Raymond Federman

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Federman, Raymond

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Federman, Raymond 1928–

Federman, a French-born novelist, critic, poet, translator, and editor, has lived in the United States since the 1950s. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed.)

Double or Nothing is a bold experiment in comic fiction; it suffers from the fact that a novel as it first bounces through a writer's brain, then goes through its first drafts, is not intrinsically interesting to a reader—unless the novel in question be War and Peace. For the eye simply to decipher Double or Nothing's typographical eccentricities is a chore whose accomplishment should richly reward the reader. But the writer Mr. Federman creates has not yet approached the point of polishing his novel for the reader's delight. His thoughts—and the Frenchman's thoughts—are too thin and too few to withstand the intense scrutiny asked of us. We cannot help wishing that the writer had finished his book before publishing it. (p. 86)

Dorothy Mintzlaff Kennedy, in Michigan Quarterly Review (copyright © The University of Michigan, 1974), Winter, 1974.

I'll tell you about this guy, Federman. Maybe you've run across the type: you know, The Professional Frenchman, with an incredible accent, suave with precisely the correct mixture of appealing boyishness, poised posed impetuous spontaneous—women love it! (p. 5)

Okay. This guy (Federman) has written, more or less, one book of criticism (average, unexceptional), one bibliography (profitable, I'm told), three novels (four, if you count the questionable translation of the second, done by another guy, R. Federman, accent aigu, no connection), not to mention the improbable collection of letters (what gaul) and various poems stories essays unnameables. That much is established, certainly. But for reasons as yet unclear unspecified uncertain, I choose to play with review rewrite restate play with the novels (mainly)—after all, this is my game, I make up the rules, change them to suit my purposes (as yet unclear unspecified uncertain)—take it or leave it. (pp. 5-6)

Frenchy … ends up teaching in large university in new york state condemned to stringing out the story of his life endlessly in various novels that never quite catch up to his encounter with their conception as expected (0-0-0-0)….

Sounds something like a QUEST of some sort, doesn't it? In search of The American Dream, very Horatio Algerian. Lies, lies, I assure you. Actually the three/four novels form one endless ESCAPE—a flight detour digression evasion dodge. From what? This and that; the past, present, future; most of all: from language, writing, l'ecriture. It's obvious. Just to CONfuse us, Federman nearly admits as much [in Double or Nothing, p. 146 1/2]. (p. 7)

The THEORY of digressions: Federman echoes Tristram Shandy, although he (Federman) denies that he's ever read him (Tristram)…. The theory suggests the paradoxical realization that any narrative can be progressively displaced deformed decentered (the fuild space between: difference/differance: AU/TO/BI/O/GRA/PHY) to increase the improbable unlikeliness that the narrator will ever be overtaken trapped engulfed by the tidal events of his narration—which is to say obviously that should the speaker ever coincide precisely with his speaking the wordmaker with his words the writing with the written the result should be DEATH (X-X-X-X)—so that clearly the only possible strategy the BEST BET is to cancel everything spontaneously instantaneously immediately to prevent forestall annul any final cancellation—with the result evidently that everything becomes parenthetical so to speak (((((((tres obscure)))))) which is to say incidental inconclusive incomplete so that no climax is called for leaving (       ) for THE NEXT TIME redeemed. (p. 8)

In [the] first novel [Double or Nothing] Federman juggles four 'voices': first, a rather stubborn and determined middle-aged man who decides to record word for word the story of another (second ) man, rather paranoid and confused, who decides to...

(The entire section is 1,006 words.)