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EUROPEAN FORUM - Katty Langelez-Stevens - TheTruth of Man Is in the Language

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The Truth of Man Is in the Language

Katty Langelez-Stevens

In his essay on the language of the Third Reich (LTI), Viktor Klemperer advances the thesis that supports his research. It resonates very strangely with that of Freud who was his contemporary but he seems to have not read. This thesis will also be the one that Lacan will extract from Freud's work to make it the red thread, and even the peak of his teaching.

Klemperer refers to Talleyrand's famous saying that the language is there to hide the diplomat's thoughts and he rejects it: "The exact opposite is true. What someone deliberately wants to conceal, to others and to oneself, is what he carries unconsciously and the language reveals it. This, no doubt, is the meaning of the sentence: the style is the man; the statements of a man may be untrue, the style of his language exposes his being."(1)

For Freud, the unconscious is revealed in the words, the sentences that the subject says, or forgets: slips of the tongue, denials, omissions of words. Lacan interprets Freud's work from this point and declares in the Écrits that the unconscious is structured as a language. Lacan parodies the formula of the count of Buffon that Klemperer resumes, “the style is the man” (2) since 1966 when he said in the overture of his Écrits: "the style is the man himself”. While stating that if the style is ordered by the Other to whom the subject who writes is addressing, this is not enough to make a style. From 1966, Lacan proposes a definition of style that focus on the object, neglecting the subject. The condition of possibility of a style is when the subject agrees to submit to the object by fading (3). At the end of his teaching, the style becomes even the signature of the jouissance of the subject through his symptom, his indelible mark.

From 1933 until 1945, Viktor Klemperer kept a diary in which he first noted all the daily troubles of his life as a Jew, the husband of an Aryan, in Dresden. Very quickly, he notices that the language is profoundly transformed by the arrival of Hitler to the power; that these modifications are voluntary and testify of a will to indoctrinate the people. He, himself, finds it very difficult to resist. Goebbels, master of propaganda in the Third Reich, orchestrated this OPA on the German language. The reference work that served as a base for him, or even as a Bible is Hitler's "Mein Kampf", himself put in the position of god.

From this view of Klemperer and that of Freud, we can now draw lessons to find between the lines and behind the words the wolves who hide under the appearances of devoted servants of the people.

Translation by Lorena Hojman Davis


(1) Viktor Klemperer, LTI, La langue du IIIè Reich, Albin Michel, 1976.

(2) "The well-written works will be the only ones that will pass to posterity: the quantity of knowledge, the singularity of facts, the novelty of discoveries, guarantors of immortality are not sure: if the works that contain them only roll on small objects, if they are written without taste, without nobility and without genius, they will perish, because the knowledge, the facts and the discoveries are easily removed, transported, and even gain to be put into works by more skilled hands. These things are out of the man, the style is the man himself the style cannot thus be removed, nor to be transported, nor to be altered: if it is high, noble, sublime, the author will be admired in all times; because there is only the truth that is lasting and even eternal”. Georges-Louis Leclerc, Count of BUFFON, Discourse on Style, Paris, J. Lecoffre 1872 [BnF], Speech delivered at the French Academy on August 25, 1753, p. 23.

(3) Bruno Miani, "L’actualité du style dans la psychose", article published on



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