An Interview with Jesse Ball

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

An Interview with Jesse Ball

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

An Interview with Jesse Ball

Jesse Ball
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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.

(18) What is your dream of happiness?

The noise of breakfast being prepared in the next room.

(19) What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?

To be one of those people who is sure of things.

(20) What would you like to be?

A captured general.

(21) In what country would you like to live?

A place where I am extremely lucky, and no one notices.

(22) What is your favorite color?


(23) What is your favorite flower?

The cornflower.

(24) What is your favorite bird?

The crow.

(25) Who are your favorite prose writers?

Z. Herbert, Bachelard, Kafka, Walser, Proust, Plutarch, Borges, Bernhard, Kharms.

(26) Who are your favorite poets?

Whitman, Rilke, Crane, Basho ̄.

(27) Who are your favorite painters?

Brueghel, Velázquez, Manet, Wyeth, Whistler, Corot.

(28) Who are your heroes in real life?

Unfriendly, kind people.

(29) What are your favorite names?

I like the names of fighters—they are full of bravado and failure.

(30) What is it you most dislike?

Finding false allies.

(31) What historical figures do you most despise?

Modern tyrants. The long-ago ones I tend to like.

(32) What event in military history do you most admire?

As told in History of the Conquest of Mexico—Cortés’s campaign.

(33) What reform do you most admire?

I heard about a poet dying and all the women in Moscow wearing a black garter to honor him. Is that a reform? Even if it was only for a day, and didn’t happen at all?

(34) What natural gift would you most like to possess?

Changing shape.

(35) How would you like to die?

Looking out across a field.

(36) What is your present state of mind?


(37) What is your motto?

“Confusion to the enemy!”


(1) Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?


(2) Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?


(3) Did gambling affect your reputation?

Yes, positively.

(4) Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?

Yes, but not about the gambling.

(5) Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?

Yes, successfully.

(6) Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?

Just the opposite!

(7) After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?


(8) After a win, did you have a strong urge to return and win more?

I try to lose it back, if I can.

(9) Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?

Well, I bring the amount I plan to lose, so yes.

(10) Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?

Once, I didn’t have money, so a man in a really nice suit gave me twenty dollars. Then I won twenty dollars with that twenty dollars, and I tried to give it back to him, but he didn’t want it back.

(11) Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?

I have put things up against money in a wager. Does that count?

(12) Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” fornormal expenditures?

I keep it separate. The gambling money is all two-dollar bills.

(13) Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?

My wife and daughter are very capable. Their welfare is assured, regardless of whether I wager on chess or not.

(14) Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?

Recently I was driven to a truck stop outside Chicago to gamble on chess. I didn’t have a way to leave, so I was there for about nine hours gambling and playing speed chess.

(15) Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom, or loneliness?

Yes. Isn’t that a rationale for any human activity?

(16) Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?

Well, gambling itself is often illegal, so then gambling to make more money to gamble more would be illegal, so yes.

(17) Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?

I have difficulty sleeping anyway. It is difficult to judge the relationship between any two such difficulties that might arise separately but have a simultaneous effect. Have I dreamed about playing chess for money? Not that I recall.

(18) Do arguments, disappointments, or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?


(19) Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?

I found money once and used it to buy scratch tickets.

(20) Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

Not as a result of gambling. My gambling tends to make me feel capable.


(1) Can you swim?

Yes. I have an ambition to swim the English Channel. I am afraid that it is not going to happen, but it is too early to say. Readers who may have done so should write to me with encouragement. Those who have not done so should not encourage me to do so.

(2) Did he go to work or to school?
He works at the school. He’s the knife sharpener in the kitchen.

(3) Has your class finished?

Soon the semester will be over at SAIC. This time it is a class called Brothers Grimm Variations, in which everyone in the class writes a variation on the same tale each week. We read them in order, and the students interrogate each other.

(4) Where is my pen?

That man over there took it while you were answering the telephone. He is getting away!

(5) Whom did you visit?

I visited the musician Jesse Stiles in DeRuyter. We played croquet. He is also a member of the Society for the Abolition of Mechanized Flight.

(6) Shall we go to your place or mine?

No, thank you.
(7) When will Lucy arrive?

When she is finished powdering her nose.

(8) Who called here so late?

It was my childhood friend Damon, an NYPD officer; he works during the nighttime, and often calls late.

(9) Do you want to watch a movie?

I want to watch three movies, one after another. First, The Most Dangerous Game. Then, Samurai Rebellion. Then, Day of Wrath.

(10) Have you done the laundry?

I have to have privacy in order to do the laundry, because I own only the one set of clothes that I’m wearing.

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