David Bellos translates the late French writer Georges Perec’s latest posthumous release, The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise, more dutifully on the title page: “the art and craft of approaching your head of department to submit a request for a raise.” William Strunk would surely have objected, though further reading reveals a brilliant, but short, conceptual, comedic novella from the writer who wrote the postmodern masterpiece Life: A User’s Manual.
The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise exhibits the human condition through the function of a computer—a computer from 1968, when the piece was originally composed. As the greatest known member of the still-practicing French Oulipo literary movement, Perec had been challenged by Jacques Perriaud of the Computing Service of the Humanities Research center in Paris to write about a computer’s functions at a time when computers were giant boxes with big red buttons. The result? 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.”
The Art of Asking Your Boss For a Raise, by Georges Perec