June 2011

Jesse Ball

[Novelist, Poet]

“Confusion to the enemy!”
Attitudes that flatter both men and women:
Curious but bleak
Unfriendly yet kind

The self-interview is the most horribly conscious of conscious events. Any question would appear to be asked because of a calculation involving the glory gained by being able to give its particular answer. One can get no credit thereby. So—I can’t ask the questions, that’s clear.

Then, what? To find various lists of questions, and answer them rapidly and then send the whole thing off. The three I found:

(1) The Proust Questionnaire
(2) Gamblers Anonymous: Twenty Questions
(3) English as a Second Language Quiz

Good luck,
Jesse Ball


(1) What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

To fear madness (one’s own) and notice evidence of it.

(2) Where would you like to live?


(3) What is your idea of earthly happiness?

A sense that at dusk the celebration will start; it is almost dusk and I have a short way still to walk before I reach the house.

(4) To what faults do you feel most indulgent?

Faults of ambitious imagination.

(5) Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?

K., Ulysses, the Vivian Girls, Paul Atreides.

(6) Who are your favorite characters in history?

Sertorius, Marco Polo, Manfred von Richthofen, Tasha Tudor, Paul Morphy, Mikhail Tal, Jim Corbett, Marquis d’Hervey de Saint Denys, Johnny Appleseed.

(7) Who are your favorite heroines in real life?

Nora, a cat. She fought a raccoon outside our house. She forced it into a hole and she kept pushing it back in and hissing at it. The raccoon didn’t know that such a thing was possible. It kept trying to figure out what was happening, but the situation was too much for it. Meanwhile, Nora knew just how to act. Also Noella Marcellino: I read an article about her in the newspaper once. And Judit Polgár is pretty great.

(8) Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?


(9) Your favorite musician?

John Fahey, Jordi Savall, Martin Carthy, Elizabeth Cotten, Paul O’Dette, Django Reinhardt, Mississippi John Hurt.

(10) The quality you most admire in a man?

Curiosity, with some bleakness.

(11) The quality you most admire in a woman?

No different.

(12) Your favorite virtue?

Disinterested kindness.

(13) Your favorite occupation?

Noticing things, reminding myself to notice things.

(14) Who would you have liked to be?

I read in Zinn that indentured servants who ran away to the Native American tribes or were captured didn’t want to come back; they liked it there. Maybe that, then?

(15) What do you most value in your friends?

That we know how to behave with one another.

(16) What is your principal defect?

My obsession with games.

(17) What is your favorite occupation?

Winning games.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Jesse Ball was a poet and novelist of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. His work is internationally known and has been both praised and censured. This year, two new works appear: The Curfew (Vintage) and The Village on Horseback (Milkweed Editions).

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