Raymond Federman and Samuel Beckett

Raymond Federman and Samuel Beckett

Voices in the Closet

By Nathalie Camerlynck

Anthem symploke Studies in Theory

This book is about Raymond Federman and his incredible textual obsession with Samuel Beckett. Federman was a scholar of Beckett, postmodern theorist, a self-translator and avant-garde novelist. 

PDF, 178 Pages


July 2021

£25.00, $40.00

EPUB, 178 Pages


July 2021

£25.00, $40.00

  • About This Book
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  • Author Information
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About This Book

Raymond Federman (1928–2009) is known as a scholar of Samuel Beckett, postmodern theorist and avant-garde novelist. Like Beckett, he was also a self-translator, though unlike Beckett his first language was French and he composed his most significant works in English. In this sense, he took Beckett’s journey in reverse. Federman’s life was, in many ways, a Beckettian journey. He escaped deportation to Auschwitz, where all of his immediate family perished, thanks to his mother pushing him into a closet. Years of lonely wandering followed. Federman explicitly describes his own life in Beckettian terms, and his postmodern novels are thick with intertextual references, with Beckett as the main source. This book offers the first examination of these references, in light of Federman’s contribution to critical theory. 

This study is focused on Federman’s most significant novels, published between 1971 and 1982: Double or Nothing, Amer Eldorado, Take It or Leave It, The Voice in the Closet/La voix dans le cabinet de débarras and The Twofold Vibration. Federman’s two tongues make for a doubled discourse, one in which the boundaries between English and French become porous. He uses fragments of Beckett, Joyce and others (including French poststructuralists) to undermine the gendered identity of his own autobiographical creations. Federman’s use of Beckett, his intertextual strategies and choices, highlight the queer potential of his master’s work. 

The Raymond Federman who passed away in 2009 was a beloved teacher, husband and father. This book is not about him. The characters, or rather creatures, in the first cycle of Federman’s novels are incapable of successfully inhabiting what Federman calls social reality. They are condemned to return ceaselessly to the closet, the site of their traumatic rebirth. The importance of the closet has been addressed in previous studies of Raymond Federman and is many times acknowledged and discussed by the author himself. This study demonstrates, through close reading and intertextual analysis, the importance of a second closet, one explicitly linked to queer identity. The homoeroticism present in Federman’s seventies novels is largely determined by the author’s relationship to Beckett. By guiding the reader through Federman’s intertextual peregrinations, this book explores his remarkable relationship with Sam.


“Camerlynck has deeply researched Raymond Federman’s writings in both English and French, shedding light on Federman’s complex relationship with Beckett, his mentor, model and rival. There are striking discoveries here literally on every page, sometimes in every sentence, adding up to a dense, detailed, full and ultimately persuasive picture of the literary practice of an important avant-gardist”. — Brian McHale, The Ohio State University, US

“Nathalie Camerlynck's fascinating and insightful book illuminates, in a new way, the work of both Raymond Federman and Samuel Beckett. Ray was, during the decades I knew him, continually reinventing himself through his fictions. It was Beckett who gave him the prism that made that reinvention possible. Read Camerlynck and you’ll understand how.” — Bruce Jackson, SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture, University at Buffalo, US

“Nathalie Camerlynck provides a comprehensive guide to Raymond Federman’s debts to, and reimaginings of, Samuel Beckett. For the brilliant trickster novelist, Beckett’s presence is not a source of anxiety but a prod for textual freedom. No American novelist has made better use of this freedom than Federman.” — Charles Bernstein, Donald T. Regan Professor, Emeritus, of English and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania, US

“The point of playing the game of literature and criticism lies not in shoring up the bourgeois credentials of the writer and scholar, a recurring Federman target, but in confronting the horror vacui of identity and, in Federman’s case, his Holocaust experience. Nathalie Camerlynch’s Raymond Federman and Samuel Beckett will rejuvenate interest in the work of one the original postmodernist writers.” — Christopher Conti, Lecturer in Literary Studies, Western Sydney University, Australia

“This book breaks entirely new ground by queering Federman through his amorously idolizing and playfully antagonistic rapport with Beckett, whom he invoked as both ‘God’ and a ‘dog.’ Focusing less on sexual experience than on textual experimentation, Camerlynck teases out the strands of queerness in the dialogue between Federman’s early prose and Beckett’s novels and short stories. She thus reveals the existence of a second, metaphorical ‘closet,’ in addition to the Parisian site of Federman’s rebirth as a Holocaust survivor. The cleverness and subtlety of her analyses, as well as the sheer amount of evidence gathered and skillfully assembled, will overcome any residual resistance to this reframing of a self-styled ‘Gallic lady killer.’” — Rainier Grutman University of Ottawa, Canada

Author Information

Nathalie Camerlynck is a scholar working at the intersection of bilingual poetics and queer theory. Her background is in the study of Samuel Beckett, self-translation and intertextuality.


Anthem symploke Studies in Theory

Table of Contents

List of Figures; Introduction; 1. The Noodle Man; 2. Hombre de la Pluma; 3. Sam in His Closet; 4. The Old Man; Conclusion; Notes; References; Index.


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