Body Talk, Body Taunt – Corporeal Dialogue within a Community of Philosophical Inquiry

  • Natalie M. Fletcher


This essay explores Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s notion of flesh as it applies within the Community of Philosophical Inquiry (CPI), the pedagogical method developed by philosopher Matthew Lipman to foster young people’s multidimensional thinking—critical, creative and caring—through collaborative dialogue. Using a phenomenological framework, the essay aims to extend Merleau-Ponty’s conception of chiasmatic relations between self and other by appealing to the account of intersubjective dialogue presented in the work of phenomenologist and CPI scholar David Kennedy. The guiding question focuses on hostility expressed corporeally in dialogue: How might the phenomenological experience of individual inquirers within a CPI be affected by the hostile interventions of body language? The essay introduces the notion of body taunting as the combined “vocabulary” of flesh—gestural, postural, physiognomic, kinetic expression—with which inquirers both deliberately and inadvertently provoke, dismiss, intimidate or alienate one another as they attempt to co-construct meaning. Building on what Kennedy calls “the lived experience of preverbal dialogue” (Kennedy 2010, p. 45), the essay argues that body taunting poses a threat to the CPI’s emerging intersubjectivity by changing the chiasmatic relations between inquirers, making boundaries between self and other seem more pronounced, notably in moments when disagreement is communicated nonverbally in antagonistic ways that betray or contradict voiced arguments.