The Art and Craft of Approaching Your Head of Department to Submit a Request for a Raise
Perec's office novel takes fluorescent-lit anomie and shoots it through a complex if-then calculus, sending a hapless hero through a workplace maze where he must repeatedly avoid sour coworkers and steel his resolve to ask for more money.
Georges Perec, who died in 1982 at the age of forty-five, was far, far ahead of his time. One of the core members of Oulipo, the international group of writers who use mathematical constraints as jumping-off points for their fictions, Perec penned a mystery novel that avoids all words containing the letter e. (Just as spectacularly, this novel, La Disparition, was translated into English as A Void, following the same no-e constraint.) His novel Life: A User's Manual, which uses a chess game to structure its story about residents in a busy Parisian apartment building, also deserves its place in the modern pantheon.
Until now, Perec's short office novel The Art and Craft of Approaching Your Head of Department to Submit a Request for a Raise has not been translated into English. Perec biographer David Bellos has finally undertaken the daunting task, a seventy-seven-page-long single sentence with almost no punctuation. The Oulipan challenge for the book was thrown down by computer pioneer Jacques Perriaud in 1968 at the Orwellian-sounding Computing Service of the Humanities Research Centre in Paris. Perriaud drew up a flowchart representing how a supercomputer would break down the various ways a nervous low-level office worker might set out to ask his superior for a raise, complete with loops, digressions, and recursions. Perec threw himself at the task and created a hilarious, increasingly frenzied office parody:
. . . let's suppose for starters that ms wye is not i mean really not in a good mood in this case you don't let it get you down and circumperambulate the various