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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Raymond Federman: Cynic Feature ReadySteadyBook - a literary site

Searching for apt quotations as headings for sections in my forthcoming (I hope) collection of inventions, I came across this article about my playguerist friend Raymond Federman. It's well worth reading, and the quotes are memorable!

If you haven't read my interview of Federman, followed by my comments about Aunt Rachel's Fur and selected passages from the book, the link is HERE.

"Raymond Federman: Cynic

true cynics are often the kindest people, for they see the hollowness of life, and from the realization of that hollowness is generated a kind of cosmic pity
Raymond Federman, The Twofold Vibration

There can be no conclusion to this book [Cynicism from Diogenes to Dilbert]. Conclusion, that is, in the sense of a summary thesis on cynicism. Neither do I present the reader with a neat climatic ending or lessons for the future. The use of such devices would be to betray everything that cynicism stands for. What has been written on these pages amounts to no more than one introduction to a little known philosophy, prompted by the imaginings of one life out of millions of others. As Nietzsche put it, ‘It is only my truth.’ The real conclusion of this book will never be known, it is to be found in the exchange between the words on these pages and the thoughts of the individual reader. The most important part of this book for me was the process of writing it and digesting the thoughts of others who had written before me. My greatest wish is that someone else will pick up the torch of cynicism that I have tried to re-kindle and write another book, inspired in part by the pages contained here.

That at least was my intention. Then, just as I was completing the final chapter of this book I made a remarkable discovery - I stumbled across a real cynic. I had been searching for a living cynic, a real Diogenean cynic, ever since I had started writing the book. But either they were too political or they did not laugh or they were too scholarly or like me they could only tell the reader about cynicism. What I was searching for was someone like Diogenes, one of those rare beings who live their philosophy, someone who could show us what cynicism is rather than simply describe it. I am grateful to Raymond Federman, for doing just that.

If Diogenes had sought out his tub as a symbolic gesture for his cynicism, Raymond Federman’s cynicism was born from a tub. Or to be more precise, the small upstairs closet in a Paris apartment into which he had been hastily thrust by his mother just before she, his father and his two sisters were rounded up in the Rafle du Vel d’Hiv’ and taken to Auschwitz to be killed. The fourteen year old boy who hid in the closet, started his new life with no more than a small package of his own warm shit wrapped in newspaper (The Voice in the Closet). Federman describes being ‘born voiceless at a hole’s edge’ on this day 16th July 1942. But he did not remain voiceless, in his 40 year career as a writer he has never stopped talking.

Sidelined by the literary establishment for daring to revive (in both content and form) the chaos and orgy of Dionysus that once made writing explode the senses, Federman has never attained the celebrity status of other contemporary French philosophers. This is not because he avoids accolades but rather that he has a stubborn commitment to his art. In Take It Or Leave It, the longest cynical rant in history, he refused to allow the publisher to include any page numbers. No single writer of our age has captured the true spirit of Diogenes more than Raymond Federman. No, not even his old friend Samuel Beckett whom he idolises and quotes at every opportunity. But then Federman was the very first Beckettian. When his Ph.D. board challenged Federman that Beckett was a charlatan, he retorted angrily “You’ll see, Beckett will win the Nobel prize for literature in ten years time”---he predicted the exact year! Federman integrates all of the essential modes of cynical discourse: action, laughter and silence into his prolific writing. The victim who refuses to see himself as a victim, was given in that small closet not only the gift of life, but the gift to make others laugh---laugh at a world that he knows to be truly absurd, laugh at himself, laugh at The Laugh That Laughs At The Laugh.

And yet, typical of all great cynics, Federman is before his time. He may not reach the legendary status he deserves until after, as he puts it, he has changed tense. Published in twenty languages, he remains unknown in Britain and sadly overlooked in his host country. But here is a living example of Burkhardt’s all-sided-man. Emerging from Federman’s fiction are some remarkable facts and near misses, including his exploits as a down-and-out in New York City (and several other cities); as a gambler; as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division; failing to qualify for the 1948 Olympic swimming team by a tenth of a second; and blowing saxophone with Charlie Parker.

Now living in the sun on his emeritus distinguished professor’s pension and promoting wider recognition of his works in numerous new and revised publications, one might question Federman’s credentials as a cynic. And yet, with the following line from To Whom It May Concern, Federman anticipates the question. ‘I am caught’ he says, ‘between the desire for fame and the need for oblivion.’ And herein lies the cynical paradox. If Diogenes had not become a celebrity, surely Alexander would have had no reason to cast him in his shadow; an act which produced the response that assured Diogenes his celebrity status for all time. To give a voice to cynicism we must have some celebrated exponents of the art. Public cynics, like avant-garde artists, cannot avoid the respectability conferred on them with the passing of time. In the very act of achieving recognition the cynic is pulled down from their lofty perch. Federman anticipated this possibility also when as an unpublished writer he wrote to a friend, ‘I want to shock the bourgeois (before I become one myself) a little.’

And so, the reader, who has made it to the final pages of this book, will after all be subjected to a climatic conclusion. For in Federman’s writing can be found first hand (as opposed to my own second hand accounts) a parallel reference to every theme that I have already discussed in the preceding pages. Regrettably only fragments of Federman’s diatribes can be reproduced here. His aphorisms speak for themselves, but to fully appreciate the rage and humour of his diatribes, and his absolute commitment against the object of his anger and obsession, total immersion is recommended."

Access the rest of the article above and below.

Raymond Federman: Cynic � Feature � ReadySteadyBook - a literary site

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