The Questionnaire: Mike Davis

By The Questionnaire, Mike DavisMarch 29, 2012

How do you get up in the morning?

With regret.


Do you succumb to nostalgia? 

No, I live nostalgia. 


Do you write long and cut, or short and backfill?

More like stone masonry, but you can never collect too many rocks.


How do you feel about your Wikipedia entry?

I just read it. Yuck. Fuck 'em all. 


Lunch with any three people who ever lived; who do you invite?

Eddie Cantor, Richard Pryor, and my mom. It would be the funniest lunch in history. 


Best piece of advice you ever received?

Don't bring your troubles to work. 


Disciplined or hot dog?

I don't talk about my sex life.


Have you ever been defeated by a genre?

Yes, poetry.


Which classic author would you like to see kicked out of the pantheon?

I'm a Communist, so I'd prefer to burn the entire pantheon. 


Are you okay with blood?

Only menstrual.


Who is your imagined audience? Does it at all coincide with the real one?

I write for two people: my older daughter Roisin (she's my conscience) and my best friend and co-conspirator, Mike Sprinker (he's dead but I still talk to him every day). Just for them. 


What country would you want to be exiled in?

Anywhere but North Korea and England (where I was an exile for seven years).


What's your favorite negative emotion?

Hatred of privilege. 


Is your study neat, or, like John Muir's, is your desk and floor covered in "lateral, medial, and terminal moraines"?

I write in an anarchist den with two eight-year-old kids. 


What is your go-to shoe?

I'm so shabby that a student once offered me a handout. But in my closet I keep a pair of Johnston & Murphys and another of Ducker and Son, handmade in Oxford. On the other hand, I may have misunderstood the question. 


What's your poison?

Bacardi limon and fresh tangerine juice. 


What's your problem?

Defining what my problem is.


Title of the book you're probably never going to write, but would kind of like to get around to?

Setting the Night on Fire: L.A. in the 1960s.


What are you so afraid of?



How long can you go without putting paw to keyboard?

Forever. Writing is too painful. Like Dashiel Hammet, I'd prefer to make martinis for Lillian Hellman. 


Do you require a high thread count?

I'm currently unraveled. 


Who reads you first?

Who knows? Certainly not my editors. 


Sexy and dangerous, or brilliant and kind?

My wife is all of the above.


What character or story haunts you?

Jim Nolan, the doomed labor organizer in Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle, and Aunt Sylvie in Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping. 


Does plot matter?

Not in any Euclidean sense. The tale is everything. After all, who cares who killed the chauffeur in The Big Sleep?


Does age matter? 

Are you kidding? All this suffering just to acquire wisdom that is totally out of date - unfair!


Do you prefer to write standing, or must you lie prone in a field of dandelions with a steno pad and a good pen? Or what?

Utopia was our porch in Papa'aloa, Hawaii. To write I need trade winds and laughing children. 


Who is the author you'd most like to impersonate online?

I'm off-line - no Facebook, no website, no personal disclosure - and I intend to keep things that way. In séance, however, I'd love to have Bobbie Burns or Walt Whitman move my pen. 


Is there a literary community?

Only in the same sense that piranhas swim in schools. 


What's the question or questions we should have asked, had we known?

1. Q: The ethics of writing about others. A: If they're not famous and still living: always a betrayal. Don't go there. 2. Q: Advice to young writers. A. Verbs



LARB Contributors

The Questionnaire is, as her name suggests, a multifarious and mysterious interlocutor. Chameleon-like, her questions change their color as they approach each new interviewee.

Mike Davis was one of the leading intellectuals of his era and a contributing editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books. His works include City of Quartz (1990), a seminal study of Los Angeles’s economic and racial fault lines, Planet of Slums (2005), In Praise of Barbarians (2007), and Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties (2020), co-written with Jon Wiener.


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