Monday, November 27, 2006

Vanity Fair's Proust Questionnaire

Like so many people who are fascinated by both words and people or personalities, I like lists and questionnaires. My favorite by far is the Vanity Fair adaptation of the infamous Proust Questionnaire.

You may or may not be familiar with the Proust Q, and the Vanity Fair version (which appears, with answers by a public figure, in the back of every issue of the magazine) is more involved and not really true to the originals, while drawing from them heavily. There is a common misconception that Proust wrote this questionnaire, while it actually consists of two questionnaires he answered as a youth. The original Proust Questionnaires can be viewed here. Clearly, one need not have read Proust in order for this questionnaire - which is essentially a party game that has become a pop culture phenomenon - to be relevant. It has also been noted that this questionnaire could be considered the predecessor of the modern phenomenon of the meme.

This questionnaire is not to be confused with the Pivot questionnaire made famous in the States by James Lipton's use of it on “Inside the Actors Studio”. The Pivot questionnaire was used by Bernard Pivot in his series "Bouillon de Culture" and can be found here.

I have attempted to compile the complete list of questions that Vanity Fair uses, based on the fact that each questionnaire they print varies a little - presumably they print only the questions a subject chose to answer or only the most interesting questions that a subject answered, thus explaining the question variations from subject to subject. This list is much longer than the original Proust Q. The order in which the questions are printed also varies a bit from time to time. I have tried to stick to the most consistent order based on a sampling of the printed questionnaires. Should someone find the official complete list, let me know. I haven’t been able to locate it but clearly it’s out there somewhere.

In light of the intermittent use of questions in VF, one would answer only those questions which they wish to. The principle is to answer each question without explanation and in whatever manner suits you - as your manner of response can tell as much about you as the answer itself. I think it makes an interesting exercise in self-examination. The more difficult task is this - to answer as honestly as possible with one’s self, not trying to adapt one’s answers to impress a potential reader.

I may eventually post my answers in my blogger profile, but I really think it is more interesting to think about one’s own answers as opposed to reading the answers of a stranger. I do, admittedly, very much enjoy the surprising things you learn by reading the answers of the famous and infamous persons Vanity Fair coaxes into responding.

Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire as best as I can ascertain:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

What is your greatest fear?

What historical figure do you most identify with?

Which living person do you most admire?

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

What trait do you most deplore in others?

What is your greatest extravagance?

On what occasion do you lie?

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

What is your favorite journey?

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Which living person do you most despise?

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

What is your greatest regret?

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

When and where were you happiest?

Which talent would you most like to have?

What is your current state of mind?

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?

If you could choose what or who to come back as, what would it be?

What do your consider your greatest achievement?

What is your most treasured possession?

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

What is your most marked characteristic?

What is the quality you most like in a man?

What is the quality you most admire in a woman?

What do you most value in your friends?

Who are your favourite writers?

Who is your favourite hero of fiction?

Who are your heroes in real life?

What are your favourite names?

What is it that you most dislike?

How would you like to die?

What is your motto?

For the curious, I later posted my response in this blog.
Some of them are quite difficult to answer, aren't they?

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