The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews novelist, journalist, and French translator Sam Taylor, author of The Ground is Burning and The Republic of Trees. The Seventh Function of Language, a bawdy and fanciful detective novel about the death of Roland Barthes, is the second novel Sam has translated by France’s Laurent Binet.
Andrea Gregovich: The Seventh Function of Language is a detective novel about the death of Roland Barthes, who in real life died when he got hit by a laundry van under what I’ve always understood to be unsuspicious circumstances. This novel proposes, instead, a fictitious conspiracy around his death: he was onto a higher function of language than the ones he’d already identified in his theoretical work, and this new function would allow a speaker to use their words to make anyone do anything. Kind of the holy grail of literary theory, which could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands. I’m fascinated by this Seventh Function—did the author invent this? Is it a concept somewhere in the texts of literary theory?
Sam Taylor: My understanding is that it was originally a minor addendum to Roman Jakobson’s six functions of language, which Laurent Binet imagined as a sort of superpower. Continue reading