I’m midway through Christopher Hitchens’s memoir Hitch-22. It’s excellent so far, though I feel I cheated a bit by buying the audiobook. But come on, it’s unabridged and read by the author — how the shit am I going to resist that? Besides, if I tire of hearing Hitchens read his book to me, and I can’t wait for the release of the paperback edition, there have been plenty of excerpts released for free at various outlets online, including this snippet found at the website of Vanity Fair, where Hitchens answers his own version of the famed Proust Questionnaire.
It’s too bad he’s never been a guest on Inside the Actor’s Studio. I’d love to know what his favorite curse word is. Anyway, on with it:
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
(Just to give you an idea, Proust’s reply was “To be separated from Mama.”) I think that the lowest depth of misery ought to be distinguished from the highest pitch of anguish. In the lower depths come enforced idleness, sexual boredom, and/or impotence. At the highest pitch, the death of a friend or even the fear of the death of a child.
Where would you like to live?
In a state of conflict or a conflicted state.
What is your idea of earthly happiness?
To be vindicated in my own lifetime.
To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
To the ones that arise from urgent material needs.
Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
Dennis Barlow, Humbert Humbert, Horatio Hornblower, Jeeves, Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov, Funes the Memorious, Lucifer.
Who are your favorite characters in history?
Socrates, Spinoza, Thomas Paine, Rosa Luxemburg, Leon Trotsky.
Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
The women of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran who risk their lives and their beauty to defy the foulness of theocracy. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Azar Nafisi as their ideal feminine model.
Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
Maggie Tulliver, Dorothea, Becky Sharp, Candy, O, Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia.
Your favorite painter?
Goya, Otto Dix.
Your favorite musician?
J. S. Bach, Bob Dylan.
The quality you most admire in a man?
Courage moral and physical: “anima”—the ability to think like a woman. Also a sense of the absurd.
The quality you most admire in a woman?
Courage moral and physical: “anima”—the ability to visualize the mind and need of a man. Also a sense of the absurd.
Your favorite virtue?
An appreciation for irony.
Your least favorite virtue, or nominee for the most overrated one?
Faith. Closely followed—in view of the overall shortage of time—by patience.
Your proudest achievement?
Since I can’t claim the children as solely “mine,” being the dedicatee of books by Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis, and poems by James Fenton and Robert Conquest.
Your favorite occupation?
Travel in contested territory. Hard-working writing and reading when safely home, in the knowledge that an amusing friend is later coming to dinner.
Who would you have liked to be?
Prometheus, Oscar Wilde, Emile Zola.
Your most marked characteristic?
What do you most value in your friends?
Their continued existence.
What is your principal defect?
Becoming bored too easily.
What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
Loss of memory.
What would you like to be?
One who understood music and chess and mathematics, or one who had had the courage to bear arms.
What is your favorite color?
Blue. Sometimes red.
What is your favorite flower?
What is your favorite bird?
What word or expression do you most overuse?
Re-reading a collection of my stuff, I was rather startled to find that it was “perhaps.”
Who are your favorite poets?
Philip Larkin, Robert Conquest, W. H. Auden, James Fenton, W. B. Yeats, Chidiock Tichbourne, G. K. Chesterton, Wendy Cope.
What are your favorite names?
Alexander, Sophia, Antonia, Celeste, Liam, Hannah, Elizabeth, Wolfgang.
What is it you most dislike?
Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.
Which historical figures do you most despise?
Stanley Baldwin, the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Which contemporary figures do you most despise?
Henry Kissinger, Osama bin Laden, Josef Ratzinger.
Which events in military history do you most admire?
Thermopylae, Lepanto, the defense of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, the mutinies in the German Army in 1918 and the German General Staff in 1944, the Royal Navy’s Arctic convoys.
Which natural gift would you most like to possess?
The ability to master other languages (which would have hugely enhanced the scope of these answers).
How would you like to die?
Fully conscious, and either fighting or reciting (or fooling around).
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
The way in which it makes former admirers search for neutral words.
What is your motto?
“Allons travailler! ” (This more imperative version of “Get on with it!” is annexed from Emile Zola, though E. M. Forster somewhat overextended it by enjoining us to “get on with your own work, and behave as if you were immortal.”)
Perhaps you’d enjoy, as helpfully suggested at the bottom of the Vanity Fair page, answering the Proust Questionnaire yourself. Take a minute. It’s fun.