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The Knotted Line

Evan Bissell, Author

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An Infinity of Traces

Download: The Knotted Line Curriculum

What follows is an assignment for a college-level course working with The Knotted Line. This was created with Professor Victoria Robinson for her Introduction to Ethnic Studies “Abolition Pedagogy” course at UC Berkeley with over 60 students. The following was given to students as their final project for the course and can be done in groups or as an individual project. The percentages refer to the grading scheme used by Professor Robinson.
“The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical processes to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory.”
-Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks (1929-1935)

In his famous book Orientalism, Edward Said (1978) shares that, “The only available translation inexplicably leaves Gramsci’s comment at that, whereas in fact Gramsci’s text concludes by saying, ‘therefore it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory.’” With its 50 paintings, The Knotted Line depicts the history of colonization, Christian hegemony, slavery, the birth and growth of the prison system, criminalization and immigration. When you dig deeper, each painting reveals lists of historical facts. There are both acts of oppression—for example, the imprisonment of 19 Hopi men on Alcatraz in 1895 for refusing to send their children to boarding school—and self-determination, such as the occupation of Alcatraz by over fifty Native American tribes over seventy years later.
The work attempts to create a “web” of history, a “mosaic-like history” which entangles around itself, creating an intimacy through time, asking for us to understand our relationships to history, others and ourselves. This assignment will require you to add to this interactive online project. The steps for this assignment are as follows:

Step One

Establish a Google Doc for your Knotted Line assignment.
Review the following slideshow:
Entering the Knotted Line
View the following video:
Write a one-page reflection on these, sharing what comments, analysis, philosophy, or approach will inform your contribution to The Knotted Line. (5%)

Step Two (X-axis)

Choose a moment from the paintings on The Knotted Line (the paintings and silhouettes comprise the X-axis of The Knotted Line). Choose a thematic lens for your work, for example: the environment, gender, sexuality, economics, or class. In your Google Doc, explain the moment you chose in no more than one page, analyzing it through your thematic lens. (5%)

Step Three (Y-axis)

Using your thematic analysis as a lens, conduct research on four moments that have a conceptual relationship (Y-axis) to your chosen moment (X-axis). When researching and choosing these moments, note: 1. The moments should not already be in The Knotted Line; 2. Two should be moments of “Actions of Self-Determination” (when have people fought for things central to your X-axis?) and two should be moments of the “Redesign of Oppression” (how have the same forms of oppression present in your X-axis moment shown up at other times in history?). In your Google Doc, explain/create a “conceptual relationship” based on your chosen thematic lens between your Y-axis and your chosen X-axis moment. (15%)

Step Four (Z-axis)

Create an original media piece about your X- and Y-axis. The work should demonstrate a clear analysis of the conceptual relationship of these moments and illuminate new angles of connection and understanding. The media piece can be:
                -Audio (2-5 minutes total): Poems, edits of found audio, music, etc.  
                -Video (2-5 minutes total): Short doc, creative piece, interviews, found footage, etc.
                -Photo essay or artwork (5-10 original pieces) embedded in a Prezi (see

Step Five (Z-axis continued) 

In light of Gramsci’s quote above, how has this process impacted how you view your relationship to the history of the PIC? To history in general? What “traces” did you uncover for yourself? (10%)

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