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?