Raymond Federman’s “Take It or Leave It”

February marks the original release date of Federman’s third novel, Take It or Leave It. To celebrate this, we offer a peek into some of the materials related to the book in the Raymond Federman Papers.

Published in 1976 by Fiction Collective, Take It Or Leave It exemplifies Federman’s boldly innovative style. The book follows the wild adventures of a young Frenchman drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to fight in Korea, and it does so through a narrator, Moinous (a portmanteau of the French words for ‘me’ and ‘us’), who claims to have met this man and heard his story after the fact. It can be called a novel, but its subtitle also describes it as “an exaggerated second-hand tale to be read aloud either standing or sitting.”

The cover of an early edition of Take It or Leave It. This copy was owned by poet Howard Nemerov.

This focus on how the book is to be experienced points to some of what makes it so innovative. Federman, a poet and essayist as well as a novelist, described his writing as “surfiction,” a term he coined, similar in meaning to “metafiction.” Take It or Leave It plays with readers’ assumptions about narrative and order, even about words themselves. It concerns itself with the limits of text, the physical presence of words on the page, and their physicality as sounds. It eschews page numbers entirely and takes the form of paragraphs, lists, a mid-book questionnaire to the reader, and all manner of physical representations of events and ideas within the story. Federman’s own synopsis of the novel describes it as “a delirious discourse in search of itself.”

A page from Federman’s handwritten manuscript

A page from the typesetting copy of the manuscript

Take It or Leave It was immediately recognized as a trailblazing, boundary-bending success. In a letter of congratulations to Federman, Michael Anamia described the book “as though the reigning monarchy of the justified page had joined the revolution.”

A letter of congratulations from fellow poet Charles Simic

A card congratulating Federman on his newly published “baby”

In an interview with Larry McCaffery, Federman stated that Take It or Leave It “works on jazz rhythms,” and this freedom and inventiveness are reflected throughout. Federman continued: “For me writing and reading are means of liberation – you liberate yourself in the process of writing (and reading) from all sorts of misconceived notions.” Take It or Leave It insists, delightfully, that its reader liberate themselves.

Federman’s extensive papers are still being processed, but guides to their contents can be accessed here. We expect the papers to be fully processed later this year, and in the meantime they are open for research. For more examples Federman’s work in the Modern Literature Collection, visit our MLC50 digital exhibit.


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