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Making friends with strangeness: Practices of mastery within an ontology of abundance

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
This thesis reports on a hermeneutic journey towards non-dualized understandings of mastery and otherness. Drawing on a variety of experiences and practices, and on diverse scholarly and interpretative literature, I seek ways the modern West might retrieve an ecological understanding of mastery as a co-created and abundant dynamic arising from our embeddedness in a more-than-human cosmos. Such an understanding contrasts with the dominant modern understanding of mastery as a practice of hierarchy, a narrowing of the scope of relations, attention and action. In its extreme form, this dominant narrowing mastery reaches to dualize, control and objectify others, leading to the ecological nightmare of colonialism. Rather than rejecting this understanding outright, however, I show how it can be understood as a form of scarcity within a greater context of abundance. Understanding these contrasting forms of mastery might help us to acknowledge and engage with our complex and problematic ancestries and inheritances in a spirit of intellectual humility and surrender that is its own form of mastery—a mastery that allows strangeness to remain intact. Mastery of this kind is found emerging in various practices including oil painting, creative writing, encounters with wild beings, and team management at an institution identified as Mountaintop University; it relies on disciplined attention and the patient cultivation of relationship, while remaining resistant to codification and control. It is argued that these diverse and contrasting forms of mastery co-arise, in paradoxical fashion. Keeping them in dialogue with one another requires us to resist dualizing our Western intellectual inheritance and to recognize its gifts amidst the scourges of colonialism. Revitalizing our understanding of early modern (Renaissance) humanism, and rediscovering its resonances with wisdom traditions such as the Tao may help us remember what so many of us in the West have forgotten: that we have been friends with strangeness before.
This thesis is embargoed until December 31 2024, after which time the fulltext will become available.
218 pages.
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Copyright is held by the author(s).
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Fettes, Mark
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