The current (1983) issue of Florida Literary Arts Review has a joint review of Richard Grayson's I Brake for Delmore Schwartz and Raymond Federman's The Twofold Vibration by the magazine's associate editor, Fiorella Orowan:
FICTIONS OF THE SELF
I Brake for Delmore Schwartz
Stories by Richard Grayson
Zephyr Press, 1983
95 pp., $4.95
The Twofold Vibration
by Raymond Federman
Univ. of Indiana Press, 1982 (repr)
175 pp., $10.95
by Fiorella Orowan
Aristotelian logic does not florish [sic] in Richard Grayson's stories. He instead favors the disjointed narrative:
The next day Caaron buys running shoes. They are ugly. They make her feel good. One thing Caaron has wanted to do is run outside. She runs inside to music, but not outside.
It is the patter and tone of a comic monologue wherein the writer calls attention to himself at intervals, reminding us how hard he is working to entertain:
I know people are making fun of me. But here, on the page, I can hide behind words. I manipulate words, manipulate characters, manipulate events.
Yes, but is it a story? Leaving no stones unturned, Mr. Grayson has an answer to that protest as well:
If you continue reading [this story] it will be on your head. Don't sink to my level. Read something uplifting, like Emerson.
This kind of hysterio comic speculation has pleased readers of, e.g., Tom Robbins who may discover in Grayson a new idol. Like Robbins, Grayson draws on popular culture and undergraduate sophistry to communicate with his peer audience, but his answers beg the question. To "ignore" Emerson, as he claims to do, by citing him is to demonstrate one's immunity to the System, although Mr. Grayson is very much a product of that system. Grayson's is not the nonconformist ethic of the Beats, but is rather a cozy conformity. "I'm a nice guy" he pleads repeatedly throughout the collection:
That's why I try to be witty and tell stories, using dreams and things I've heard around.
But all writers use experience. How are Grayson's characters unique?
When Robin was 16, there were no humid memories. She sang "Get Back" and "Light My Fire."
When Robin was 17, autumn leaves crunched when she stepped on them. She was nearly smothered.
When Robin was 18, she wondered what should be done on weekends.
When Robin was 19, she wrote an essay on envy.
When Robin was 20, there was still less of everything. She said nothing, she was told, but she said it well.
When Robin was 21, chapters were closed.
To the contrary, Robin is Everydebutante; her life is so dull that Babbitt and Mrs. Bridge are comparatively unique creations and this is perhaps the point: Grayson's fiction mirrors the minds of its audience, exploiting the commonplace. As his characters' memories are relentlessly ordinary, his narrative persona are always the same. Whether in first of [sic] third person, the narrator is invariably Grayson and the characters mere props for his perceptions. Consequently the shamelessly narcissistic diction flatters its readers to become the "I" of the story and thus to "write" vicariously through Grayson's creations. It is an insidious technique, but to his audience, it works.
Both the author-narrator and the jacket publicity identify Federman's novel with the work of Samuel Beckett and, in fact, the title is an excerpted quote from that playwright. "The twofold vibration" refers to a narrative technique of progressing simultaneously forward and backward in time and hence The Twofold Vibration must be classified as "avant garde." Federman is intensely self-conscious of both this and his other fictional techniques, as numerous quotes attest:
after all isn't it the role of ficiton, and I don't mean science fiction only, to alter reality for the better, the writer may not be as privileged as the scientist nowadays, or perhaps he is, who knows, for this oblique witness of reality must at the same time seek and avoid precision, he knows that the reality of imagination is more real than reality without imagination, and besides reality as such has never really interested anyone...
...it's a most puzzling piece of writing, totally incoherent and yet quite moving, I don't think it has ever been properly understood...
...[the narrators] have been introduced simply for the convenience of the narrative...to allow some shifts of point of view and some creative free play
The narrators are three: one represented simply by the first person (I), one named Moinous ("I/we") and the third is called Namredef (Federman spelled backward). Thus, all three narrators are in fact the author and the "shifts" in viewpoint are merely the author's argument with himself. The novel has no other real characters but an anonymous "old man" which the cynical reader may fairly interpret as, again, the author persona. It is the hapless old man around whom the plot weaves as he experiences various misfortunes including food poisoning and the threat of "deportation to the colonies," but the frequent allusions to Nazi concentration camps makes the futuristic aspects of the plot a mere foil for the novel's real concern, the society's systematic elimination of "undesirables." The novel is ostensibly set in the 1990s, but the only credible aspects of descriptive writing are clearly grounded in Postwar sociology with some gadget accessories very much like those in the James Bond films. Federman's narrators do have some experiences - singly and as a group - on their own, mostly as transients in Eurore, looking for sexual diversion.
The techniques of Beckett and other avant gardists notwithstanding, Mr. Federman's real interest is didactic, and his narrators deliver countless sermons on the decay of civilization, the failure of the System and the sterility of modern life. Despite his characters' defensiveness regarding style and diction, there is no distancing from the relentlessly outre form to suggest that the novel is intended as a parody; one must believe that Mr. Federman is serious in his cavalierly pursuit of Armageddon. One of his lectures, on "why it had to be written this way," provides the prototypical raison d'etre for anti-form:
...the voices on the text exist only as a sequence of cries, the voices can be extended beyond the text into history, but one can never find the door that leads to the origin or the end of the little boy's story...
The message: fictional form is artificial and is not true to the strettolike unbroken continuity of history, human experience or real life. But of course, Mr. Federman, that's why we call it "fiction."
Fiorella Orowan is Assoc. Ed. of F.L.A.R.