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Taking the Vanity Fair Proust Questionnaire

I have decided to provide answers to the questions from Vanity Fair‘s Proust Questionnaire to see what they reveal. I haven’t prepared or done much thinking, so this is somewhat off the cuff. But then, that’s the point- to reveal one’s ‘true nature’ (which is a tad ominous).

Here goes.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Surrounded by friends (or enemies) with plenty of drink available and a cigarette in my hand while having robust and enlightening conversation. And seeing my name in print. An ideal future would be economic security which would allow me to spend time reading, writing, talking, and travelling.

2. What is your greatest fear?

Loneliness, boredom, and failure.

3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Insecurity and awkwardness.

4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Their being unaware of their ignorance and stupidity (I pride myself on being fully aware of my own).

5. Which living person do you most admire?

Now this is impossible to answer. At least, it’s impossible to give just one answer. So here are three: Richard Dawkins for his scientific and literary excellence, Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her bravery, courage, and steadfastness in the face of ignorant naysayers and theocratic murderers, and Salman Rushdie for the same reason as Hirsi Ali, as well as for being one of the greatest and most learned writers in the English language.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?

Books! I spend far too much money on them, even though I have plenty languishing unread on my bookshelves. And cigarettes, which are ridiculously expensive in the UK these days. (Books and cigarettes- not books vs. cigarettes. Sorry Orwell.)

7. What is your current state of mind?

On a personal level- often bored, waiting to go back to university, but also excited at some recent writing success I’m having. Concerning the state of the world- bored and terrified.

8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Faith, to steal from Christopher Hitchens (to echo Philip Pullman on Russell T Davies, I only steal from the best).

9. On what occasion do you lie?

When it seems the easier option, in certain social situations for example. But I’d like to think I try not to.

10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?

Gosh, everything. I think I have a handsome face sometimes, if the mirror is angled correctly and the lights are dim. I’ve been told I have nice teeth.

11. Which living person do you most despise?

Where to start? Again, three: Donald Trump for bringing shame on the great American Republic, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi who will hopefully not be living for too much longer, and Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Pope, for making liberal noises but being as crusty and reactionary as his predecessor, and for doing nothing serious about the child abuse his church flagrantly commits and gets away with.

12. What is the quality you most like in a man?

Intelligence, gregariousness, humour, and having a beard.

13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Same as above, minus the beard.

14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

‘As it happens’, ‘incidentally’, and probably others I’m blind to.

15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?

Fags, booze, books, and friends (in no particular order).

16. When and where were you happiest?

Whenever I was in the beautiful town of St Andrews with my late father.

17. Which talent would you most like to have?

I’d like to be more motivated- people with a great work ethic are people I admire and envy. Skill at public speaking too.

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

Weigh less and be more aware in social situations. Sorry for anyone I’ve annoyed in those situations. You are legion.

19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Getting a place at the University of Edinburgh. And being published in some fantastic outlets, like The Broad and Areo Magazine.

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

Isn’t one life enough? With a gun to my head I’d choose to come back as a better version of myself.

21. Where would you most like to live?

I’d love to live in several places. A spacious apartment in the middle of Edinburgh would be my primary abode, and I’d have apartments or houses in France and America too.

22. What is your most treasured possession?

I still have my Dad’s archaic little mobile flip-phone which is like a little totem for me I suppose. I also treasure my first edition of Evelyn Waugh’s Put Out More Flags.

23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Being caught in the pits of boredom, depression, and mental illness, unable to do anything interesting or valuable for myself or others.

24. What is your favorite occupation?

Reading, writing, talking, smoking, and drinking.

25. What is your most marked characteristic?

Cheerfulness and politeness.

26. What do you most value in your friends?

Loyalty, integrity, humour, and intelligence.

27. Who are your favorite writers?

Again, where to start? This seems an open-ended question so the problem is a reversal. I’ll limit myself to five then: Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Mary Renault, Thomas Paine, and Evelyn Waugh.

28. Who is your hero of fiction?

The Doctor from Doctor Who.

29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

None. But two of the ones who interest me most are Napoleon Bonaparte and Thomas Paine.

30. Who are your heroes in real life?

The whole ex- and reformist-Muslim community, who face danger from Islamic hardliners and disgusting slander and betrayal from liberals and leftists for engaging in the most important task of our generation: spreading secularism and liberalism in defiance of theocracy and religious conservatism.

31. What are your favorite names?

Three male: Alexander, Richard, and James.

Three female: Clarissa, Alexandra, and Elizabeth.

32. What is it that you most dislike?

Religion, reactionaries, and racism.

33. What is your greatest regret?

Not telling my Dad how much I loved him enough, and not spending enough time with him.

34. How would you like to die?


35. What is your motto?

I don’t particularly have one but the words of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor in Doctor Who as he prepares to regenerate strike me as particularly concise and good: “Never be cruel. Never be cowardly. Remember, hate is always foolish and love is always wise. Always try to be nice and never fail to be kind. Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.”

The part in bold is especially good, paraphrasing as it does Bertrand Russell: “I should say, love is wise; hatred is foolish.” The full quote is below (and there is much more wisdom and intelligence to be found in the interview from which it comes)- it seems good advice for an ethical and moral life, words we would do well to heed today, and appropriate to sign off with:

I should say, love is wise; hatred is foolish. In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way. But if we are to live together, and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.


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