Binet, Lauren, “The Seventh Function of Language: A Novel”, translated by Sam Taylor, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.
From the moment I read the blurb on the cover flap, I knew that I was going to love this book. I was a philosophy major in college and several of my favorites (including my mentor) are characters here so for me, reading this was like spending time with old friends.
Set in Paris, 1980, the literary critic Roland Barthes dies after being hit by a laundry van after having lunch with lunch with French presidential candidate François Mitterrand. This was a shock and a serious blow to the world of letters who now mourn a tragic accident (if that is what it was).
Author Laurent Binet takes us into the secret history of the French intelligentsia, where we meet such luminaries as Jacques Derrida, Umberto Eco, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Julia Kristeva. We also meet a very hapless police detective Jacques Bayard. Working on this case takes Bayard into the depths of literary theory and he is soon in search of a lost manuscript by the linguist Roman Jakobson on the mysterious “seventh function of language.” We join Bayard on his journey to 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 back to the Roman Empire. Laurent Binet celebrates the French intellectual tradition in his new novel. In doing so, he shows the new possibilities of the modern novel. It is both a mystery and a satire on mysteries that brings together theory and crime drama. This is a historical thriller populated by
scholars, spies and secret societies in which fiction and facts come together. Binet shows us that novelists are also detectives and are able to give meaning to details through communication. The novelist bears the burden of needing to entertain his readers and Binet is wonderful at that with this book. We see that language has great power and it shapes reality and here in America that is so evident with what has happened in politics and the recent presidential election. While this is a very funny read, it is also a look at the power of words and it is clear that those words can become very dangerous if not used correctly (or in tweets).
Binet writes with confidence showing that what we might think is unbelievable becomes truth. I love every word of dialogue in “The Seventh Function of Language” especially as we read about those who have contributed so greatly to the world of thought in modern times. Even in the madcap humor of the text is truth. All the reader has to is sit down, open the book and have a wonderful time. (I especially love have Foucault and Kristeva in the same novel and I was reminded of my graduate student days when the bookstore would call me whenever a new book by or about either of these two great minds was published.