"The first 25 years of my life certainly contained enough drama, enough adventures, misadventures and misfortunes to inspire several novels. I lived those years oblivious to myself and to the sordid affairs of the world around me, unaware that the experiences I was living, or should I say enduring, would someday make a writer of me. My life began in incoherence and discontinuity, and my work has undoubtedly been marked by this."
-- Raymond Federman in "A Version of My Life"
The above is one of the few conventional autobiographical statements Raymond Federman has published in his career as a literary fabulist telling many different "self-reflexive" versions of the same, ongoing text: the joyous, terrifying, self-canceling story of his own life.
Federman heard his father, mother and two sisters led away by Gestapo officers from their Paris apartment in 1942 to their eventual death in Auschwitz while he, hidden in a closet, listened to the newly orphaned "voice of absence" in his 14-year-old head (read his "The Voice in the Closet"). He survived to become a leading literary theorist, postmodern novelist and one of the inventors of avant garde writing in America (although he disavows both the terms "postmodern" and "avant garde"). He turned 80 on May 15.
Federman lived in Western New York from 1964 to 1999 while he was a distinguished professor of modern languages and literatures at the University at Buffalo and a key figure in the experimental arts and literary scene. On Saturday, he returns to Buffalo for Federman@80, a daylong celebration of his life and work featuring many leading writers and critics, including UB Poetics Program and "Language" poetry co-founder Charles Bernstein.
A writer whose influence on world literature continues to grow, Federman is considered a major (and in France and Germany, even a best-selling) American author throughout Europe. Here in the United States, his novels "Double or Nothing" (1971), "Take it or Leave It" (1976), "The Twofold Vibration" (1982), the American Book Award-winning "Smiles on Washington Square" (1985) and "To Whom it May Concern" (1990) have enthralled and disoriented readers even as they confounded mainstream critics with their carnival-like flights of narrative invention and metafictional high jinks. His most recent books are "Aunt Rachel's Fur" (2001) and "My Body in Nine Parts," published by Buffalo novelist Ted Pelton's Starcherone Books in 2005.
As a critic and theorist, Federman's coinage of the terms "surfiction" -- for fiction that seeks not to imitate reality but rather expose the fictional nature of what we hold to be real -- and "critifiction" -- writing that explores the boundaries between autobiography and fiction by mixing discourses, tropes and genres -- to describe his own work and that of his peers in the Fiction Collective in the 1970s anticipated and were the narrative parallel to many of the innovations introduced by the "Language" movement in poetry.
A marvelous storyteller, literary raconteur and wit, any reading, lecture or performance by Federman is a rare treat and celebration of humanity.
WHEN AND WHERE: All events are on Saturday. 10:30 a.m., opening reception at UB Anderson Gallery (1 Martha Jackson Place); 1 p.m. symposium at UB Poetry Collection (Capen Hall, North Campus, Amherst); 8 p.m., readings and reception (main building of Medaille College)