Given Question Mark’s status and generally elusive nature, I did not, in any way, expect to be granted an interview. I would describe the email I sent to Question Mark as more of a Hail-Mary pass than a request. To my surprise Question Mark agreed to meet me. Although I am not at liberty to disclose the location of our interview, I can say it provided me with the best view of the city I’ve ever seen. Upon arrival I was shown to a large room, furnished only with floor to ceiling windows, long white curtains which seemed billow even though there wasn’t any breeze and what seemed like an endless collection of pillows. I joined Question Mark who, even at their advanced age, seemed to have no issue sitting on the floor. Honestly, I kinda felt like I was in a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie. The following interview, which I reproduce unedited, did little to change that impression.
Open Book: How was your day?
Question Mark: How many ways are there to answer that question?
OB: Most punctuation marks simply answer that with ‘good.’
QM: A selection, perhaps? A sample? Just a few of the ways your question could be answers? It was good and it was bad. There were moments when I felt as if angels were kissing my cheek, and other’s when I felt as if my spirit was cascading to a depth from which it would never recover. So today was like every other day: like every day that everyone who remains alive is living.
QM: Does my detail surprise you?
OB: Kinda. It’s one of those questions you ask not expecting to get a real answer to.
QM: So it’s like all questions then?
OB: Um …
QM: Have you ever met an answer?
OB: Are you … Are you asking … Like in the interview format?
QM: In any format! In any place, anywhere: tell me — have you met an answer?
QM: And that answer, when you met them, what did they provide you with?
OB: I didn’t anticipate this interview becoming so mystical…
QM: More questions! All answers are merely questions wearing a costume, a disguise. Answers are but questions waiting to shed their skin, to reveal themselves as questions.
OB: Okay. But, I mean — for the record, there are definite answers out there.
QM: Such as?
OB: What is my name?
QM: In English? Andrew Kaufman. Your first name, in Latin it would translate roughly to Manly. You’re second, in German, to Merchant. Are you Andrew Kaufman or Manly Merchant? Now we can look at nicknames, in high school, at summer camp, at the office. More over, do you have children? A spouse? What do they call you? Do you want me to continue?
OB: Maybe we could talk about your origin?
QM: Oh … so many answers to that question!
OB: True. But I thought maybe you could clear up which one was …
QM: Some say I come from ancient Egypt, my shape mimicking the tails of the cats they worshiped.
OB: Yes. Could you confirm or deny…
QM: Others suggest that, as the Greek armies spread Latin around Europe, it was readers, and not authors who began inserted me into texts.
OB: Again, a theory that is well know. Is that in fact why I’d love you to come down with a definite yes or no…
QM: There is another story that I came from ‘qvaestio’ in Latin, ‘question’ in English. This story says that I was abbreviated in the Middle Ages to ‘qo’ and that eventually the o was written over the capital Q, forming the first traces of my present incarnation.
OB: Those are the major theories. Agreed. But which one is true?
QM: Does a story have to be true to be true?
OB: You can’t really member, can you?
QM: My friend, have you ever met an answer as beautiful as the question it destroys?
OB: All the time!
QM: Try not to be so literal. It is for no small reason that I am one of the oldest, most revered punctuation marks the world has ever known. It was a pleasure to meet you. But I have to meet with someone else.
QM: Again, an answer becomes a question...
QM: Right now.
QM: It’s across town. That’s why I must be going. I’m afraid our time has run out. The interview is over.
Unsung Heroes of Literature is a series of interviews with the most under-appreciated or routinely overlooked aspects of the book. Up next - Interview with a Blurb (or at least they said they'd show up this time...)
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.