my world seems to be out of kilter with others around me. But I’ve got used to the funny looks.

    I’m not big on ‘moist’. It makes me squirm.

    A crinkly smile. One with sparkling eyes and yes, laughter lines. That will become a rare thing with all this botox malarkey.

    Spitting. Just ugh.

    Birdsong, especially blackbirds

    The extractor fan in our bathroom. – it’s so loud and it upsets me first thing in the morning. I was so pleased when I worked out I could turn it off; although I have to stand tip toe and use the end of a toothbrush. I turn it on when I leave the house.

    I really enjoy having a sweary rant. Having said that, it’s mostly variations of ‘fuck’, which I like to insert as extra syllables in every other word.

    Quantum Physicist – because it would be interesting to have so much knowledge, and yet still be lost in the ‘what if’s

    Excel spreadsheet processor. I’m easily irritated by numbers and sums and formulae. Hence my dilemma with the previous answer.

    “Of course they’re all here, just as you left them. And yes, you can have a pony.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love ‘discombobulated’. Even if you don’t know what it means, you know what it means. But I confess, I’ve never understood the passionate dislike so many folks have for ‘moist’. I mean, I know LOTS of folks hate that word, but it’s never been clear to me why they hate it so.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What is your favorite word? Kumquat. Well, maybe not my favorite, but definitely the funniest.

    What is your least favorite word? Panties. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.
    And “can’t”. Nothing fuels my fire more than someone that says I can’t do something. Bite me!!

    What turns you on? Funny smart people. Or smart funny people. If someone can make me laugh with intelligent humor that doesn’t demean others… I’m putty in their hands.

    What turns you off? People that create their own drama, then complain about it and try to suck you into their vortex of chaos.

    What sound or noise do you love? Giggling babies. A gentle rain. Birdsong. Thunder.

    What sound or noise do you hate? Other people’s “noise”… like the frickin’ “boombox cars” that have their stereos on so loud, the windows rattle. Or the guy across the alley who blasts his radio so he can hear it over his lawnmower.

    What is your favorite curse word? Fuck. It’s quite satisfying to pepper a rant liberally with plenty of “fuck’s”.

    What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
    Cartoon voice overs or foley artist.
    In another life, a painter, since in this incarnation I’m crap at drawing (my sister got all the painting genes). Or classical pianist, just so I could know what it’s like to play Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu op. 66, or Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2 in C Sharp Minor, and get so into the music, I sway and make faces. As it is, I struggle just playing “Chopsticks”.

    What profession would you not like to do? Proctologist, podiatrist, sewer worker… anything with a high “ick” factor. Or skydiver. Nope, not gonna happen.

    If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
    Since my mom just died, I’d love to hear, “Your mom’s out dancing with your dad… but you can wait for them at the bar with your Gram and Grandad”.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Can I play?
    Favorite word: Hard to pick, and at first I couldn’t even begin to narrow it down. But I’m going with ‘folks’. I like to use it, but it’s kind of a careful use- like when I have to ask other kids to get permission from their parents- ‘go ask your folks’, or ‘seeing his folks’ or that sort of thing. There’s just an implied gentleness and affection towards the people you’re referring to in that word.
    Least favorite word: Slurs said with mean intent.
    What turns you on? There’s different kinds; seeing beauty in the world, kind acts, wonderful music, kindness…
    What turns you off? Cruelty and meanness in any form. Seeing somebody be deliberately cruel or mean takes that person right out of any zone where I want that person in my world. If that makes any sense.
    Sound or noise you love? Cat purring, kids having a good time, rain, wind in pine trees.
    Sound you hate: People fighting and yelling.
    Favorite curse word? Probably fucktard, at least for now. Though shithead is right up there. I have to be really, really angry to use them though. I confess my language tends to be liberally sprinkled with ‘fuck’, though.
    What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I’ve attempted quite a few of the artist-related ones; I’d like to attempt Wealthy Retired Privileged Person Who Gets to Do Anything They Want. Is that a valid job title?
    What profession would you not like to do? Sales, Marketing, Schmoozing, Lying, Cheating to take other people’s money. Gee, I guess I have a few issues with the job stuff.
    If Heaven exists…? Yeah, I have some trouble with the premise, but…God says, ‘Hey, it’s about time! All your critters are right here, and we have a good fire going over in that stand of redwoods, and your people are all having a really good time sitting, playing music around the fire. Your bag full of harmonicas is right by that comfy chair right over there…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. When I first read this I was going to borrow this idea for a post of my own. But I decided the noble thing was to answer it first here, wait a few months, and then resurrect it over in my little corner of the interwebs as if it had just occurred to me. Smooth, eh?

    What is your favorite word? Somnolence. I love that it sounds exactly like what it means.

    What is your least favorite word? Trump, in all manifestations.

    What turns you on? Cleverness and wit, especially from people who surprise you with it.

    What turns you off? Determined willful ignorance in adults, particularly when it is defended with “I have a right to my own opinion.”

    What sound or noise do you love? Calm ocean waves lapping against the shore.

    What sound or noise do you hate? When a group of young people shout “Wooooooooooooooo!” in response to anything that may peripherally apply to them.

    What is your favorite curse word? Jackass. I know as curse words go it is rather tame, but it encapsulates everything I feel whenever I hear someone being, well, a jackass.

    What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Television director of a live, fast-paced program. It requires full engagement, split-second decision making, and the ability to see everything at once while instinctively knowing what deserves the spotlight. It’s like being a busy short-order cook, only without smoke detectors.

    What profession would you not like to do? High school principal. Sure, the pay is very good and the mission is noble. Still, I would lose my sanity within the first week of school, probably due more to the parents than the kids.

    If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? What took you so long?


    • Jackass — that’s a great word. Simple, direct, more a description than an insult. And yeah, it may be mild, but that’s really part of its beauty, isn’t it.


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