Benveniste and Freud. Some remarks

  • Irène Fenoglio Ecole Normale Superieure
Keywords: Conceptual heritage, linguistics and psychoanalysis, Benveniste, Freud, verbal person, subject


Benveniste’s linguistic heritage can be easily identified: Bréal, Meillet, Saussure, the last being the major and constantly reaffirmed one. A wider Humanistic heritage is more difficult to define. What is the place, for instance, of psychoanalysis in Benveniste’s work? Can we evaluate Freud’s contribution to Benveniste’s linguistics? Where this possible legacy does operate in the conceptual development it implements? To the Freudian paradigm of the unconscious (“No one is master in his own house”), Benveniste matches a strictly linguistic paradigm: thanks to the restrictive and constraining structure of the language common to everybody, everything can be said, including the most subjective, i.e. the most unpredictable, items. Correlation of singularity, correlation of subjectivity. Thus, the most of what brings Benveniste’s linguistics closer to Freudian language theory passes through what Benveniste calls, in his 1946 article, “théorie linguistique de la personne verbale” (“the linguistic theory of the verbal person”). The re-discovery of the asymmetry between Me/You and He/One allows him to develop the theory of enunciation by means of the description of his formal “apparatus”. This is the heart of the heritage, at least the heart of a profound convergence of the understanding of language facts, and of what allows for their conscious or unconscious subjective expression. In the field of language, Benveniste is the link in the chain between Freud and Lacan. He makes Freudian issues pass from the domain of psyche to the domain of linguistic functioning.