New novel celebrates Cornell’s stature in literary theory

Prize-winning French novelist Laurent Binet’s new book features a chapter on a fictional conference at Cornell, organized by none other than (the real) Jonathan Culler, the Class of 1916 Professor of English and Comparative Literature in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The Seventh Function of Language” brings together everyone who is anyone in the world of critical theory, dead or alive, including Jacques Derrida, Umberto Eco, Michel Foucault and, of course, Culler.

The novel spins a madcap secret history of the French intelligentsia, starring a hapless police detective whose case plunges him into the depths of literary theory. He soon finds himself in search of a lost manuscript by the linguist Roman Jakobson on the mysterious “seventh function of language.”

Although not an alum, Binet visited Cornell more than once while his girlfriend was a graduate student in the Department of Romance Studies. He presents Cornell as an idyllic place, says Culler, “with undergraduates lounging around on the grass having intellectual conversations, Telluride as luxurious accommodation for guests and the library as a dream come true for a European intellectual.”

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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