Author(s): Laurent Binet; Sam Taylor (Translator)
From the prizewinning author of HHhH, "the most insolent novel of the year" (L'Express)
Paris, 1980. The literary critic Roland Barthes dies--struck by a laundry van--after lunch with the presidential candidate François Mitterand. The world of letters mourns a tragic accident. But what if it wasn't an accident at all? What if Barthes was . . . murdered?
In The Seventh Function of Language, Laurent Binet spins a madcap secret history of the French intelligentsia, starring such luminaries as Jacques Derrida, Umberto Eco, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Julia Kristeva--as well as the hapless police detective Jacques Bayard, whose new case will plunge him into the depths of literary theory (starting with the French version of Roland Barthes for Dummies). Soon Bayard finds himself in search of a lost manuscript by the linguist Roman Jakobson on the mysterious "seventh function of language."
A brilliantly erudite comedy that recalls Flaubert's Parrot and The Name of the Rose--with more than a dash of TheDa Vinci Code--The Seventh Function of Language takes us from the cafés of Saint-Germain to the corridors of Cornell University, and into the duels and orgies of the Logos Club, a secret philosophical society that dates to the Roman Empire. Binet has written both a send-up and a wildly exuberant celebration of the French intellectual tradition.
Popular culture rightly feels threatened by structuralist criticism, but it has only its own existing weapons (and not the weapon of theory) with which to respond and its understanding of the threat posed upon it is necessarily vague. When Roland Barthes was killed by a laundry van when crossing the road in 1980, his afterlife was up for grabs*. Could this incident be an opportunity to strike back at semiotics through its most vulnerable aspect, the semioticians? What if these philosophers were made to behave in a book, now that they no longer exist in the world, as cartoon caricatures of philosophers? How about introducing a detective, an ordinary fictional detective, resembling or not resembling, who knows, a real detective, who begins to discover that Barthes was killed as part of a high-level international intrigue for the sake of some papers he had written on the seventh function of language, its capacity, when correctly loaded, to irresistibly persuade whoever it is pointed at (useful, at a popular-cultural level). Of course, a detective, like a semiotician, is on a trail of clues and signs, the difference being that a detective believes that behind the signs lies a single story whereas the semiotician knows that interpretation will never exhaust the sign. Which approach is more useful? Which is more true? The more this popular-cultural detective corrals within the limits of his investigations the philosophers who are for him the stand-ins for their philosophy, the more he lays himself open to interpretation from beyond those limits. The satiriser becomes the satirical representation of a satiriser, perhaps for the very objects of his satire. Theory thus ducks the long arm of the law, but this too comes at a cost, the loosening of the bond between the signifier and the signified. Ouch. Structuralist criticism rightly feels threatened by post-structuralist criticism, but it has only its own existing weapons with which to respond and its understanding of the threat posed upon it is necessarily vague.
* (Barthes was implicated in the death of the author in 1967 but was released without charge as the body was never found. Although this was a cold case by 1980, the possibility of his death being a revenge killing warrants further examination.)
"Establishes Laurent Binet as the clear heir to the late Umberto Eco, writing novels that are both brilliant and playful, dense with ideas while never losing sight of their need to entertain... One of the funniest, most riotously inventive and enjoyable novels you'll read this year" -- Alex Preston * Observer * "A hugely entertaining novel, taking delight in its own twists and turns" -- Nicholas Lezard * Spectator * "Lively, earthy, experimental, ambitious, clever and endlessly entertaining... Smart, witty, direct, cool" -- Hal Jensen * The Times Literary Supplement * "The premise is a stroke of genius. Roland Barthes did not die following an accident in 1980; he was murdered... The strands of the plot are skilfully interwoven through a dual process of fictionalisation of the real and realisation of the fictional" -- Andrew Gallix * Financial Times * "An almost filmic detective romp, taking in glamorous international locations, killer dogs, Bulgarian secret agents, several varieties of sex and wild car chases" -- Andrew Hussey * Literary Review * "A smart spoof thriller, cheekily taking as its cat the most famous Parisian intellectuals in the scene in 1980... It's all fun and games, ever so clever, and highly self-congratulatory for those of us who wasted years studying the abstruse and ultimately worthless theories of these French thinkers" -- David Sexton * i * "Laurent Binet is possessed of something like Superman's X-ray vision combined with a million lasers. When he gets something in his sights, that thing is dead. And what he kills in his new novel is literary theory, in all its fake unuseful stupidity.... Reading Binet gives you that rare pleasure of feeling that you're losing your grip on reality... What Binet can do with a scene, a paragraph, is beyond belief... One suspects Binet will make, or perhaps already has made, a lot of enemies with his jaw-droppingly disrespectful, extremely witty and - yes - heartfelt book. But one thing's for sure, he'll know how to handle them" -- Todd McEwan * Herald * "Incredibly timely ... very entertaining, like a dirty Midnight in Paris for the po-mo set" -- Lauren Elkin * Guardian * "On one level it's a nostalgic look at a period in which French thinkers spent less time brooding on national identity... And on another it's an exercise in pure intellectual slapstick of the kind that French humourists do well... It's possible that his novel shares a few shreds of DNA with Zoolander" -- Christopher Tayler * London Review of Books *
Laurent Binet lives and works in France. His first novel, HHhH, was an international bestseller which won the prestigious Prix Goncourt du premier roman, among other prizes.