I just finished reading The Seventh Function of Language by Laurent Binet; it’s impossibly erudite and also hilarious. If you remember the Eighties and if you have some idea why Foucault, Giscard, Nastase, and Eco were interesting, you might really enjoy it, especially if you’re also entertained by sex, violence, and conspiracy theory.

The Seventh Function of Language

I was in the library looking at travel guides for an upcoming vacation, and as I was coming down the escalator the book’s garish cover grabbed my attention sufficiently that I had to go look at it, and then took it home. There’s a story in here about signs and signals and that sort of stuff.

It’s a whodunnit basically, although the author chats away in his own voice, the protagonist keeps wondering if he’s in a novel, the story shamelessly mixes real things that happened to real people with things that definitely didn’t happen and others might be true but nobody will ever know.

Things that did happen in 1980-81.

  1. Roland Barthes was hit by a laundry van after having lunch with Mitterrand; the papers he was carrying were stolen, and he died a month later of his injuries.

  2. Louis Althusser strangled his wife in what the courts consider an episode of insanity.

  3. Right-wing terrorists bombed Bologna’s central train station, killing 85 people.

  4. Mitterrand won the first of several elections as President of France.

Things that didn’t:

  1. Jacques Derrida was not killed by attack dogs unleashed on Cornell University campus by John Searle.

  2. Philippe Sollers was not castrated as a consequence of losing a semioticians’ fight-club debate with Umberto Eco.

Things we’ll never know:

  1. How did Mitterrand hang on to office for so long?

  2. What happened to Barthes’ papers?

Fun as in fun · Seriously, I kept laughing out loud. While there’s deep thinking here about language and meaning, there are fabulous chase scenes, appalling violence, sexual fireworks on a dissecting table, mysterious Japanese ninjas, and a whole lot of sex & drugs & rock-n-roll. And tennis.

And name-dropping; the whole book is one big name-drop, and a lot of the names are portrayed having inappropriate sex and taking inappropriate drugs. But he does it so well that you can’t help but be amused. Well, except for some of those portrayed are still very alive and might not be; can you sue someone for the way they portray you in a work of fiction? For example, I wonder if a certain prominent female American gender theorist will object to having been portrayed as sodomizing a burly French policeman in a threesome including a prominent female French poststructuralist?

Anyhow, by now you probably know whether you’re a candidate to enjoy this one.


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From: Paul Clapham (Mar 17 2019, at 11:19)

Okay, I put it on hold at the library. (The same library as your library.) Should be getting it next week.


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March 17, 2019
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