Raymond Federman

Raymond Federman is internationally considered one of the most influential representatives of postmodern literature.  The French-American writer and literature scholar of Jewish descent was born in 1928 in Paris.  However, he dated his “real” date of birth as July 16, 1942, the day when more than 12,000 people were arrested in Paris and deported to the concentration camps.  Federman’s parents and both of his sisters were killed at Auschwitz.  He himself survived because his mother hid him in a cupboard.  Federman emigrated to the U.S. in 1947 where he got by as a casual laborer and jazz saxophonist until he was drafted to the army in 1951; he served as a parachutist in Korea.  In 1953 he was granted U.S. citizenship.  In 1954 he began to study Comparative Literature at Columbia University and concluded his studies in 1963, at UCLA with a doctoral dissertation on Samuel Beckett with whom he became close friends.  Starting in 1977, numerous guest professorships brought him to Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Although his work encompasses books of poetry, volumes of essays, scholarly work, articles, and translations, he considered himself primarily as a novelist.  His experimental debut novel ‘Double or Nothing’ was published in 1971; it later received numerous awards and caused his immediate international reputation.  The novel links the formal experiments of concrete poetry with epic prose and is considered one of the most important avant-garde works of the past century.  His extensive, highly autobiographical work revolves around the sense of isolation and guilt felt by someone who survived by mere chance; this is also the case in ‘Take It or Leave It’, which he himself has referred to as his most important book.  In his Hamburger poetry lectures (1990), borrowing from Surrealism, he coined the term ‘surfiction’ for the type of literature that exposes the fictive nature of reality and is characterized by repetitions, digressions, and personal reflections. In 2001 ‘Loose Shoes’ was published, a journal-like book about his intellectual work, consisting of 365 experimental fragments and containing the programmatic motto against which the entirety of his work must be understood: “A novel is not so much about writing an adventure as it is about the adventure of writing”.  Federman’s work, which has in part been published bilingually and which has been translated into more than a dozen languages, has received numerous awards, including the American Book Award (1986).  Raymond Federman died October 2009 in San Diego.

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