Raymond Federman was born in France, and went to the United States soon after World War II. At the age of 14, Federman was hastily thrust into the small upstairs closet of their Paris apartment by his mother just before she, his father and two sisters were taken to Auschwitz, where they were killed. Federman’s work focuses on the attempt to find a language appropriate for the enormity of the Holocaust and his part in its legacy; ultimately he espouses the concept of laughterature – laughter as a means of survival. Federman is considered internationally to be one of the most influential representatives of postmodern literature. As well as novels, his work encompasses books of poetry, essays, criticism and translations, it has been translated into a dozen languages, been adapted for stage and screen, and has received numerous awards – including the American Book Award (1986).
Sadly, Raymond Federman died on October 6 2009.
An Interview with Raymond Federman
When did you first begin writing, and what inspired you to do so? Have any specific books/authors served as inspiration for you?
I began writing rather late in my life. I was 26 years old when I started my first novel which is unfinished and which I will never allow to be published – a sentimental uncontrolled narrative entitled And I Followed My Shadow which more or less relates what happened to me during World War Two, but set in some imaginary country. I don’t know what inspired me to write. I suppose it was a need, an urgent need I felt in me. Especially since I was not going anywhere as a jazz musician. Lack of talent perhaps. There is no doubt that my encounter with the work of Samuel Beckett was the most important most inspirational force on my work as a writer. Beckett helped me escape what I call the imposture of realism. He is present one way or another in everything I write.
Can you tell us something about the inspiration behind Double or Nothing in particular? And about what you were trying to achieve; what ideas you were trying to convey?
In all my writing there is a source, a real source. In 1951, I moved from Detroit to New York where I could not find a job. I literally spent months eating only noodles. Well, Double or Nothing is always referred to by my friends as the Noodle Book. And indeed there are lots of noodles in that book. 365 boxes of noodles, to be exact. And there is also a lot of noodling. Jazz musicians always say they are noodling when they are improvising a solo. Double or Nothing is made of improvisations. Linguistic improvisations. Or to put it slightly differently, from noodling to doodling there is but a slight difference. Double or Nothing is made of typographical doodlings. Two ideas govern this novel: 1) to challenge the way books are read; 2) to reveal how a novel is written rather than just to tell a story. That is to say, to render the language visible, and not allow the reader to play his little mental cinema while reading.
How do you go about creating your voice on the page?
I always speak aloud what I write. Sometimes even while writing it. I need to hear the voice I create. Critics have often said that Federman does not invent characters, he invents voices. There are many voices in each of us. It’s a matter of letting these voices out. A matter of listening to that infernal interior monologue that goes on incessantly in us. I say monologue, but it’s rather a multilogue, if one can use such a word.
How and when do you write?
I write every day, except when I don’t write. The way my weeks are organized, I write all day, starting around 8:00 in the morning, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Wednesdays and Fridays I play golf in the morning. I usually get home around 1pm and then I write or read until dinner time. Weekends it depends what Erica has planned for us. But if something is going well, or has to be finished, then I cancel everything and write until I can no more.
I used to write in the evening. But after that I could not sleep, so I gave up. I like to have the writing done as early in the day as possible so I can feel free after that.
What do you enjoy reading? What are you reading that you can recommend at the moment?
I like reading fiction. I like to keep up with what is being written in fiction that is innovative. Though lately I have not found much that is interesting, except for two writers: John Coetzee, the South African, and Christian Prigent, the most avant-garde French writer. Lately I’ve been rereading the great classics. In French, Flaubert’s L’Education Sentimentale. What an incredible novel. Stendhal’s La Chartreuse de Parme. Another fantastic novel. Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses. A novel that has moved way up on my list of the greatest novels every written. In English, Crime and Punishment of Dostoevsky. And of course, constantly rereading Beckett. On my last trip to Europe, last month, I reread The Unnameable perhaps for the twelfth time.