Muse in Media: Disturbing Gentleness

Timothy Morton, author of Ecology Without Nature and The Ecological Thought, is attending the conference on Eastern and Indigenous Perspectives on Sustainability and Conflict Resolution at the University of South Florida this week and has done those of us philosophy-grad-student wanna-bees an amazing service by making the audio recording and slide show of his talk, Disturbing Gentleness, available on his blog.

Morton’s understanding of nonviolence resonates deeply with my own. It is not a passivity or denial of violence and death, but something that arises from and gives rise to existence itself. We are inconsistent beings, and the rift within our very selves is what allows for movement, spaciousness, beauty and death. Nonviolence is simply allowing this inconsistency in ourselves, and others, without trying to reduce it or extrapolate away from it. In this sense, perhaps the deepest expression of nonviolence is acceptance of things as they are — it is in fact the very opposite of denial.

But as usual, I fear my summary is not nearly as eloquent or compelling as Morton’s talk (not to mention, my language is perhaps not as careful and nuanced as his). So I’ll step out of the way and let his words speak for themselves. Below are a few of my favorite quotes from the lecture, but be sure to head over to his blog to listen to the entire thing. (It’s forty minutes, but worth every second — especially considering how quickly he talks!)

“It’s not simply that nonviolence is a good idea. Nonviolence is existence. Existence is nonviolence.”

“Causality happens because of a dance of nonidentity taking place on the ontological inside of a thing.”

“There very attempt to tear myself away [from the interlinked, enmeshedness of things] enmeshes me further. Conscious coexistence with the mesh involves a form of nonviolence.”

“The knife of beauty is able to insert itself into the slit between an object’s essence and appearance.”

“Beauty is a nonviolent experience of near-death, a warning that one is fragile like everything else in the universe.”

“The inner fragility of a thing is why a thing can exist at all.”

“Things are the rubble of other things. Nonviolence means to coexist nonviolently with this rubble, to let the rubble be rubble, rather than trying to build a nice smooth golf course over it.”

“A reduction of an object to its appearance is a reduction of an object to consistency. An object is internally riven, it is fundamentally inconsistent. Thus the imposition of consistency is simply violence on the most profound level at which violence can manifest. Nonviolence, at this level of being, is allowing an object to remain inconsistent.”

“What the #Occupy movements get right is that sheer coexistence of people […] is a very powerful thing. Why? Because it is a living symbol of coexisting with coexistence as such, in all its inconsistency and fragility.”

(Morton’s description of the process and purpose of meditation and contemplation:) “Humans must get used to the depth of nonviolence in their being.”

Alison Leigh Lilly
Alison Leigh Lilly nurtures the earth-rooted, sea-soaked, mist-and-mystic spiritual heritage of her Celtic ancestors, exploring themes of peace, poesis and wilderness through essays, articles, poetry and podcasting. You can learn more about her work here.

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