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The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent…
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The Seventh Function of Language (2015)

by Laurent Binet

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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» See also 31 mentions

English (10)  French (4)  Spanish (3)  Finnish (1)  German (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (20)
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
I can’t quite believe that I almost didn’t read this book. I had read a rather discouraging review and decided not to bother even though I had read HHhH and really liked it. And then someone among my blogging friends (who? I can’t remember!) reviewed it very favourably and so I brought it home from the library. And loved it. It’s been a while since I read anything that’s so much fun.
The novel is a spoof on the crime novel because there is no crime – except for the murder and mayhem triggered by the investigation – and it’s also a playful romp through the arcane conflicts that bedevil philosophy, reducing it to the status of a tennis match. And along the way, a whole heap of famous intellectuals and politicians are cheerfully mocked in a way that explains why the novel is set in 1980-81. (They’re mostly all dead, and can’t sue!)
The story begins with the death of Roland Barthes, who was, in real life, knocked down by a laundry van and died from his injuries a month later. In Binet’s hands, however, this event triggers a police investigation because Barthes was a famous French philosopher specialising in semiology (the study of signs) and he had just had lunch with the Presidential candidate Mitterand.
Superintendant Jacques Bayard is assigned to investigate. Bayard is a would-be Maigret whose modus operandi is more like Inspector Clouseau. He bumbles around not noticing the presence of two thugs in a menacing black Citroen DS, he misses clues that are right under his nose, and the crims are always one step ahead of him. He also has no idea what semiology is but he has fixed opinions about the value of what goes on in French universities:
Courses open to all, but of interest only to work-shy lefties, retired people, lunatics or pipe-smoking teachers; improbable subjects that he’s never heard of before .. No degrees, no exams. People like Barthes and Foucault paid to spout a load of woolly nonsense. Bayard is already sure of one thing: no one comes here to learn how to do a job. (p17)
Still, he buys a copy of Roland-Barthes Made Easy.
Lesson one: The basics of conversation.
1 — How do you formulate yourself?
French: What is your name?
2 — I formulate myself L.
French: My name is William.
Puzzled (why L, why not W?), Bayard presses on.
3 — What ‘stipulation’ locks in, encloses, organises, arranges the economy of your pragma like the occultation and/or exploitation of your egg-zistence?
French: What is your job?
4 — (I) expel units of code.
French: I am a typist.
Bayard is smart enough to know that all this is a parody, fun stuff for intellectuals (whom he despises). But he reads on:
5 — My discourse finds/completes its own textuality through R. B. in a game of smoke and mirrors.
French: I speak fluent Roland-Barthes. (p.22)
It’s no good. He doesn’t get it. So he takes himself off to the Sorbonne and barges into a lecture about semiology, where he meets his reluctant conscript to the investigation, Simon Herzog, who’s a tutor in semiology at the university. He likes Simon because Simon explains semiology using references to James Bond movies.
To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/09/05/the-7th-function-of-language-by-laurent-binet-translated-by-sam-taylor-bookreview/

PS PS (Five minutes later) From reviews I now see at Library Thing, I note that readers who have studied semiology and/or philosophy think that you need to have studied them in order to appreciate this book. Lighten up, ye scholars! You are wrong. I knew nothing about semiology and nothing at all about the disputes between Continental Philosophy and the Analytics in the UK and the US. Binet explains anything you need to know, painlessly, and in ways that will make you laugh. ( )
  anzlitlovers | Sep 5, 2018 |
In 1980, Roland Barthes was hit by a van, and died a month later from injuries sustained in the accident. Binet supposes that Barthes was carrying a document wanted by several groups of powerful people – including the government of President Giscard d’Estaing. And some Bulgarian assassins. Who may or may not have been working for the Russians. A superintendent from the Renseignements Généraux, Bayard, is tasked with investigating the accident, and recruits a young semiologist professor, Herzog, to help him. The two discover the existence of the Logos Club, where members debate each other for advancement, and challengers lose a finger if their challenges are unsuccessful. Bayard and Herzog bounce around literary theory and semiotics, through a series of clever set-pieces and in-jokes, and it’s all to do with Roman Jakobson’s theory of language and its six functions – or, in this case, a mythical seventh one which allows the speaker to coerce the listener – which may have been in Barthes’ possession, and which politicians are keen to discover, especially French ones… Not only is The 7th Function of Language a fun and clever mystery novel, but it’s also a fascinating exploration of semiotics and the theories of Barthes, Foucault, Jakobson and others. A lot of the characters who appear are real people, and a number of the events in which Bayard and Herzog find themselves involved also happened in real history. As in his earlier HHhH (see here), Binet frequently breaks the fourth wall, although the process of writing the novel does not feature here as it does in the previous novel. I picked up a signed hardback of this book in a Waterstone’s promotion, but hadn’t planned on hanging onto the book once I’d read it. But I think I will. It’s an entertaining read and it’s made me want to read up on Barthes and Foucault and semiotics. ( )
  iansales | Aug 17, 2018 |
I don't think I would have enjoyed this book much if I hadn't had to read Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Eco, and Kristeva in graduate school. Even then, I'm glad that I read the ebook so that I could click on names to look them up on Wikipedia. It was really fun to read a satirical murder mystery set in this incredible intellectual circle. For one thing, it was amazing just to think of what conversations must have been like with all of these philosophical geniuses in one room. But Binet does a fantastic job of bringing out the comic while still respecting these thinkers - there is a funny dinner scene where Kirsteva and Sollers are hiding their marital difficulties while Althusser's wife flirts with other men. There's a scene with Foucault getting a blowjob from a gigolo in a sauna while being interrogated by police. I won't give away what happens in the scene with Judith Butler as a graduate student, but I will never be able to think of her without inwardly grinning about it. Binet also imagines an intellectual fight club, a secret speech-and-debate club with life-and-death consequences. On top of that, there is some meta-fiction, as one of the main characters questions whether he is in a badly-written novel.

All in all, this is a delightfully self-aware intellectual romp disguised as a thriller. ( )
  Gwendydd | Jun 23, 2018 |
Translated from the French by Sam Taylor

I doubt “fanciful” adequately describes Laurent Binet’s The Seventh Function of Language, although it has its fanciful features. Imagine a Paris police procedural involving international skullduggery, secret debates featuring more erudition than a graduate seminar in philosophy, crimes that cross international borders, including murder and dismemberment … all in a long chase to find a document (or maybe two) about the seventh function of language.

In case you’re wondering, Twentieth Century British philosopher John L. Austin posited six functions of language as speech acts, and his work was seconded and expanded by the renowned John R. Searle of the University of California. One key takeaway is that Austin described the functions, but did not include any instructions on how to wield language’s power. Here are the six:

The referential function - providing information about something.
Emotive or expressive function - information about the sender and her attitude toward the message.
Conative function - directed toward the receiver.
Phatic function (regarded as the most amusing) - talk for the sake of talk, where the message is not the point.
Metalinguistics function - concerned that the sender and receiver understand each other.
Poetic function - aesthetic in nature: the sound of the words - rhyme, alliteration, assonance, repetition, rhythm of the message.

This entire novel focuses on the purported seventh function of language, and why governments would engage in trickery and murder to possess and understand it. François Mitterrand uses it to defeat Giscard in a debate ahead of the French election in 1981. Jacques Derrida doubts its existence, or at least its performative power, and attacks it and its devotées, arguing that so much human communication is simply rote repetition, a parroting of outside influences. (I for one believe people intend to communicate with one another across a whole series of levels, depending on the urgency or the strength of the intention. This often includes attempting to influence their actions. These communications involve a subtle understanding between interlocutors, and sometimes the interests or desires of the two diverge, leading to conflict. The performative function - where language either performs an act itself, or attempts to induce another’s actions - exists in the statements and may or may not succeed.)

The novel at any rate follows thinkers who are famous in today’s philosophical circles: Derrida, Michel Foucault, Philippe Sollers, Umberto Eco, Julia Kristeva, who all have an interest in either finding or suppressing the seventh function. They speak endlessly (and depending on your familiarity or interest, do it fairly entertainingly), they chase across Europe and the United States, and much of what is said has topical importance in today’s thought. I don’t profess to have caught all the references and implications, but I caught enough to follow at a distance from which my cultural knowledge kept everything a little indistinct.

Binet has written a novel that deals with the refined points of current linguistics, psychology, and philosophy. He takes up the question of the performative function of language - the seventh function in this framework - and by making a somewhat comic romp out of it, very faintly takes the side that the function does not exist as Austin and Searle posit it.

I’m not sure I would recommend this book to readers who are not versed in today’s cutting edge philosophies. The author makes current historical characters the actors in his farce/thriller, and the level of discourse is the highest you will see in current fiction. But if you don’t know why Derrida and Searle are having a dispute, or why in this story Roland Barthes was attacked, robbed, and murdered, this book won’t make much sense, or hold your interest. The author manages to point out along the way that language has real power in today’s world. It’s a power wielded by the wealthy to keep minorities and the poorer classes in “their place.” It’s not the only power wielded to that end, but it is the most important. ( )
  LukeS | May 13, 2018 |
Literary Theory as detective fiction. "Echoes of The Name Of The Rose" and Duluth? ( )
  P1g5purt | Mar 21, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
The 7th Function of Language isn’t (only) playing for lowbrow/highbrow laughs; it’s a mise en scène of conflicting ideas about Frenchness. In an election year that saw Marine Le Pen get dangerously close to the French presidency, Binet’s postmodern policier asks where the nation is going, and what kind of car it will drive to get there.
added by thorold | editThe Guardian, Lauren Elkin (May 12, 2017)
 
Laurent Binet sait très très bien raconter les histoires et tout son livre est lui-même une étourdissantes démonstration de la puissance du romanesque le plus échevelé. On rit beaucoup, on se laisse surprendre par l’énormité de son culot et de son mauvais goût assumé… mais, une fois qu’on a bien ri dans cet entre-soi germano-pratin, le fond de la doctrine reste obscur. Vanité des vanités…
 
Et quand la plume aiguisée ne s’élève pas pour nous plonger dans l’ambiance mystérieuse du roman policier, elle s’assagit pour nous donner des leçons de linguistique. Les pensées de Machiavel, Starobinksi et celle de Barthes évidemment, s’exposent clairement et simplement. La septième fonction du langage n’est pas seulement un roman, c’est une introduction à la sémiologie. Et heureusement pour le lecteur, le ton n’est pas hautain.
 
t en même temps, évidemment, tout est vrai, dès lors que l’on a repéré sur la couverture la précision « roman » – ainsi que l’effacement du “ vrai ” Barthes comme celui du “ vrai ” Heydrich pour HHhH – et que, par le pacte de lecture (je m’exprime comme il y a trente ans), on prend cette histoire pour un pur délire, une démonstration par l’absurde de ce qu’est le mentir-vrai. Mais un délire totalement maîtrisé, et surtout terriblement utile.
 

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The suspicious death of literary critic Roland Barthes in 1980 Paris reveals the secret history of the French intelligentsia, plunging a hapless police detective into the depths of literary theory as it was documented in a famed linguist's lost manuscript.… (more)

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