Allen Ginsberg’s Proust Questionnaire

Allen Ginsberg – Photograph by Michael Tighe

The Proust Questionnaire is a questionnaire named after the one famously responded to by Marcel Proust (he actually took the questionnaire twice (once in 1885-86, when he was only a teenager, and again in 1891-92, with a different set of answers). Modern (twentieth-century evocations have included those by French tv host, Bernard Pivot, and, more recently, American tv presenter, James Lipton, and, as a high-point in the register of popular culture, for many years now, as a regular feature in the magazine, Vanity Fair.
It’s from the latter (the March 1994 issue) that the following has been taken. This text also appeared in  Vanity Fair’s Proust Questionnaire – 101 Luminaries Ponder Love, Death, Happiness and the Meaning of Life  (2009)

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

AG: Excellent health. no flu, no leprosy.

What is your most marked characteristic?

AG: Incriminating eloquence.

What is your greatest extravagance?

AG: Poetry office with fax, Xerox and poetry archive

What is your favorite occupation?

AG: Writing poems in a bedside notebook.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

AG: Insanity, drug-induced or natural.

What is your greatest regret?

AG: I didn’t accept a friend’s invitation to get in bed naked in 1944

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

AG: Continuous cowardice

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

AG: Renew my body, set at 17.

Which living person  do you most despise?

AG: New York City’s Cardinal O’Connor, for his gay hypocrisy, considering that his powerful predecessor Cardinal Spellman was notoriously gay.

On what occasion do you lie?

AG: To protect friends from my public life in poetry. Candor for oneself doesn’t require snitching on others

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

AG: Virginity and/or cynicism and/or machismo

What do you regard as the lowest depths of misery?

AG: Co-dependency with madman or – woman

What is the quality you most like in a man?

AG: Intelligent beauty.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

AG: Sympathetic self-reliability.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

AG: Prince Myshkin in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot

Who are your heroes in real life?

AG: William Seward Burroughs, Tibetan lama Nawang Gelek Rinpoche, sensei Philip Whalen, Bob Dylan

What is your favorite journey?

AG: To Benares, the “oldest continually inhabited city in the world”

Where would you like to live?

AG: Sometimes Paris, sometimes London, sometimes Benares, sometimes San Francisco, sometimes New York.

How would you like to die?

AG: In Buddhist community peacefully, aged 100, in presence of a helpful lama

What is your motto?

AG: “First thought, best thought”

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

AG: The Eiffel Tower

What is it that you most dislike?

AG: Theopolitical nationalist “family values” TV hypocrites and their corresponding heads of state

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

AG: “Situation”, “sitting practice of meditation” and “Beat Generation”


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