The bilingual author Raymond Federman, "inarguably one of the most significant vanguard writers of the second half of the twentieth century and first years of the twenty first,"1 was born in France and emigrated to the US in 1947, following the deaths of his mother, father, and two sisters at Auschwitz. His early experiences in the US included time as an American paratrooper in Korea, a saxaphone player in Detroit, and a dishwasher and student in New York, before he earned his PhD in Literature at UCLA in 1963 and became one of the first American critical promoters of the work of his esteemed friend Samuel Beckett. Federman taught literature, creative writing, and French at SUNY at Buffalo from 1964-1998, before retiring as the Melodia E. Jones Chair of French. His experiences have become the basis for over 20 books of fiction, poetry, and criticism, translated into 13 languages. Federman is the recipient of Guggenheim, Fulbright, National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Foundation for the Arts fellowships, as well as numerous foreign awards, and is considered an important theorist of contemporary fiction.

CN: I think when I write I'm always swimming about with one flipper in the so-called "real" world and the other in the shadows, presenting both worlds simultaneously. Where are you when you write? What are you presenting to the external world?

RF: Ok Carol.

I answer your first question.

Where am I when I write? What are you presenting to the external world?

When I write the world disappears. I am totally inside what I write. Even if I look up and look at the reality of what surrounds me I see nothing except the incredible view on the other side of the window of my study. First there is a valley with all kinds of trees in it especially Palm trees. Then there a rise with more trees and vegetation on it and behind that there is the mountain with rocks. That's the best I can do for the where I am. And then I plunge back into what I am writing and I feel totally absent from the world. But not from the universe because when I write it feels like I have left planet earth and that I am traveling in space and outside of time. To clarify this let me put it this way. When I write I am everywhere at the same time. For instance the other day I was writing something to explain to myself who I am and what I am doing and this is the sentence that come out. I think it will answer your question.

He cannot accept not to be everywhere at the same time. If this is the night, he will be there. He will arrive first before everyone, and leave late after everyone.

CN: So you've said at one point that in fiction there are no characters, only voices. What is the hidden meaning of the voices' statements on pages 33, 79, and the final page of his/their next novel?

RF: I have no idea what you are talking about or which novel you mean.

But there is a simple answer – the hidden meaning is that the key to the treasure is the key.

CN: In your most recently published book ("My Body in 9 Parts"), you've written about your body. Why?

RF: Briefly why I wrote about my body.

Most people say that my fiction is autobiographical – but the people who say this know nothing about my life – what they know about my life is what they read in my fiction – but there is no way to verify what I say in my fiction – nonetheless it appears to be the story of my life – well the story of what I did in my life – the story of my mind rather than my body – so I decided to write the story of my body after all it's the body that take the blows it's the body that resists death so why not tell the story of how that body took these blows and resisted death and so even though that book may seem to be playful it is in fact very serious –

It is also the story of how my body was treated by my mother – yes it is also about my parents.

Well enough.

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Raymond Federman on Writing is the title of my blog entry of March 26th

I am reading Federman's novel "Aunt Rachel's Fur," reading very slowly, as usual, but there are so many delicious morsels to bite at, lick, roll around on one's tongues, and swallow that slowly is really the only way to read Federman. But I will ask him for his opinion. Whether or not he gives it is, of course, up to Federman, who's probably still very busy completing another book about Samuel Beckett.

I am very comfortable reading Federman. I love hearing him seemingly digress from narrative; as I understand him, he both realizes and delights in the fact that there can be no true narrative (fiction) without digressions, past, present and future. I think that narrative without digressions is phony, sham, a joke on literature, anti-narrative, an abandoned rabbit hole, and those who insist on "Story" proceeding from point A to B (with perfect arcs and epiphanies) lack imagination, wit, and the freedom/self-knowledge to allow words themselves to play and shape both fiction and the characters that move through fiction as we move through our lives, which we constantly fictionalize as we ourselves cannot be static actualities, and that's the truth. ha. Maybe I go to far, maybe not & Federman agrees or perhaps he would state this in very different words and possibly he would call me a cacademic which I'm not, or maybe just a caca. No matter.

Whether our thoughts and experiences move the words or our words move our thoughts and experiences and our experience of our thoughts is something I wonder and I wonder if it makes any difference at all as long as we are moving with our words and our words are moving us & others to want to understand us. Now as Chuang Tzu might say: have I said anything or have I said nothing?

So now, I will insert my so far favorite "what is writing fiction all about" and what is Federman's intentionally improvisational and acutely intelligent writing process quotations by Federman. Federman told me he's addictive and he's right. I wish he would drop by with a nice bottle of Beaujolais. But he's playing golf.

Yo, Federman!!! Je t'embrace!

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Some quotes without quotation marks from Raymond Federman's book Aunt Rachel's Fur:

Alright, quickly, more or less the story of my life up to ... up to now, well, a version of my life, you know what I mean, it's hard to stick to the facts when the fever of recitation grabs you, one version among many possible others, somewhat distorted, exaggerated, accelerated, embellished, and greatly romanticized, what the hell, what's the point of writing your life if you can't improve it a bit, one can only tell the truth, I mean the real truth, with detours and lies, it's an old dictum, and besides, the only way a life can pass for literature is through exaggerations ...

You see what really bugged me over there was the reality of America, reality, my ass, you want me to tell you something, nobody gives a damn about reality, and you know why, because reality is always a disenchantment, la réalité c'est du bluff, I think it's Rimbaud who said that, reality is fake, or maybe it's somebody else, another mad poet, doesn't matter ... what makes reality fascinating at times, it's the imaginary catastrophe that hides behind it, especially behind the American reality, I could tell you a few things about the catastrophe of American reality, I know what I'm talking about ...

********

Oh my apartment in the Bronx, the one I told you about yesterday, that stinking furnished room . . . it doesn't exist, I just invented it so that the story I'm telling you could go on, and also to give the story a touch of naturalism, do you really think I'm telling the truth here, how dumb can you be, it's fiction what I'm talking here, just a story I'm making up as I go, I'm improvising, so if I tell you that I had an apartment in the Bronx you don't have to believe it, just accept the fact that maybe there was such a flat in the Bronx where I once lived and that's that, don't start bugging me with the question of credibility, I don't believe in credibility, it handicaps me, you see for me the simple fact of saying that I was living with Susan in her apartment becomes instantly the truth ...

You make a face, I know what I'm talking about, truth, you want to know what truth is, it's only what one says and not necessarily what one does, in real life words are always true and actions false ...


********

Yes, I know that some people, especially the anti-logo-cen-tristes, will tell you it's the contrary, that actions are true and words false, but they're full of shit, I know what I'm talking about, and don't ask how I know, or where I got it, probably from Namredef, me I always steal things from him ...

Alright, I'll admit that from time to time I borrow from my life, but that's normal when you create fiction, or what my neurasthenic buddy Serge Doubrovsky calls auto-fiction, all novelists do that, they all plagiarize their own life, it's a well known fact, look let me put it this way, there's not a novelist who doesn't plagiarize his life or somebody else's life, so stop being such a pain in the ass with your objections and interjections and let me go on with Susan, but first I have to ask you a question, a simple question, and I want you to give me an honest answer, your answer will determine whether or not I will continue ...

*********

What do you think of what I'm telling you right now, I mean the way I am telling you this story ...

What ... what kind of crap is that, me doing célino-beatnik stuff, you must be kidding, if you think I sound like Céline that really shows you don't understand a fucking thing of what I'm telling you, nothing, especially not my technique ...

Céline it's something else, Céline it's ... it's like underground spoken writing, yeah like le métro, Céline he writes subway-style, he said it himself . . . he pretended to speak but in fact he was writing, he wrote writing that pretended to be like speaking, only writing, whereas me, if you prefer, I fabricate speech, only speech, my writing is all spoken, pop-surface-speech that remembers nothing because it invents itself on the spot, word by word, and let me tell you, it's not vicious speech like his, not at all racist, and certainly not anti-Semitic like his stuff, no way, Céline was full of meanness, anger, full of hatred, full of scorn, Céline, he was a nervous sonofabitch, a hater to the backbone, compared to him, me, I'm calm, relaxed, gentle even, there you have the real difference ...

I stroll gingerly in words, from one word to the next, word-word, and if sometimes my blood is boiling and I start screaming because of all the stupid zombies I encountered in my life that doesn't mean I've lost hope for humanity, even if humanity is in a terrible shape these days ...

I discovered literature haphazardly, and that's how it should be, because you see, I believe that reading and writing have to be done au petit bonheur, chaotically if you prefer ...

I didn't invent that either, it's Namredef, the noodleater, who said that, Namredef always comes up with stuff like that, things that seem profound but that are completely farfelu, of course you have to understand that I'm the one writing this novel, therefore I'm the one who is putting words in the noodler's mouth, so to speak, in a way one could say that the noodles are symbolic of language, understand, instead of putting them in his pen, like the cliché says, I put them in his mouth, but that's part of the creative process, the process that lets you transmit your thoughts and words to someone else, I call that process playgiarism, in French it would be called plajeu ...

By the way, I assume you understand everything I'm telling you here, I mean when I speak English, otherwise ...

Oh you studied English in school for ten years, hey that's great, and you even visited England several times, that's very good, but careful, me I don't speak British, I speak American ...

Oh no, it's not the same, especially the kind of English I speak which I invent as I go along, but it's normal, since English is not my mother tongue I don't have to stick to the rules, I'm free to do anything I want with the English language,

*********

Anyway, I was saying, playgiarism, that's my technique ...

Mais non, how dumb can you be, playgiarizing doesn't mean faire du plat, it has nothing to do with trying to make out with a broad, it means to play the game of substitution of the self into the other, a game of substitution and appropriation ...

You see, literature is always a form of playgiarism, everything in it is a game, it must be a game, otherwise life would be deadly, I mean the life of the writer, if a writer cannot borrow, or even steal words, he has no business being a writer ...

Here let me explain, I pretend that the noodler is the one who is inventing the novel he's writing, but in fact I'm the one who puts words in his mouth, it's part of the game, and that's what playgiarism is, moving what's over here over there, it's that simple ...

That's right, a kind of displacement, but in the process of displacing whatever you are displacing you make little changes, you give it your own personal touch, you make it yours, you give it your style ...

All this may seem complicated, even stupid at first glance, it's not, but in order to understand what I'm talking about you need a good sense of humor, and also the willingness to abandon rational thought, otherwise you'll never understand la littérature-plajeu-en-fourire, you know, the kind of literature that makes you piss in your pants, my noodler he calls that laughterature, not bad eh, laughterature, impossible to translate that into French though, littérarire doesn't work ...

Where was I, wait, don't start imagining that because I jump all over the place like that in my story I don't know where I'm going, even if I seem lost, you'll see, my goal will eventually become clear, even if everything seems mixed up, and it looks like I'm even more confused now than before, that doesn't mean I won't get out of this muddle, or what you French guys call embrouillamini ...

Sure go ahead pour me another glass of wine, it's really good, c'est du Beaujolais, what year, '59, great year for Beaujolais ...

Do you know that Voltaire loved Beaujolais, no I'm serious, it's le cacadémicien Michel Serres who told me that ...

Of course I know Michel Serres, I know a lot of important people, just because I'm still an unknown and unpublished novelist it doesn't mean I don't know famous people ...

Where did I meet him ...

Somewhere in the past, or perhaps it was in the future, me I make no distinction between past present and future, it's all the same to me, so when I tell you I know someone like Michel Serres, I may not have met him yet, but I will eventually, for sure, so don't be surprised if I mention people I haven't met yet, that's how I function ...

By the way, if I'm sharing that important fact with you about Voltaire and his love of Beaujolais it's because, who knows, that information might be useful to you some day, especially to impress those little nobodies wallowing in the delusions of grandeur who think they're somebody, who think they're upperclass simply because they have un quart d'idée dans le crâne, and a few pennies in their pocket, and pretend to be connoisseurs de vins, these nobodies who were born in Trifouillis-la-tirelire plutôt qu'à Sans-sous ...

*********

Shit, I'm doing it again, digressing all over the place, wait, wait, what was I saying, I always get lost in my saute-grenouillements, dammit, what was I talking about, remind me ...

Oh, yesterday I told you I picked her up two weeks ago, it's possible, I made a mistake, do you think I pay attention to chronology in this story, I told you, chronology and credibility handicap me ...

Oh, excuse me, it bugs you that I make such mistakes, you're saying that these temporal displacements don't stand up and that eventually it's going to mess up the whole story, you're such an old-fashioned listener, don't you know that the beauty of a story has nothing to do with the question of time, with the order in which you tell things, not at all, it's all about rhythm, tone, it's all about the way you tell the story, it's the telling that counts, not what you tell, anyway you're getting on my nerves with your obsession with time, fuck time ...

So I don't respect the chronological order of things, big deal, yesterday I said two weeks ago, and now I'm saying last week, and who knows tomorrow I might say a month ago, and the day after tomorrow I'll say something else about what I did or didn't do in the past, or even about the stuff I'll do or won't do in the future, what the hell do you think time is, a straight line that goes in one direction only, something stiff always standing at the same fucking place, how stupid can you be, the past and the future are not frozen like a scenery on a postcard, that's what most people don't understand, yesterday, today, tomorrow, next year, people imagine time as if it were some kind of place from which we come and go, have you any idea how boring it would be to live your life as if it was a little trip by train, knowing in advance where each stop would be, where the final destination would be, and what time you would arrive, how boring, there wouldn't be any surprises, and you know as well as I that surprises are essential and necessary in one's life, even if they're not very funny sometimes, otherwise life wouldn't be worth living, even life itself is a surprise, don't you sometimes wonder how the hell you came to be alive, I am sure even your old man must have been surprised when your mother told him, Darling I think this time we did it, I think I'm pregnant, too bad you couldn't see the look on your father's face, the look of surprise, and probably fear too ...

For instance, take the surprise of Susan's telegram, I didn't expect her fucking telegram, but the fact that I got it makes my story more interesting, it gives it suspense, and it makes it progress, even if it stumbles along, but that Susan might arrive in three or four days or next month or even à la saint-glinglin doesn't solve my problems, it's not when she's going to come that bugs the shit out of me, it's the fact that she's actually coming, so that's why I give an approximation of time, maybe in the final version I will have to reorganize the whole thing a little better, otherwise nobody will want to publish my stuff, but for now, if I say that I met that British broad with the nice firm boobs two weeks ago, and then I say it was last week, that doesn't change anything, except that my lousy situation is getting more and more complicated, especially now that Susan is jumping into the mess, what a bummer ...

Hey, wait a minute, I have an idea, maybe if I don't talk about my British girl, I mean if I don't say another word about her, nothing, maybe she'll disappear from the story ...

What do you think, not a bad idea, see what I mean, if you don't talk about something it's like it doesn't exist, right, in fact according to certain contemporary thinkers who claim they know what they're talking about, everything in life exists only in language, in the logos, therefore it's simple, I won't say another word about my cute sexy British girlfriend, and you don't mention her either, agreed, and certainly not when Susan will be here in three days, or four, or next week, don't forget, mum's the word ...

Okay, see you tomorrow ...

Namredef, that's the name of the guy who locks himself in a room with the noodles, you know, in the novel I'm writing, the noodler, Namredef that's his name ...

Anyway, to go back to the question of truth in fiction, just accept the fact that when I say I was living with Susan in her apartment, I'm just settling, or rather sinking into the truth of my story, that's all ... ___________________________________________________

Notes

1 Quote by Lance Olsen
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CLICK HERE to listen to "Museum of Imaginary Asses" by Federman & ART DE FAKT
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Aunt Rachel's Fur
More Loose Shoes and Smelly Socks
My Body in Nine Parts
Raymond Federman BIO Carol Novack BIO Raymond Federman BIO