(Image used by permission of J.K. Potter)
Readers will have heard of the Proust Questionnaire, a Belle Époque social entertainment not penned by the great literary rememberer, but made famous by his replies, which are prized for their content, his phrasing, and what they reveal about the era. Something of the budding artist’s character emerges as well, notably in the differences between the answers Proust gave at ages 13 and 20. Ever since French book show host Bernard Pivot first employed it on his program Apostrophes, it has been taken up by James Lipton and the back pages of L’Express and Vanity Fair.
Writer, critic, editor, and folklorist Éric Poindron has produced what might be construed as a Weird reply, the Étrange Questionnaire. Poindron hosts several regional radio programs in Champagne, runs a writing workshop at the University of Reims, and perhaps most pertinently, curates his own personal cabinet of curiosities, which can be visited by appointment. Fittingly, then, his questionnaire was conceived neither as a parlor game nor a personality quiz, but a series of writing prompts — in his words, “open-ended questions to feed the fictional and fantastical… a kind of exquisite corpse.” Does the alimentary imagery intimate zombies?
Poindron’s rules are few and simple: there are sixty questions (twice as many as most versions of the Proust Questionnaire). Spend no more than a minute on each, and an hour in total. However, don’t keep checking your watch: “let writing define time.”
Poindron’s archive of answers amuses and beguiles, though the images alone — for those who don’t read French — are worth checking out. Among those questioned are Belgian surrealist collagist André Stas; Anne-Sylvie Homassel, whose fiction has appeared in various volumes of Tartarus Press’ Strange Tales, and whose translations range from Machen and Dunsany to Sax Rohmer and Kris Saknussemm; and Claro, with whom Brian Evenson shares a symbiotic translation relationship, each having translated the other’s work (Claro runs Lot 49, an imprint of American fiction at Éditions Le Cherche Midi).
Finally, a note on translation: étrange in the context of the fantastic is generally translated as strange or bizarre, though the domain of its meaning extends to encompass uncanny. Elsewhere on this site, China Miéville has stressed the distinction between the Weird’s “radical unremembered alterity” and hauntology’s “radicalised uncanny”. Here the failure of like concepts to map exactly between languages will in no way surprise the author of Embassytown. Épouvante, while used to describe early Weird, has been largely replaced by the more Anglophone horreur, which borrows much of its meaning from its cognate. Readers well-versed in the Weird will likely note that Poindron’s Questionnaire, with its Gothic thematics and temporal obsession, errs on the side of the uncanny; it is in the name of this site’s non-denominational embrace that I permit myself a slight deformation in translation toward Weirdness. Perhaps this questionnaire will do what it was meant to: prompt the writing of weird tales or ever weirder questionnaires…
Éric Poindron’s Étrange (*) Questionnaire
(*) Bizarre, extraordinary, singular, surprising. Le Robert Dictionary
1 – Write the first sentence of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.
2 – Without looking at your watch: what time is it?
3 – Look at your watch. What time is it?
4 – How do you explain this — or these — discrepancy(ies) in time?
5 – Do you believe in meteorological predictions?
6 – Do you believe in astrological predictions?
7 – Do you gaze at the sky and stars by night?
8 – What do you think of the sky and stars by night?
9 – What were you looking at before starting this questionnaire?
10 – What do cathedrals, churches, mosques, shrines, synagogues, and other religious monuments inspire in you?
11 – What would you have “seen” had you been blind?
12 – What would you want to see if you were blind?
13 – Are you afraid?
14 – What of?
15 – What is the last weird film you’ve seen?
16 – Whom are you afraid of?
17 – Have you ever been lost?
18 – Do you believe in ghosts?
19 – What is a ghost?
20 – At this very moment, what sound(s) can you hear, apart from the computer?
21 – What is the most terrifying sound you’ve ever heard – for example, “the night was like the cry of a wolf”?
22 – Have you done something weird today or in the last few days?
23 – Have you ever been to confession?
24 – You’re at confession, so confess the unspeakable.
25 –Without cheating: what is a “cabinet of curiosities”?
26 –Do you believe in redemption?
27 – Have you dreamed tonight?
28 – Do you remember your dreams?
29 – What was your last dream?
30 – What does fog make you think of?
31 – Do you believe in animals that don’t exist?
32 – What do you see on the walls of the room where you are?
33 – If you became a magician, what would be the first thing you’d do?
34 – What is a madman?
35 – Are you mad?
36 – Do you believe in the existence of secret societies?
37 – What was the last weird book you read?
38 – Would you like to live in a castle?
39 – Have you seen something weird today?
40 – What is the weirdest film you’ve ever seen?
41 – Would you like to live in an abandoned train station?
42 – Can you see the future?
43 – Have you considered living abroad?
44 – Where?
45 – Why?
46 – What is the weirdest film you’ve ever owned?
47 – Would you liked to have lived in a vicarage?
48 – What is the weirdest book you’ve ever read?
49 – Which do you like better, globes or hourglasses?
50 – Which do you like better, antique magnifying glasses or bladed weapons?
51 – What, in all likelihood, lies in the depths of Loch Ness?
52 – Do you like taxidermied animals?
53 – Do you like walking in the rain?
54 – What goes on in tunnels?
55 – What do you look at when you look away from this questionnaire?
56 – What does this famous line inspire in you: “And when he had crossed the bridge, the phantoms came to meet him.”?
57 – Without cheating: where is that famous line from?
58 – Do you like walking in graveyards or the woods by night?
58 – Write the last line of a novel, short story, or book of the weird yet to be written.
59 – Without looking at your watch: what time is it?
60 – Look at your watch. What time is it?