How to Answer a Question
The following is an excerpt from an essay in the fiftieth-anniversary issue of The Paris Review (in stores now!) in which Cynthia Ozick reflects on the interview she did with the magazine years ago.
Long ago, in college, I came upon a paperback of Susan K. Langer's Philosophy in a New Key. It opened, I recall, with a discussion of the meaning of a question. A question, Langer maintained, is that which portends its own answer. If I ask you something about money, money will turn up in your answer. If I ask you something about religion, religion will turn up in your answer. The premise of any inquiry induces, and subsumes, its like.
Now this may not seem terribly esoteric, and surely Langer went on to resolve it in the complexity of her thesis -- but then, at seventeen, I found it dazzling. There was a lesson in it. It has taken me decades to learn it. The lesson is that one must not be submissive to every question, or one will be taken far, far from the measure of one's own defining imperative. And the root of submissiveness is politeness. The truth is that I no longer wish to be polite -- a truth I have come to belatedly -- and if asked certain questions today, I would not be so accommodating: there is always a lie in accommodation.