The following should be rewritten before it was read in the unnameable tense. (You may think the preceding sentence has a logical error. You may think that if you wish.) I can’t go on. I’ll go on. The impossible.
Somehow, believe it or not, take it or leave, double or nothing, Raymond Federman changed tense on October 9, 2009. I miss him. But Federman did not die. No. His “death” is, and was, and will, forever, be a painful Beckettian change in tense. In life, Federman ignored tense; he resisted the restraints of the sentence. He disobeyed the pure whiteness of space on a page. His sentences formed lines of flight that escaped the page and created tiny fairy tales, hoping for a happy ending, a period, or an enjambment, but to this day, these catastrophic sentences of Federman remain lost in some lonely forest. Adrift. Never-ending sentences. Sentences that never began to begin with.
How is this possible? Exactly. This is impossible. This can only be that.
Federman is, and was, and will be, forever, too vibrant, too much alive and living, to be anything other than a change in tense, not a death. I refuse to believe he is no longer among us. He is playing golf in the snow in Buffalo. He is swimming in the Pacific Ocean. Federman is here. He must be.
His sentences continue to spill off the page. Marginal sentences that turn themselves inside out, that turn back against themselves, that become something other than what they were meant to be.
I never intended this to be that. Sometimes Federman is as much I as I was. Is.
He replaced literature with laughterature.
In a very dark bar in Buffalo, I ask Raymond: What is a sentence?
Nothing but an absence.
Once upon a time and a very good time it was; in fact, it was not just any once upon a time, but an actual time, 1979, a lonely boy read Double or Nothing, a wild disobedient novel, and was thrilled.
Noodles. Closets. Sugar. Stones. X-X-X-X.
When his tongue became entangled, he lingoverted his way out of the closet. Escape. But there is no real escape. There are always twofold vibrations of voices in the closet.
Another fairy tale of a time outside of tense happens in Buffalo, New York. In this ongoing present, I told Federman that I had read him for the first time in 1977. He said, “You are mistaken, Rice. You have been reading Federman from the beginning of time. All writing,” Federman said, “is Federman.” During a conference on plagiarism, in a voice barely above a whisper echoing from some distant past, Federman claimed that Federman is, not was, the precursor to Federman. Later, during that same conference, Federman himself insisted that, in deed, a Federman text is even better than the real thing. Perhaps this sounds like nonsense to you, but for me this is the only way into a reading of Federman’s insane prose. A prose that challenges even the most flexible of readers. Federman misbehaves in the space where the Barthesian stripper’s garment is made to gape. He misbehaves, deliberately, as a well-intentioned confusion. Messy boy with no sense of syntax. Words strewn all over the place. His writing is little more than the bloodied remains of an undisciplined grammar.
On a dark and windy night, Federman and I were skyping, or were we? Telling each other tall tales with loose signifiers. In the midst of it all, he said unto me, “Rice, I refuse to begin, for I never know where my thoughts begin or where my thoughts emerge with others.” Or perhaps, more accurately, I said this to him, calling Federman Rice and Rice Federman as if there were no echoes.
I told Federman that he was misquoting himself. That what he was saying he had said and written in the snow of Buffalo before he fled to San Diego for a warmer sun and to play golf year round. He claimed, as usual, that Beckett was to blame. This is typical of Federman’s paratroopical speech. His leapfrogging from one story to the next. Jamming one narrative into an other narrative. Nothing is ever lost on Federman. (That is right. I am not forgetful. Nothing is, not was, lost on Ray.) All stories converge and become new again.
After reading Federman or dreaming Federman or speaking to Federman, I must find prayers to cleanse my own origins of this Federmaniacal virus. I become forgetful of where my language begins and when it converges with that of others within the dialogue I entertain with myself and with the noises, the shouts in the streets that disrupt the calm narrative of identity. But for Federman, the eye of his narrative storm is like the eye of a hurricane. Swirling junk crashing together to irritate sentences that others claim to own.
Raymond inscribed his book Here & Elsewhere poetic cul-de-sac to me by saying: “For Doug who is always here when I am elsewhere.” But when Rice is here, Federman can never be elsewhere.
"Just think how different the world would be//how different life//if when we arrive into the world were laughing instead of crying." Federman.
There is a photograph of Federman behind bars in Time Magazine. 1970. He had been arrested as a faculty member for actively being an intellectual, instead of merely teaching students harmless information. He protested the war. The police arrested him and 45 other faculty members. Federman was struck over the head; he believes by the police. Michel Foucault bailed Federman out of prison. I honestly believe you need to read that sentence again for all that it means, and, since I dare not trust that your will do so, I will do this: Michel Foucault bailed Federman out of prison.
I have always wanted Foucault to bail me out of prison. Or at least out of this Victorian mess of a sentence that desires to say all that cannot be said, all that remains quiet beneath signs of another time.
Have you ever watched Raymond Federman’s hands when he gave a reading? Have you ever listened to what happens to Raymond’s voice when he speaks of George Chambers?
Federman gave me permission to digress in 1979. Before a notary in Buffalo in 1993, he signed a sworn affidavit granting me permission to play with his name, and to digress. It snowed that day. While the original affidavit has been lost or confiscated or never existed, I continue.
As does Federman.
A few confusions set loose by Raymond Federman upon my writerly soul:
1.) Theseus’ ship is falling apart, decaying dead wood. As the ship sits in the port, rotting, Theseus’ men replace each rotten plank. The ship remains the same ship, even as some of the planks are replaced. The men store the old rotted wood in a building. After many years, the last of the original planks is taken off the ship and replaced by a new plank. Now there is enough wood in the building to rebuild the ship. The men do so. Two ships now float on the waters, side by side. Which one is the original ship of Theseus? In a world–social as well as aesthetic–of anti-oedipal cover stories echoed in minor languages, shem-like pelegariasts abound. (What came before was a parable of Federman.)
2.) Like a diseased fugitive I take leave of words. An unpacked library with erased copyright pages. A pirate traveling down a lost highway.
“I am a virgin.”
“No,” Federman said. “No, you cannot say that.”
4.) I read nothing in ways that most people dream of reading Dante. Between the lines, white dust and kaleidoscopes of visions. I pick up words along the way. Pack up my ermines. Step into gutters and steal debris that had at one time appeared useless. Back in 1922 when the tourists invaded Trieste, Paris, London, I stole image after image from men with holes in their pockets. But in the 1970s, while listening to music so bad that I nearly died, I washed my hands of the whole messy affair.
5.) Federman teaches me to write in one sentence: You rub and flatten silly-putty on the comics, then you lift the silly putty ever so carefully, like you are making an original readymade. Like you are Duchamp or Warhol.
6.) Definitively unfinished.
7.) Federman is a delirious child set loose upon the Enlightenment by some whimsical demonic force intent on making footnotes, afterthoughts, allusions look downright silly. My partner despairs each time Federman visits because he leaves behind traces of unused quotation marks all over the floor of our house. (We have a small child who has on occasion put said quotation marks into her mouth. The innocence of infancy. “No,” we scream, terrified of the nature of literary genealogies. “Don’t put that into your mouth. God knows where that quotation mark has been.” We spend days and nights after Federman leaves, cleansing our house. Returning our lives to purity.)
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