Frame-Breaking and Concrete Prose in the Works of Raymond Federman

    Activity: Talks and presentationsTalks and presentations in private or public companies


    Raymond Federman's two novels Double or Nothing (1971) and Take It or Leave It (1976) are highly experimental and provocative both in terms of their style and the narrative strategies employed. With these novels, Federman presents us with two somewhat thinly disguised versions of his autobiography while, at the same time, he tells us the story of telling stories and the problems that arise during this process. Both novels can therefore be seen as typical examples of metafiction. Hence, the novels serve a twofold function: On the one hand, they can be seen as Federman's attempt of coming to terms with the fact that he is the only member of a Jewish family to survive the Holocaust. On the other hand, the novels function as a critique of traditional literary conventions and emphasise the limitations that language imposes on us. Federman seems to suggest that such conventions do not suffice as a means of conveying or explaining the horrors he underwent. The purpose of this paper is to investigate some of the metafictional strategies employed by Federman. Through the prominent and very playful use of concrete prose and abstract typographical shapes, the materiality of Federman's books is foregrounded to such an extent that their projected "realities" are constantly disrupted. In doing so, Federman presents us with a deep ontological cut between the physical reality of the actual ink shapes on the page and the world(s) projected by words. However, this is not the only ontological problem that his novels exhibit. Through a thorough mixing and merging of different possible worlds within the narrative hierarchy, it becomes almost impossible for the reader to distinguish between and keep track of the many fictional universes presented within the discourses. Consequently, the levels collapse and Federman's aim "to tell a story that cancels itself as it goes" is fulfilled. This paper, therefore, argues that Federman's pronounced use of radical frame-breaking and concrete prose is perhaps the only approach for him if he is to at least attempt to render and understand the horrors and meaninglessness of the Holocaust. The "unutterable" is thus expressed by way of verbal icons imitating the "real" object (or process) as well as chaotically structured narrative hierarchies that deviate from and mock traditional literary conventions.
    Emneord: Federman, Postmodernism, Metafiction, Experimental fiction, Holocaust, Autobiography, Concrete prose, Frame-breaking
    Period19 Jun 2004
    Event titleMemory, Haunting, Discourse / Discourse, Haunting, Memory
    Event typeConference
    LocationKarlstad, SwedenShow on map


    • Federman
    • Postmodernism
    • Metafiction
    • Experimental fiction
    • Holocaust
    • Autobiography
    • Concrete prose
    • Frame-breaking