Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Chinese knots are celebrated as folk art, woven in the blood red color of celebration, representing the twisting segments and channels of change, asserting the goodness of infinity, uncertainty and indirection, and affiliating material life with mystic existence in wordless assertion. This paper examines contradiction as a foundational trope of argument by examining examples of rhetorical fascination with “knots,” obsessions, congealed thoughts, hidden twists and other types of contradictions in highlighted cases of debate and argument in Chinese media, through everyday texts such as editorials, news commentary and other debates that populate media. While examples fully reflect frustration, conflicting values and injured righteousness, discursive awareness and highlighting of these knots serve as a way to force movement into new territory. Far from constraining, ultimately these obstacles are presented as a trope of movement. Chinese rhetoric is not alone in this discovery; world philosophies and religions often relish contradictions as fruitful intellectual puzzles. Anthropology as a discipline specifically highlights disorder, contradiction and incommensurability as a foundational condition. What I highlight here is not pretensions of contradiction as a tragedy of the depths, but the pragmatic utility of showing where things stick and turn as matter of everyday discursive engagement.