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(In/Un)troducing Raymond Federman

If you have not encountered the work of the recently departed Raymond Federman (1928-2009) through his countless novels, poems, short pieces, surfictions, critifictions, and literary provocations, you haven’t really read, or unread, as the case may be.

First step: find a copy of Double of Nothing: a real fictitious discourse (1971)—Federman’s debut. It’s a furious meta-fictional / typographical adventure. It’s cerebral, but with heart. Spend two minutes browsing through the text on Google books; the noodle novel will blow your mind.

From there, pick up any of Federman’s numerous texts, an entire corpus un/writing the autobiography of a well-known story: Federman, as a child, pushed into a closet by his mother as collaborationist French police take his parents and two sisters for eventual transport to Auschwitz. The young boy works in a southern French farm, in hiding, during the rest of the war and eventually makes his way to America, to the army, to a Ph.D, to a friendly relationship with his great mentor Samuel Beckett, and, over a series of books—never from a mainstream press—through the gulf of memory and un/telleable stories of loss and of laughter, always laughter.

The last decade has seen three great publishers publish Federman’s last works:

1) FC2: Aunt Rachel’s Fur (2001) and Return to Manure (2007).

2) BlazeVox: The Carcasses: A Fable (2009).

3) Starcherone: The Voice in the Closet (2001), My Body in Nine Parts (2005), The Twilight of the Bums (w/George Chambers, illustrations by T. Motley) [2008] and soon…

SHHH: The Story of a Childhood

With Federman’s death from cancer in late 2009, this last novel—set for May 2010 release—promises to be his last new English work. The novel appeared as Chut in French (Leo Scheer, 2008), yet like Beckett, Federman always “transacted” rather than translated his novels into the other language.

I come into this story as a late-in-life friend of Federman, and as guest editor for Starcherone on the English SHHH. As such, I will write more about the editorial process and my own thoughts on this book and my friend—now changed tense—in the coming months.

For now, one anecdote—Federman told me over email—and others, of course, as he endless recycled everything–when he was in the midst of his cancer:

my charming lady heart doctor informed them that I am a very famous writer and that I must absolutely be saved so I can continue to be famous

you be amazed how these doctors looked me up on google

federman on google is impressive

in person he’s rather pale these days

Pick up SHHH, soon, and you’ll find, in contrast, a man whose work—full of the same laugh that motivates his comment above—remains anything but pale.

10 thoughts on “(In/Un)troducing Raymond Federman

  1. Great post David. I would also add Here and Elsewhere: poetic cul-de-sac, published by Six Gallery Press and the Journal of Experimental Fiction.

  2. This is great, Davis, but I’d suggest one correction:

    “First step: find a [SWALLOW PRESS] copy of Double or Nothing: a real fictitious discourse (1971)—Federman’s debut [AND IGNORE FC2’S ATROCIOUS REPRINT].”

    I love FC2 (and used to work for them—I helped lay out AUNT RACHEL’S FUR), but they really dropped the ball when they reprinted that one. I imagine Federman approved the changes, but the end-result was a huge mistake, IMO. I’d rather eat nothing but noodles for a whole year than read it.

    The 1971 Swallow Press copies can still be found relatively cheaply I see through at Amazon right now for $15.

  3. Adam–good advice, and I have heard the same, but have never seen the Swallow copy. Time to pick one up.

    Greg–I’ll write about Raymond and Beckett down the road a bit.


  4. Hi, Davis!

    6GP and JEF did indeed co-publish Here and Elsewhere. 6GP at one time also published More Loose Shoes, but that is now coming out from Replenishment Books, Pat Lawrence’s imprint. The original Loose Shoes was only published in Germany, although it was in English, and was put out by Weidler Verlag in Berlin.

    Best wishes,

    Eckhard Gerdes

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