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Wyatt, J. (2006). Signifying Contortions: Disavowal, the Enigmatic Signifier, and George W. Bush's Credibility After 9/11. Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Stud., 3(2):194-205.

(2006). International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 3(2):194-205

Signifying Contortions: Disavowal, the Enigmatic Signifier, and George W. Bush's Credibility After 9/11

Jean Wyatt

“Signifying Contortions” attempts to account for Bush's credibility by reflecting on three psychological processes that lead people to tolerate the misleading and contradictory discourse of a leader. Laplanche's theory of the way children process the “enigmatic signifiers” coming from their parents explains why an authority figure's verbal fumblings and contradictions would evoke in his followers not only tolerance, but a deep attachment to him. Through a process of disavowal, the paper argues, certain signifiers related to 9/11 — such as “World Trade Center” — have been emptied of their meaning; President Bush's words serve as a fetish that seals over the gap made by these collective disavowals. Freud said that members of a group see in their leader the embodiment of each member's ego ideal; I claim that Bush both defends and embodies not the ego ideal described by Freud, but the nation's collective ideal ego, as that is described by Lacan. The three modes of contorted signifying function to preserve the idealized self-image of the all-good, all-beneficent USA, which came under attack on 9/11.

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