Cultural Cut – Laurent Binet – HHhH & The 7th Function of Language


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Never content to rest on our laurels, New Perspectives again breaks new ground by publishing not one but two cultural cuts. And what a way to do so – with extracts from Laurent Binet’s globally acclaimed novels HHhH and The 7th Function of Language. Runaway literary successes, bestsellers translated into more than 30 languages and reviewed in the Anglosphere by publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, The London Review of Books, The Washington Post, the FT ... and now, excerpted in New Perspectives, so for a moment let us rest on our Laurents.

HHhH, Binet’s debut novel, which won the Prix Goncourt and a host of other awards, tells a story that’s been told many times before. Well, really it tells at least three stories that have been told before.

A story of Reinhard(t) Heydrich, the Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, the Hangman of Prague, the Blonde Beast, the architect of the Final Solution, The Man with the Iron Heart (as the film adaptation is called) and the ‘name’ of Himmler’s brain – Himmlers Hirn heißt Heydrich: HHhH.

A tale of the Czechoslovak resistance and Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš of the ‘Free’ Czechoslovak forces, parachuted back to the Czech lands from England and who, with considerable difficulty, assistance and betrayal, assassinated Heydrich before being killed themselves, and before Nazi vengeance was unleased on the village of Lidice outside of Prague.

A selective, panoramic account of the Third Reich that stretches geographically from France to Ukraine; temporally from the early 20th to the early 21st century; and which zooms in to the level of the individual and out to the level of the geopolitical, through memory as well as diplomacy.

The 7th Function is a rollercoaster, a page turner that takes in the Paris of Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, Philippe Sollers and Julia Kristeva and the gang of gigolos who hang around the Café de Flore (and other places); Umberto Eco’s Bologna; Ithaca and a conference at Cornell attended by, inter alia, John Searle, Camille Paglia, Foucault, Derrida, Kristeva, Noam Chomsky, and a young Judith Butler (and the grad students who try and make sense – and sensuality – of them); and a Venice that belongs, somewhat offhand, to Simon Herzog, the semiotics postgrad and unlikely partner in crime to Superintendent Jacques Bayard. And that’s before we head back to Paris and Naples ... all in search of the mysterious ‘7th Function of Language’, a political-semiotic ark of the covenant. You know, how you can really do things with words.