A ruptured tale of professional woe


On May 7, what would have been Perec's seventy-fifth birthday, Verso presented a lost classic: The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise, published in English for the first time. Reviewer Jessica Freeman-Slade describes the book's strange provenance in a recent piece for [TK] Reiews:

In 1968 Jacques Perriaud of the Computing Service of the Humanities Research Center in Paris challenged artists to begin using computers in their work. But the challenge was greater than that: to challenge a writer to use the computer's "basic mode of operation as a writing device." Perriaud devised a flow chart—a visual representation of a computer algorithm—that might play out the different narrative options involved in asking one's boss for a pay increase. At that time, Georges Perec was a little-known writer ... What Perec did with Perriaud's challenge both engaged the rules of the challenge and simultaneously tore them down.

Perec's writing is full of the trademarks of Oulipo, which also celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year. Oulipo, as Paul Auster described it, "proposes all kinds of madcap operations to writers: the S-7 method (rewriting famous poems by replacing each word with the seventh word that follows it in the dictionary), the Lipogram (eliminating the use of one or more letters in a text), acrostics, palindromes, permutations, anagrams and numerous other literary constraints." In this case, as City Arts points out, the result is

a continuous stream of consciousness, without punctuation; we become currents on a circuit board challenged by an onslaught of what-ifs. In Perec's words, we "circumperambulate the various departments which taken together constitute the whole or part of the organization of which you are an employee."

To illustrate the algorithm, Rumors designer Andy Pressman has laid out all our choices in a new mini-site. Of this flowchart, Bookforum observes:

Nothing can approximate the "if/then" contortions of The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise, but this interactive flow chart hints at the book's hilarious and inventive office-drone odyssey. Dare you ask your boss for a raise today? You'd better check with Perec first.

Visit [TK] Reviews to read Jessica Freeman-Slade's review in full.

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