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Dissymmetry and height: Rhetoric, irony and pedagogy in the thought of Husserl, Blanchot and Levinas

Peters, Gary


Gary Peters


This essay is concerned with an initial mapping out of a model of intersubjectivity that, viewed within the context of education, breaks with the hegemonic dialogics of current pedagogies. Intent on rethinking the (so-called) "problem" of solipsism for phenomenology in terms of a pedagogy that situates itself within solitude and the alterity of self and other, Maurice Blanchot and Emmanuel Levinas will here speak as the voices of this other mode of teaching. Beginning with the problematization of intersubjectivity in romantic aesthetics and hermeneutics, I introduce the concept of irony as a crucial element in the conceptualization of this other pedagogical model, one that requires, initially, a discussion of Husserl's response to the charge of solipsism in the 5th Cartesian Meditation. As a starting point I introduce his symmetrical notion of bodily "pairing" into a consideration of rhetoric, understood here as an integral part of teaching, thus forging links with phenomenology via the work of Merleau-Ponty. The above provides a context for an extended discussion of pedagogy as it appears in the work of Blanchot and Levinas. Although similar in many respects, on closer inspection it will emerge that important differences are evident in the dissymmetrical and asymmetrical models suggested by the two thinkers respectively. These differences, I will argue, begin to open up a critical perspective on Levinas' "height" model of teaching in the name of the more radical configuration of phenomenology and rhetoric to be found in Blanchot.


Peters, G. (2004). Dissymmetry and height: Rhetoric, irony and pedagogy in the thought of Husserl, Blanchot and Levinas. Human Studies, 27(2), 187-206.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Aug 19, 2004
Journal Human Studies
Print ISSN 0163-8548
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Volume 27
Issue 2
Pages 187-206
Keywords rhetoric, irony, pedagogy, Husserl, Levinas, Blanchot
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : Refereed journal paper. This paper makes a contribution to wider debates within the philosophy of education concerning the contribution made by phenomenology and its value within the teaching situation. Whereas most phenomenological texts on education emphasise inter-subjectivity and the teaching encounter, this paper returns phenomenology to the impasse reached by Husserl in his attempt to construct a convincing model of inter-subjectivity. Rather than seeing this as a �failure� however, Peters offers a reading of the thought of Blanchot and Levinas as a means of arguing for the necessity of solitude within the teaching situation. The paper constructs its argument through a close and detailed reading of a series of key phenomenological texts. It then draws upon theories of irony and rhetoric to suggest a pedagogical model at odds with many contemporary educational assumptions. Paper delivered at Annual Conference of the Society for Phenomenology and the Human Sciences, Loyola University, Chicago, October 2002.

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