chapter  11
Welcoming and Diffi cult Learning: Reading Levinas
Bywith Education SHARON TODD
Pages 16

To approach the Other in conversation is to welcome his expression, in which at each instant he overfl ows the idea a thought would carry away from it. It is therefore to receive from the Other beyond the capacity of the I, which means exactly: to have the idea of infi nity. But this also means: to be taught. The relation with the Other, or Conversation, is a non-allergic relation, an ethical relation; but inasmuch as it is welcomed this conversation is a teaching [enseignement]. Teaching is not reducible to maieutics; it comes from the exterior and brings me more than I contain. (Levinas 2004, 51; italics in the original)

To write a chapter in a book about Levinas and education is to position oneself at an impossible threshold whose crossing seems to risk a betrayal of either Levinas’s thought or education’s interests. Indeed, it seems one cannot write about Levinas and education without commenting on the diffi culty of doing so. It is not that the words of his texts are any more diffi cult than those of many of his contemporaries, or that his style, to use a quaint phallic phrase, is simply impenetrable, or even that he fails to write directly about education. Rather, it is that his self-described project of “fi nding meaning” in ethics, coupled with his resistance to any programmatic effort to describe an ethics (Levinas 1985, 90), do not lend themselves to education’s interests in pursuing an ethic or in delineating direct answers to moral questions on teaching. His starting point for fi nding the meaning in ethics does not lie in defi nitions of what a subject ought to do, but how a subject becomes an expression of an ethical relation. From the vantage of education, his philosophical writings are impossibly out of joint with any attempt to systemize an ethical approach in education. Indeed, as soon as one thinks of transposing his concepts into the sphere of pedagogical exigency, they not only slip their mark, but they no longer stick to the fabric of his own thought. Thus, it is only through a gross distortion of, or infi delity to, the concepts themselves that a direct application of his philosophy can even be considered. It bears asking, then: how might education make a relation to Levinas’s philosophy beyond a utilitarian or pragmatic end? Or, to put the question more directly in line

with my present concern of reading Levinas with education, how does the emergence of the ethical subject become of educational interest?