Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Proust 13

I googled the word questionnaire today and came across an interesting set of questions asked of French novelist Marcel Proust, when he was just 13 yeasrs old. In addition to the questions and my answers to them (at my tender age of 46), I've also added Proust's responses from the year 1884 (or so, when he was 13):

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Proust at 13: To be separated from Mama
Me at 46: Loneliness is quite miserable. There are times, though rare, where I feel so very alone even though I may not be in the grand scheme of things and for me, these are amongst the toughest moments to bear.

 Where would you like to live?
Proust at 13: In the country of the Ideal, or, rather, of my ideal
Me at 46: Ideally, I’d like to live right where I live. However, I have grown ashamed of my homeland and discouraged by so many of its inhabitants. The ruination of this country has come at the hand of politics. The wealthy and sadly, the hyper-religious; I can only hold out hope for change.

 What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Proust at 13: To live in contact with those I love, with the beauties of nature, with a quantity of books and music, and to have, within easy distance, a French theater
Me at 46: Not unlike that of Proust at 13. I don’t know if the French theater makes it to my list though I do enjoy a good show. Mostly, the idea of being surrounded by friends, family, music, the arts in general and nature are all quite appealing but add to that, some semblance of peace and harmony and now we are talking.

 To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
Proust at 13: To a life deprived of the works of genius
Me at 46: I am far to materialistic and while I sometimes hate myself for it, I just am.

 Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
Proust at 13: Those of romance and poetry, those who are the expression of an ideal rather than an imitation of the real
Me at 46: This may be really silly but Lindsay Boxer is a fictional character that I’ve always labeled as heroic. Not only are her actions pure and selfless in most cases but she’s a strong woman who does not surrender her femininity or her own values and identity to be who she is and she is aware of her own faults and isn’t afraid to confront them.

 Who are your favorite characters in history?
Proust at 13: A mixture of Socrates, Pericles, Mahomet, Pliny the Younger and Augustin Thierry
Me at 46: I am quite the fan of Benjamin Franklin, such an interesting character.

 Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
Proust at 13: A woman of genius leading an ordinary life
Me at 46:  My friend Tori is as much a hero as anyone I’ve ever known.

 Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
Proust at 13: Those who are more than women without ceasing to be womanly; everything that is tender, poetic, pure and in every way beautiful
Me at 46: I didn’t read this ahead to see that the questionnaire distinguished between a hero and a heroine by gender. I think heroes are heroes regardless of gender so see my answer 3 questions above this one.

Your favorite painter?
Proust at 13: Meissonier
Me at 46: I haven’t studied art enough to state a favorite painter. There are a couple of modern artists whose work I’ve spent a bit more time looking at and sifting through my head and therefore, have had an impact: one is Peter Max, the other is the controversial  Mark Kostabi and to a more minor point, Jackson Pollock. However, more than ability as a painter, I am more drawn into the form of expressionism and storytelling these artists, who happen to use paint as their storytelling medium, utilize.

 Your favorite musician?
Proust at 13: Mozart
Me at 46: Music is such a large part of how I choose to live in this world that it’s a tough question to answer in such broad strokes. However, Bruce Springsteen as a musical artist has had significant impact on me.

The quality you most admire in a man?
Proust at 13: Intelligence, moral sense
Me at 46: I see again they distinguish by gender. I think from a moral and/or civil perspective, the qualities of any person should be similar. In distinguishing the things that make men and woman different, I don’t know that I can adequately respond to this – I admire strength, confidence, wisdom, but mostly just a  good person who treats themselves and others with dignity and respect.

 The quality you most admire in a woman?
Proust at 13: Gentleness, naturalness, intelligence
Me at 46: See previous question.

 Your favorite virtue?
Proust at 13: All virtues that are not limited to a sect: the universal virtues
Me at 46: Friendliness, humbleness and humor are up there (full disclosure: I googled “List of Virtues” to answer this)

 Your favorite occupation?
Proust at 13: Reading, dreaming, and writing verse
Me at 46: I’m not certain that the word “occupation” in the 19th century was as closely associated with “job” as it is today. Therefore, I am going to translate the word “occupation’ as meaning, “an activity on which time is spent (Encarta Dictionary).” Of the things I spend time doing, the one that fulfills to gratification physically, mentally, and spiritually are the activities in which I am closest with nature. Now I am no Euell Gibbons, but I love to be on the water (as opposed to being in the water) and one of my favorite places it Walden Pond – just a simple hike through the woods is inspiring and renewing.

 Who would you have liked to be?
Proust at 13: Since the question does not arise, I prefer not to answer it. All the same, I should very much have liked to be Pliny the Younger.
Me at 46: I’m not sure I understand what is being asked nor could I even figure out how to answer this question from any angle. I think the only rational response I can offer is “the best me I can be.”

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