Monday, September 27, 2010

Proust's Questionnaire - know your blogger

Marcel Proust, along with being one of humankind's greatest authors, made famous a questionnaire which he filled out as a sort of personality test.Below is a compiled version of two of his questionnaires with the duplicate questions edited out. I thought it would be a fun thing to fill out on my blog.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Indefinite separation from Laurie, being unforgiven for a wrong you know you've committed, loss of faith, doing one's best and failing none the less, having a loved one die.

Where would you like to live? One version of an honest answer would be "right here." Another would be "London, Prague, Vienna, Paris, somewhere outside but near major East Coast cities, I think I would like to spend a lot of time in India, and retiring in Downieville."

What is your idea of earthly happiness? Achieving earnest contentment and tranquility regardless of external circumstances.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?Worry. Occasional snobbery.

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
Odysseus, Hamlet, Falstaff, Huckleberry Finn, Faust, Siegfried, Edmond Dantes, Wodehouse's Jeeves, probably several I'll kick myself later for not remembering.

Who are your favorite characters in history? Socrates, Epictetus, St. Peter, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, John Woolman, William Wilberforce, Ben Franklin, Oscar Wilde (I don't want to overlap too much from the favorite authors and artists lists, but the man himself was fascinating as well), Virginia Woolf, Alexander Woollcott, Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Glenn Gould, Karl Lagerfeld    

Who are your favorite heroines in real life? Those who don't "swallow the lie." Women who are who they are unapologetically. Women who seek wisdom.    

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? Brünnhilde, Clarisse McClellan, Mrs. Dalloway, Shaw's St. Joan, Jane Eyre, Miranda, Portia, again, others I'm sure.    

Your favorite painter? I would most likely say Toulouse-Lautrec. Whenever I'm at a museum which contain them, I seem to park in front of his work the longest.    

Your favorite musician? Oh dear, that's difficult. Probably Beethoven.    

The quality you most admire in a man? Wisdom. Virtue. Intelligence. Curiosity.    

The quality you most admire in a woman? Wisdom. Virtue. Intelligence. Curiosity.    

Your favorite virtue? Either tranquility or humility. Or frugality. I am better at the latter.    

Your favorite occupation? My ideal occupation would be to make a living somehow encouraging a love for the arts and teaching about them.    

Who would you have liked to be? A better version of myself. Happier, more content, kinder, more loving.I think, in my estimation, an idea life would be similar to Felix Mendelssohn's. Happy, productive with excellent and enduring output, and mercifully short.  

Your most marked characteristic? Um, I'm told I'm very quiet in person. Sort of invisible in a room full of people.    

What do you most value in your friends? Endurance. As in endurance of the friendship. Having just lost my oldest continual friend I've realized what a treasure that was.    

What is your principle defect? Anxiety.    

What would you like to be? I would like to be a person who raises awareness of and kindles love for great art and literature. Like a Bernard Berenson or an Alexander Woollcott or a Harold Bloom. Or even a Sister Wendy. They all had careers that eventually elevated them to that level though. I am one literary critic crying out in the wilderness.    

What is your favorite color? Purple. You can tell by my prose.    

What is your favorite flower? Orchids and sunflowers. Which for some reason seems to me like both ends of the flower spectrum in a way. At least as far as flower seriousness goes.    

What is your favorite bird? I admire the tenacity of penguins.  

Who are your favorite prose writers? Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, John Gardner, Jeanette Winterson, Djuna Barnes, Dickens, Capote, Bradbury, Richard Brautigan, Hunter Thompson, Spalding Gray, Caitlin Kiernan, Wallace Shawn.    

Who are your favorite poets? I'm afraid I'm predictable here.Shakespeare, Milton, David, Dante, Burns, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Whitman, Dickinson, Verlaine, Baudelaire. For moderns, also predictable: Ginsberg, Mary Oliver, Gary Snyder, Robert Pinsky, Seamus Heaney, Tony Hoagland, Billy Collins, June Melby, Brendan Constantine.    

Who are your heroes in real life? As in people I know? My dad. My 8th grade history teacher Mr. Boyle. Michael Nehring and Tom Bradac, two director/actors from Shakespeare Orange County who had a tremendous influence on me.    

Who are your favorite heroines of history? Joan of Arc, Emma Goldman, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth I, Dorothy Parker.    

What are your favorite names? If we had a boy child, we would name it Dalton Alexander.If we had a girl child, we would name her Temperance. I don't know if we've settled on a middle name for a girl although I always like the granola sounding ones like Peace or Shalom or Luna.  

What is it you most dislike? Automobiles, willful ignorance, anxiety.    

What historical figures do you most despise? Judas, Robespierre, certainly Hitler, Norman Mailer, Pol Pot, Nixon.    

What event in military history do you most admire? The rare periods of peace in human history.    

What natural gift would you most like to possess? Speaking in a manner where people don't interrupt me. I've observed people who seem to have this and also observed that I do not have this. But I don't know what I'm doing wrong.  

How would you like to die? The manner is of little importance although I should like to die with the assurance that the loved ones I leave behind will be provided for and I should like to die in a way consistent with a virtuous life.    

What is your present state of mind? I am enjoying doing this more than other things I could be doing.    

What is your motto? We'll give Socrates the final words:
"A man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong- acting the part of a good man or of a bad."
"Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued."


  1. Have you read In Search of Lost Time? As I've been working out my schedule I fit all 6 volumes in so that beginning with the last part of my current sequence (around the beginning of next year) I'll be reading them back to back as I work through other books. It works nicely since most of what I'll be working on for the next year is verse.

    Someone I don't see anywhere in your post is G.K. Chesterton -- are you familiar with him? If not, perhaps we should talk. :)

  2. I read Swann's Way a few years ago, loved it, but lacked the discipline for the rest of the series. As I side note, I have earmarked some money to get the full set at the local used bookstore which I was planning on doing within the next couple days. I had considered it as a potential "next project" although I'm really trying not to look that far ahead quite so soon.

    Chesterton is one I've not dived headfirst into yet. I've read some of the Father Brown stories which I enjoyed quite a bit. I understand that there is a wealth in his material as of yet untapped by me. He's one I've always meant to read more of.

  3. My library bought volumes 2-6 in ebook format at my request. I'll have to buy the 1st and then borrow the rest. All in the new Viking/Penguin translations. I don't know that they're all improvements on the Scott Moncrieff translations, but it seems like Swann's Way is an improvement judging by reviews I've seen -- including one by Hitchens.

    Father Brown is enjoyable, for sure. The Man Who Was Thursday, Manalive!, and The Ball and the Cross are also good. I wouldn't characterize any of his fiction as exactly great. It's fiction where the idea is primary over the story, and the story is told well enough.

    Chesterton is at his best in discussing ideas. He's gifted with an amazing ability for parable and paradox. He can cut through the intellectualizing cruft to show the essential absurdity of an argument.

    As an introduction I would suggest one of his books of Christian apologetics, Orthodoxy, and one of his novels, Manalive!. They're both probably available on CCEL and Gutenberg.

  4. This morning I happened by our local used bookstore (which is a lie. Actually I made it a decided point to walk past it for this purpose. I'm already lying within the first 1/3rd of the first sentence of my comment. Not a good sign) on my way to a meeting and noticed to my simultaneous delight and chagrin that the boxed set that was sitting for sale on their counter six months ago was still there. The day took me away from the bookstore, but I returned right before they closed and purchased the set. It sits primed and waiting atop my writing desk, staring down at me for the next several months, waiting for me to get over my absurd reading project that excludes anything George Meredith would not have been able to read in his life.

    Mine is the Moncrieff/Kilmartin translation of Random House (big, hefty, hardcover editions that I can keep by my bedside to double as a weapon with which to knock out burglars.) Did you get the Lydia Davis translation then? She does seem to be one of today's most lauded popular translators by all accounts I've been able to dig up.

  5. Yay!

    Each of the volumes of the Viking Penguin edition is done by a different translator.

    1. Swann's Way -- trans. Lydia Davis
    2. In The Shadow of Young Girls in Flower -- trans. James Grieve
    3. The Guermantes Way -- trans. Mark Treharne
    4. Sodom and Gomorrah -- trans. John Sturrock
    5. The Prisoner And The Fugitive -- trans. Carol Clark
    6. Finding Time Again -- trans. Ian Patterson

    I know Lydia Davis's translation of Swann's Way is supposed to be very good and frequently an improvement on the Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright edition. I haven't seen much about the others, yet.

    Do I note a bit of frustration with reading project? Or is it merely impatience to start Proust? I've got Proust penciled in to start mid-February. If you got really impatient and wanted to start it when Moby Dick was done, I could do some juggling and start it instead of Pevear/Volokhonsky's upcoming translation of Doctor Zhivago.

  6. Frustration is a bit heavier of a term than I would employ in this instance. So it goes with all changes in diets, but I find myself acutely aware of what is not in the Harvard Classics list. I keep reminding myself that the Harvard Classics reading list is both finite and I think wisely free from deadlines. I will also confess that I am slightly impatient with Melville at this point, but not so much that I doubt the value of completing that project by any means.

    Faute de mieux, I will be reading the Moncrieff, which may end up being an interesting aspect to the reading group. But, yes, long story shortened, I am looking forward to Proust.

  7. Moncrieff sans Kilmartin and Enright? Kilmartin edited Moncrieff, but died before the completing the work. Enright picked it up and finished it. Of the two versions (i.e. the Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright and the new Viking Penguin translations) someone has said this:

    "The Enright version (as I will call it in the interest of brevity) still lacks the excitement of much of the Penguin Proust. But it does have a magisterial flavor, a bit reminiscent of the King James Version of the Bible, that is lacking in the newer translations."

  8. Unschooled in the established form of abbreviation for this edition, I grasped at the first name of those listed on the title page. Here and after, I shall refer to what I am to read as the Enright version.

  9. P.S. I got my set, very slightly used, for $17.50.

  10. Wow! That's awesome. I wouldn't mind having both versions. I like comparing translations. And the Kilmartin/Enright is the classic version in English. The Moncrieff version sans Kilmartin isn't complete and is clumsy from everything I've read. If I were you I'd be very proud of my purchase.