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The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent…

The Seventh Function of Language

by Laurent Binet

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2011358,418 (3.74)11

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Laurent Binet’s first novel, ‘HhHH’, about the rise to prominence and subsequent assassination of Reichsmarshal Heydrich, saw him exploring the hazy boundary between biography, fiction and alternative history, and deservedly attracted much critical acclaim. This latest book, however, has failed to build on that spectacular start.

The basic premise surrounds the running down of the controversial French philosopher and semiologist, Roland Barthes, as he crossed a road in Paris in 1980. He subsequently died in hospital. The incident drew public and police attention because it occurred immediately after Barthes had left a restaurant in which he had been lunching with the underdog socialist Presidential candidate, Francois Mitterand. Binet uses the novel to explore the suggestion that Barthes had, in fact been murdered, or, indeed, assassinated. As a long-term, fully paid up conspiracy theorist, this might have been seen as absolutely up my street, and, having enjoyed ‘HhHH’, I was certainly looking forward to some salacious speculation.

Sadly I found the book very disappointing. The police Superintendent assigned to investigate the incident is a walking cliché, homophobic, reactionary and disdainful of academia (I am sure such police officers abound, or at least did in 1980), but displays those traits to an excessive degree. Similarly, the academics whom he approaches area all equally two dimensional: self-obsessed, bizarrely and self-consciously outré and deliberately unworldly. Once again, I am happy to believe that such people did, and continue to, exist, but the contrast was too clumsily constructed.

Binet’s plot is sound, and elements of the book are enjoyable, especially the interview with Michel Foucault in a Turkish bath, but the novel lacked sufficient cohesion or grounding in any hint of reality to give any lasting satisfaction. Very disappointing. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Jun 8, 2017 |
This is a book for people who know French politics in the 80's, who have a feeling with language, with the pure narrative of linguistics, the rivalry between the French intellectuals of that period and .... willing to believe that there is a kind of complot to be in power of the "word". The word that convinces political enemies, worth killing for. The word that can spread your status above all others and worth losing some fingers fore ....
The author took a big gamble with this book. I know that in France (next to Belgium) there is this kind of intellectuel scene bewildered with the perfect language. Or what it would supposedly be.
But outside of France, this will be a very, very far from home feeling for a lot of readers.
The story has some loose ends, who the hell are the Japanese guys in the story and who did send them? How come that the protagonist ends up in a revenge story?
Lost myself in this seventh function of language? Possible. ( )
  Lunarreader | May 28, 2017 |
La septième fonction du langage is a playful, self-referential satirical academic conspiracy-thriller in the same general tradition as the novels of Umberto Eco (and many, many other professors-who-write-novels). But Binet scales the game up a couple of notches by taking the real names and public personas of 1980s intellectuals and politicians as the basis for most of his characters, and by introducing enough real events into the story to make us believe - initially at least - that we are in one of those historical novels that operates in the possible but unlikely interstices of recorded historical events. We know that Roland Barthes was injured in a road accident in 1980 and subsequently died in hospital. But what if the accident had been staged by the Bulgarian secret service...?

It turns out, of course, that there's a highly-dangerous document that must be prevented from falling into the wrong hands. However, the one-page doomsday formula in this particular case is not the work of some crazed physicist or mathematician, but a secret annex to Roman Jakobson's six functions of language. President Giscard entrusts Commissaire Bayard and his postgrad sidekick Simon Herzog with the quest for the elusive 7th function through the mysterious thickets of French, Italian and American academia. But apart from the Bulgarians and Mitterand, all sorts of other people start getting involved (the Japanese, a mysterious secret society, the maffia, a prominent French-Bulgarian psychoanalyst, etc., etc.), and it all gets gloriously complicated, especially when all the main characters come together for the inevitable academic conference...

But then we start to see things in the novel that we can't resolve with recorded history. A fictional character from another writer's works presents a paper at the conference; a philosopher whose real-life counterpart still had another quarter-century to live is brutally murdered. Could it be that this is all just fiction, as both the narrator and Simon Herzog start to ask themselves? (Of course, we knew from the start that it is all just fiction, but to enter into the novel is to suspend that knowledge - or is it...?)

Although this is a lively, entertaining book with a lot of very funny digs at the absurdities of the French élite ca. 1980, it does steer pretty close to the margins of good taste at times. I have trouble seeing the Bologna station bombing and the personal tragedy of the Althussers as fit subjects for comedy, for instance. But I'm sure that Binet is introducing that kind of subject-matter advisedly, and using it as part of his plan to make us think about how fiction really operates. Would we have the same emotional reaction if Louis Althusser were some remote, historical figure in a novel set four or five centuries ago? Hmmm.

I couldn't help wondering how a novel like this gets on with the libel laws. Obviously no intelligent reader could seriously consider that the author intended the reader to think that the real Julia Kristeva is a Bulgarian sleeper agent, that the real John Searle murdered the real Jacques Derrida, that the real Philippe Sollers is a pretentious imbecile, or that the real Michel Foucault took drugs and hung about in gay saunas (well, OK, probably no-one would quibble with that last one...). But I don't suppose a clever lawyer would have any trouble arguing that those associations were damaging. I wonder if they had to tone down the English translation? ( )
  thorold | May 19, 2017 |
Imagine a hybrid between Roberto Bolano's Savage Detectives, with romping sex scenes that bring academic discourse to a climax, Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke, with tongue-in-cheek jousts, Georges Perec's Cantatrix sopranica L., with a pastiche of a university conference that brings together the greatest minds in the field, Enrique Vila-Matas' hijacking of high-brow celebrities, and what you get is La septième fonction du langage: international conspiracy theory, gore with a psychoanalytic twist, tennis tournaments and verbal locking of horns, grotesque clues (like rolling rrrr's and prominent mustaches), top drawer gossip, unabashed anachronisms, parodic decontextualizations, false identities, purloined letters, cosmopolitan intrigue, all mixed up with some well-researched faits divers and political milestones. This is a fast-paced read that keeps you on your toes. ( )
  aileverte | Nov 13, 2015 |
Showing 4 of 4
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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Laurent Binetprimary authorall editionscalculated
Taylor, SamTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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