RATHER THAN AN INSTRUCTIONAL GUIDE for the bewildered employee, Georges Perec's The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise is a map down a rabbit hole. It stages the obsessive shoe-shuffling that can ensue when posing a delicate question:
He knows why you're standing in front of him biting your nails pathologically stumbling over your words you know that he knows that you know and he knows you know that he knew that you saw that he would know that you were about to know in other words you have the actually quite accurate impression that it would be tricky clumsy dangerous to launch into the issue just like that you need a pretext.
The Art of Asking is essentially the monologue of a hyper-functioning corporate employee. It is a book to be read in one sitting and preferably out loud. (It has, in fact, been adapted for radio and stage, and is being performed in Avignon this summer.)
Paradoxically, this brief novel at once boasts a complete lack of plot and a surfeit of it, as the employee works and worries at a million meaningless tasks and considerations; the office worker's culling of potential outcomes becomes a comic exploration of minutia. At first glance the whole book seems to be one tremendously long sentence, missing both conventional punctuation and capitalization: envision an early computer printout. Each word takes on the same typographical emphasis as its neighbors. But the reader quickly sees that the intonation of the sentences, as well as their beginning and end points, are actually unambiguous. Perec's book demonstrates that the reader knows quite well how to parse text — even without the usual mile markings — although the way to requesting a raise may not yet be clear. The reader's own processing of language thus becomes a second plot.
The Art of Asking wears its organizing principle on its flyleaf, which features a flowchart of raise-requesting variables. Written in the late sixties when computers were still young and large, the book's humor remains incisive in our age of lightweight gadgets. The novel was prompted by a request from Jacques Perriaud, a member of the Computing Service of the Humanities Research Centre in Paris, who asked Perec to contribute a creative, computer-based text to the journal Programmed Learning in 1968. Perriaud supplied an algorithm of the steps an employee might follow to ask for a raise, which Perec adapted. The resulting text is a fugue that combines a "Choose Your Own Adventure" format with the linguistic playfulness of Joyce, Beckett, or Stein. It takes on the binary thinking as well as the linguistic encrustations of corporate structures: even your boss's boss has trouble approaching "the assistant deputy deputy deputy director."
Vintage Tie CC Jonathan Brown
At the time of the book's composition, Perec was best known for his incisive, sociological critique of bourgeois French life in Things. More experimental works such as ...read more