, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 5-17

Aesthetics of Surrender: Levinas and the Disruption of Agency in Moral Education

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Abstract

Education has long been charged with the taskof forming and shaping subjectivity andidentity. However, the prevailing view ofeducation as a project of producing rationalautonomous subjects has been challenged bypostmodern and poststructuralist critiques ofsubstantial subjectivity. In a similar vein,Emmanuel Levinas inverts the traditionalconception of subjectivity, claiming that weare constituted as subjects only in respondingto the other. In other words, subjectivity isderivative of an existentially priorresponsibility to and for the other. Hisconception of ethical responsibility is thusalso a radical departure from the prevailingview of what it means to be a responsible moralagent. In this paper, I use jazz improvisationas a metaphor to focus on three interrelatedaspects of ethical responsibility on Levinas'saccount: passivity, heteronomy, andinescapability. I then point toward some waysin which reframing responsibility andsubjectivity along this line might offer newpossibilities for conceiving subjectivity andmoral agency in education.