KNOTS



What’s in a knot? It sounds like a plain question, perhaps even dull – I hope to show otherwise. Of course we have sailor’s knots, knots to tie shoes, we make pretty knots in bows and ties. Jews knot bread to make a sabbath centrepiece, children play cat’s cradle with knotted string, we even knot wool to make clothes. Even on a superficial level knots are far more important to us than we might immediately realise.


But permit me some obscurity, look at the knot not physically but symbolically and the picture really begins to widen. A knot can be tied through a marriage ceremony, the joining of two people entwined together by legal ceremony. As a practice, marriage quite literally takes two and makes one, it writes into law what love had already inscribed on the persons. It relates to yet another knot, the symbol of infinity, so often carved into the eternity rings of committed lovers. A single knot made of one piece of string that overlaps and rejoins itself such that it never ends. Such is the descriptive power of the knot that we can, and do, use it to symbolise love.


But knots are not always such affirming notions. Take for example the knotted muscle, knotting the glands of a pet to neuter it, or the knot of a logical problem. Knots can be a source of frustration, they disrupt the usual flow, they divert and haemorrhage the course of an action. Such is the kind of knot that Jacques Derrida attempted to deconstruct: by revealing the exception, the flaw in the workings of the problem he unravelled knots in such a way that now we might unravel problems such as race, gender, sexuality. Of course people (or at least men) were very happy with their knot of gender, the man and the woman entwined together; their gender and sex rooted to the earth, wrapped around each other and solidifying each others naturalness. But when we ask what becomes of those born intersex, with distinctly neither male or female genitalia, or the transgendered individual, or even the performance of drag queens, we employ the means to untangle the knot. We deconstruct the status quo and lay bare the threads thus tangled that we had never before even noticed.


This brings me into another knot, perhaps the most famous historical knot: the Gordian knot. The story tells that Alexander the Great arrived at the city of Gordium and was confront with an ox cart attached to a post with a knot so complex that the one who finally managed to unravel it must be destined to rule all of Asia. Try as he might, Alexander could find no way to untangle the knot and seemed on the verge of failure. It occurred to him however that the answer was really quite simple: he drew his sword, struck the knot, and the ox cart was loosed. He used his initiative, thought outside the realms of logic, and went on to not only cut the knot, but to fulfil the prophecy and rule over the entire known world. Such is the effect of Derrida’s deconstruction: it isn’t just a matter of unravelling the thread as it is knotted, but striking where the knot is weak.


One more suggestion: the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan had, in his final thoughts, brought his entire theory of human experience down to a theory of knots, specifically a knot featuring three types of strands: unconscious reality, the languages we inhabit (be they linguistic, cultural, legal etc.), and our identifications in the outside world. Between these 3 strands, just about any human experience could be symbolised through knots. While it is not a subject I have the time, space, or knowledge to fully expound, I believe there is something we can learn from Lacan’s knots. He brings together his concept of language, a structured and logical system we’d be more acquainted to recognise in the sciences; his idea of imaginary identifications, which we’d find in literary texts and in our own conscious experiences; and the real, what lies beyond the realms of consciousness, what we may only catch glimpses of in dreams, hallucinations, impulses. By knotting together these disparate factors he began to explain every psychoanalytic eventuality. Perhaps if we can begin to knot together our own disparate understandings of experience and the world beyond experience, we can also begin to form a system of knots, a knotting of knots; a knot to replace and uncover all those knots employed by power to divert people’s consciousness to simpler or indeed false ideals and knowledges.


But what I suggest is nothing new: intersectionality, cross-cultural conversation, international treaties have come into places forming their own knots and creating new problems alongside the solutions to the old ones - perhaps knots are an inevitability, perhaps they are beyond any kind of moral interpretation and they are indeed contingent. The question stands, what will the knot of the Knot Collective represent? A haemorrhage to the establishment? A marriage of disparate viewpoints? Or the beautiful bow that adorns what it highlights? The question is.