The Seventh Function of Language
From the prizewinning author of HHhH, “the most insolent novel of the year” (L’Express) comes a romp through the French intelligentsia of the twentieth century.
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, 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.
Binet, author of the Prix Goncourt winning HHhH, ups the metafictional ante with The Seventh Function of Language, which draws a detective story out of the true details surrounding the death of French philosopher Roland Barthes. Barthes was the father of semiotics, "a science that studies the life of signs within society," and this novel is alive with the potential signifiers lurking behind language. And so the fact that Barthes had just had lunch with Fran ois Mitterrand the man who would become the president of France on Feb. 25, 1985, before being fatally struck by a van becomes grounds for a grand conspiracy. Our hardboiled hero is superintendent Jacques Bayard, who is bewildered by the luminaries of the left that make up his suspects including Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, and Judith Butler even as their antic discourse regarding everything from James Bond to LSD (which Foucault tries during a disastrous bondage club visit) make the novel a charming roman clef like no other. Bayard eventually learns that Barthes may have been killed for possessing a manuscript that reveals the fabled seventh function of language (linguist Roman Jakobson outlined only six), but the mystery which parodies The Da Vinci Code is really just an excuse for this loving inquiry into 20th-century intellectual history that seamlessly folds historical moments, such as Louis Althusser's murder of his wife and the prison death of Antonio Gramsci, into a brilliant illustration of the possibilities left to the modern novel.