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Simone Weil (1909–1943)

Author of Waiting for God

170+ Works 5,947 Members 82 Reviews 31 Favorited

About the Author

Born in Paris, Weil came from a highly intellectual family. After a brilliant academic career at school and university, she taught philosophy interspersed with periods of hard manual labor on farms and in factories. Throughout her life she combined sophisticated and scholarly interests with an show more extreme moral intensity and identification with the poor and oppressed. A twentieth-century Pascal (see Vol. 4), this ardently spiritual woman was a social thinker, sensitive to the crises of modern humanity. Jewish by birth, Christian by vocation, and Greek by aesthetic choice, Weil has influenced religious thinking profoundly in the years since her death. "Humility is the root of love," she said as she questioned traditional theologians and held that the apostles had badly interpreted Christ's teaching. Christianity was, she thought, to blame for the heresy of progress. During World War II, Weil starved herself to death, refusing to eat while victims of the war still suffered. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Disambiguation Notice:

Do not combine with Simone Veil (born 1927), French lawyer and politician.

Works by Simone Weil

Waiting for God (1951) 1,272 copies
Gravity and Grace (1948) 835 copies
Simone Weil: An Anthology (1986) 374 copies
War and the Iliad (2005) 355 copies
Oppression and Liberty (1955) 279 copies
The Simone Weil Reader (1977) 213 copies
Letter to a Priest (1951) 171 copies
Iliad or the Poem of Force (1943) 163 copies
Lectures on Philosophy (1959) 103 copies
Gateway to God (1834) 87 copies
La personne et le sacré (1990) 60 copies
La condition ouvrière (1951) 60 copies
Œuvres choisies (1999) 41 copies
First and Last Notebooks (1970) 39 copies
Venezia salva (1987) 30 copies
La rivelazione greca (1936) 29 copies
Quaderni Volume primo (1951) 27 copies
Jegyzetfüzet II (1956) 20 copies
Selected essays, 1934-1943 (1962) 18 copies
Seventy letters (1965) 14 copies
L'arte della matematica (2018) 13 copies
Quaderni vol. 3 (1988) 10 copies
Sur la science (1966) 8 copies
Poesie (1993) 7 copies
Quaderni vol. 4 (1993) 7 copies
Aimer bien (2016) 6 copies
Contre le colonialisme (2018) 6 copies
Waar strijden wij voor? (2021) 6 copies
Incontri libertari (2001) 4 copies
Il bello e il bene (2013) 4 copies
Escritos esenciales (2000) 4 copies
Morale e letteratura (1990) 4 copies
On the Lord's Prayer (1990) 4 copies
Viaggio in Italia (2015) 4 copies
Liefde is licht (2020) 3 copies
L'attesa della verità (2014) 3 copies
L'amicizia pura (2005) 3 copies
Wybór pism (1991) 3 copies
Atene contro Gerusalemme (2017) 3 copies
Journal d'usine (2023) 2 copies
La balance du monde (2019) 2 copies
Myśli (1985) 2 copies
Né pour la liberté (2018) 2 copies
Pagine scelte (2009) 2 copies
L'inspiration occitane (2014) 1 copy
Wrestling with God (2008) — Contributor — 1 copy
Roma 1 copy
Förtryck och frihet (2023) 1 copy
El deseo 1 copy
El amor (2023) 1 copy
Simon Weil: An Anthology — Author — 1 copy
Simone Weil, Cuadernos (2001) 1 copy
Force et Malheur (2019) 1 copy
EL GENI D¿OC (2017) 1 copy
15 meditazioni (2011) 1 copy
Tanriyi Beklerken (2021) 1 copy
Les besoins de l'âme (2022) 1 copy

Associated Works

Woman to Woman: An Anthology of Women's Spiritualities (1993) — Contributor — 33 copies
Pathetic Literature (2022) — Contributor — 21 copies
Readings on Homer (1997) — Contributor — 15 copies
Conservative Texts: An Anthology (1991) — Contributor — 8 copies
Simone Weil (2014) — Contributor — 6 copies
The Analog Sea Review: Number Four (2022) — Contributor — 2 copies
O'r pedwar gwynt, Gaeaf 2018 (2018) — Contributor — 1 copy

Tagged

* (36) 20th century (39) biography (24) Catholicism (25) Christianity (128) classics (26) essay (33) essays (108) ethics (53) France (49) French (64) French literature (42) history (25) Homer (30) Iliad (20) letters (19) literary criticism (37) literature (24) Modern Philosophy (39) mysticism (75) non-fiction (149) NYRB (26) NYRB Classics (16) philosophy (819) poetry (24) political philosophy (25) political theory (30) politics (68) read (20) religion (252) scaffale 3 (16) Simone Weil (123) sociology (24) spirituality (150) Theology (103) theory (18) to-read (292) translation (17) war (22) Weil (57)

Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Weil, Simone
Legal name
Weil, Simone Adolphine
Other names
Emile Novis
Birthdate
1909-02-03
Date of death
1943-08-24
Burial location
Bybrook Cemetery, Ashford, Kent, England
Gender
female
Nationality
France
Birthplace
Paris, France
Place of death
Ashford, Kent, England, UK
Cause of death
cardiac failure
Places of residence
New York, New York, USA
Education
Lycée Henri IV, Paris, France
École Normale Supérieure (diplôme d'études supérieures|1931)
Occupations
philosopher
writer
social activist
Relationships
Weil, André (brother)
Short biography
Simone Weil was born into a wealthy Parisian Jewish family originally from the Alsace region. She suffered from ill-health but was a brilliant student, excelling in languages, philosophy, literature, and science. After graduation from the École Normale Supérieure in 1931, she taught at several rural academies, and wrote articles for socialist journals. She was a political idealist, and took a leave of absence to work in a Renault factory in order to become more closely connected with the French working class. She went to Spain in 1936 to fight for the Republic against fascism in the Civil War, but was injured in a cooking fire and also contracted tuberculosis. Weil became heavily involved in Catholicism, having a series of mystical experiences. She traveled to the United States with her family and eventually resettled in England. She died aged only 34, apparently having starved herself to death "whilst the balance of her mind was disturbed." Simone Weil’s books were all published posthumously.
Disambiguation notice
Do not combine with Simone Veil (born 1927), French lawyer and politician.

Members

Reviews

I must admit: I don’t think I understand this book. It seems to me Weil is attempting to verbalize something ineffable, so that may have something to do with it. I've recently finished Cioran's The Problem of Being Born and Nietzsche's Beyond Good & Evil, both of which are written in a similarly aphoristic style. Cioran responded to criticism that his aphoristic writings lacked consistency by saying that this is why he liked writing in this way, he wasn't burdened by the weight of having to establish and carry and idea at length and could even contradict himself on the same page. The difference between him and Weil in this regard is pretty stark. (Sidenote: I came to this book after seeing a review somewhere lamenting the fact that Weil and Cioran never had the chance to meet and share ideas - I'm not sure if I agree that they would have so much in common) Weil seems to be building a worldview here, even a kind of unified religious conception, so she doesn't have the luxury of Cioran's wide-ranging eye. The latter's book, despite being tagged as a kind of philosophy, is more of a poetic discourse on death, language, and depression, and as such has all the license of poetry. But I guess we are supposed to come away from Weil's book knowing something more. I will say there are moments of extremely clarity and clear brilliance in this book, especially in the latter half. But I often had to read the same sentence over again to find, again, that I didn't know what she was talking about.

I think I had the hindrance of reading this book through several layers of "static" - the first being the obvious pitfalls of reading a book in translation; the second being Gustav Thibon's arrangement and editing of the notebooks that Weil bequeathed to him to make this book; the third being the fact that these writings were drawn from a notebook that (as far as I know) wasn't written for public consumption. The first layer of static needs no explanation. The second's importance is unclear, but if I go by Thibon's introduction, where he blathers on about himself, his awkward feelings about jews, and his redundant explanation of Weil's ideas to follow, I don't think his influence as editor of this book was benign. The third layer of static became clear to me at points of the book where I felt like I was reading ideas of a complex nature that was written in a kind of personal shorthand. Weil uses heavy words like love, imagination, and religion in ways which I couldn't be quite sure of her meaning. This is a writer who thought about very old and well-worn concepts in an atypical way - as such I wish she could have explained what she meant a little more when she used such words, but why would you if you were writing in your own private notebook, where the only audience (namely, you) would know exactly what you meant. This question of meaning takes double importance in the context of an aphorism, where every word, space, and punctuation takes on outsized influence.

In the first 100 pages, I was thinking about giving up on this one. I'm glad I stuck it out, because there are lots of interesting things here, written by someone who was clearly brilliant. Two final thoughts:
- In the last year, I have been consuming a lot of art with religious preoccupations. This is new territory for me, and a topic I never devoted much thought to before. The Brothers Karamazov, a book with a very positive view of Christianity, I can now count as one of my favorites. The thing that makes this book great, in my opinion as a non-Christian, is that despite Dostoyevsky's clear opinion that Christianity is correct, he allows space for his characters to express the complete breadth of what it means to human, and as such displays a tremendous love and tolerance for humanity in all its permutations, good or ugly. Weil comes off as rigid and strict in this book, and therefore I feel that this book is too pure, too sanctified, offering no sympathy for the ugly, passionate, destructive side of human beings which also makes life interesting and beautiful.
- I wonder if this book would still be the most popular thing Weil had written if she hadn't died so young. There is a feeling of finality about so much in this book, as if these are pronouncements shouted from high and meant to be handed down. Surely, if the author had lived, she would have developed these ideas more, as she already had in her short life before publishing this book. Maybe part of what makes Karamazov so great, and so universal, is that it was written later in Dostoyevsky's life, giving him time to work through the trauma of youthful conceptions of perfection destroyed, whereas Weil was in the thick of it.
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hdeanfreemanjr | 7 other reviews | Jan 29, 2024 |
"Consider all the warriors down through time, without great brains — like you! — who nevertheless struck the enemy right through the breast. They just kept their wrists steady and struck." — Sheila Heti

On the Forceful Critique.
The body is never so strong that a moment of pressure can't pierce it straight through. The same may be true for a text — perhaps this is one theme of Homer's. One surprise: the physical composition of the "glancing" text, is perhaps not as robust as we may might have thought. What does it mean for a critique to strike with such strength-of-wrist that, "struck through the back, the [weighty text] fell oppress'd; (The dart drove on, and issued at [its] breast)?" The "forceful critique" is one that already has its end in mind, and goes beyond fidelity to the text in its pursuit. (Compare with the "tortured critique" which will make the text say anything it pleases.) We should be wary concerning the Janus-face of this approach, strong as it seems, as a critique won from a text by "force" will no longer be in sympathy with it.

Reading The Iliad in Weil's perpendicular fashion (against attention to detail), provides opportunity for a forceful critique (of Force), but tends to leave text behind. Homer's narrative, which regales the noble lives lost to Hades forever too soon, concludes with a tearful, albeit temporal, reconciliation — The Illiad is already a figurative Lycaon-on-his-knees surrendering a critique of the glorification of Force. (Weil's polemic reads redundant like a critique of Melville's Moby Dick for glorification of senseless violence against nature (Ishmael's narration already supplies such commentary (Some authors are cleverer than their critics.).).) Certainly the stooped posture, ill-favored appearance, and sharp words of Thersites, whom Weil exalts as rare voice is reason, recall that other wise Athenian not by coincidence. Weil, on the theme of Force, appears correct: Force is employed for its own sake. One wonders whether this critique is self-reflexive.

On Care.
Isn't The Iliad, rather, "The Poem of Care"? Force says, "the weak have never triumphed over the strong," (I continue to erroneously attribute this to de Beauvoir.) This always proves to have been correct (though it means those thought weak have often turned out to be the stronger). Force looks to the end, at the summation of events, and makes an assessment. Force is always capable of multiplying itself and stepping further back. Care cannot abandon the instantaneous moment in which it is present. Care is watching very closely with its interest in the thriving of another. Care is dividing the space of a moment and stepping further in — deflecting the flight of a dart and wrapping the hero in an impenetrable cloud, protecting, by virtue of the absurd, a soldier who will anyway die shortly. Care is watching the battle turn to the Trojans then to the Achaeans then to the Trojans then to the Achaeans, aware that everything is contingent for the one whose story ends at the present charge, whose history is the accumulation of sedimented years of Care.
He miss'd the mark; but pierced Gorgythio's heart,
And drench'd in royal blood the thirsty dart.
(Fair Castianira, nymph of form divine,
This offspring added to king Priam's line.)
As full-blown poppies, overcharged with rain,
Decline the head, and drooping kiss the plain;
So sinks the youth: his beauteous head, depress'd
Beneath his helmet, drops upon his breast
. . .
[. . . 3000 years later Anne Carson picks up the thread . . .]
. . .
Made the boy neck lean at an odd slow angle sideways as when a
Poppy shames itself in a whip of Nude breeze

Care is, finally, holding hysterical-grim funereal games, and returning a dead murderer's body to his father. (This so-called 'soulful' act conspicuously absent from Weil's narrative, which has already condemned Achilles as a "bad dude" for the slaying of Lycaon. It is [eschatological] Force which can declare these characters bad, but Care which permits the possibility of an uncharacteristic action at any moment.) This is not definitive, but it does go beyond Weil at least to meet Homer on the level at which he is composing. (The next level would read between the lines of our subalterns, but I will leave that here).

On Gravity and Grace.
Part i) On Greater Force
"Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it as it is to its victims; the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates. The truth is, nobody really possesses it.”

That the poison-pill of Force merely produces "intoxication" suggests that it's possible to 'drink yourself sober' on Force. The dialectic of Force is not by necessity an equilibrium. Though we are always being transported behind the battle lines of the Trojans and the Achaeans (with an equanimity in victory that is almost certainly the product of an already-defeated people looking backward, which remains an understated aspect of this poem's greatness), it's always possible to be destroyed completely — then the intoxicated hubris of Force becomes clarity in absolute victory. Even in the less-than-absolute struggle, we are dangerously close to making a Karl-Jaspers-style blunder: In Jasper's On German Guilt, we are shown how edifying and healing it is to be disarmed and divided, so that we might logically conclude that to really punish the defeated Nazi's, we should immediately proceed to re-armament and re-unification. Here we might conclude that, if force really harms its possessors, we should punish our enemies by supplying them arms.

So it's not so much Force that harms as its absence in a moment of need. Remarkably, the "intoxication" attributed to Force also appears to be a symptom of its absence. When, with reference to the slaying of Lycaon, Weil criticizes Achilles, who has "castrated himself for all yearning for [life]," we know this is because he has already heard of his prophesied death 'straight from the horse's mouth,' (It's absurd that, searching the origin of this phrase, no Google results refer to Prophesizing Xanthus, the horse of Achilles made to speak the words of true prophesy, another sign of how bad Google's first-page results are these days.) A more Forceful hero would not have such a vulnerable heel, and, destined to survive the war, would not be susceptible to the cynical internal monologue: 'Why should I spare him — When have I ever been spared?' like something out of Céline.

(When Weil states, "to respect life in somebody else when you have had to castrate yourself of all yearning for it demands a heart breaking exertion of generosity. It's impossible to imagine any of Homer's warriors being capable of such an exertion, [other than] Patroclus, who [...] throughout the Iliad commits no cruel or brutal act," we wonder if she is talking about the same murderous Patroclus who taunts "wise-hearted" Cebriones whom he kills with a rock, voicing some of the most vulgar lines of the poem:
"Good heaven! what active feats yon artist shows!
What skilful divers are our Phrygian foes!
Mark with what ease they sink into the sand!
Pity that all their practice is by land!"
(In fact, no hero in The Iliad meets Weil's criteria for sainthood, yet none is incapable of the generous acts she exalts. Better than an ontology of selected Innocent-Persons who are Lost once fallen from grace, one ought instead to emphasize the Caring action of which anyone is capable in any given moment. (The fact that our heroes are on the receiving end of Force defines them more thoroughly and more universally than when they are its deadly wielders. (We should also not forget the Deleuze who states that, "the punishment never succeeds in the aims it proposes as its justification. The guilty party escapes in the moment punishment is applied to the body and reifies a different person.")))

And we can take this analysis even further. Once we have begun to add Force on top of Force to shore up our weaknesses, we are already thinking of a Force stronger than all other forces, yet also Forceful enough to restrain the undue use of Force — that is, a Being Most-Forceful which exceeds the Force of all others (anyone else notice the similarity with Aquinas's Argument From Degree?) It would follow that, by nature of Force being what it is, we should seek is to invest in the greatest Force, ensure its beneficence, and defend it from detractors (creating a Universal (καθολικός - katholikos) Church, of sorts). This becomes, perhaps, one of the rare instances where we see the analysis turn on itself. (We find that Weil is even a bit more Catholic than previously advertised . . .)

On Gravity and Grace
Part ii) On Greater Meekness
The victim of force is not quite an “inert object.” His response is compelled, but Lycaon is touching in the moment he lays down his arms and begs Achilles for mercy. This moment for Weil is ‘chilling,’ as example of ‘becoming object,’ but it’s also a moment of Grace unacknowledged. Force is mortifying Lycaon’s flesh, but opens the possibility of an abstemious Grace in this would-be soldier-slayer. From the perspective of Grace, the meek (who shall inherit the earth) are stronger than the strong.

If we are brave we can take the first conclusion from this: that, perhaps, it's better for the meek to be even meeker. For those who still cling to power and violence, Force may even do good work (the Lord's plan is already to lay low the mighty), since it's that Forceful steel-bending quality which beats those swords into plowshares and bends the already-meek into greater-meekness. The second conclusion, with audacity, remarks that there is a meekness that is meeker than the greatest meekness in existence: at the level of the non-existent. Those who have gone down to Hades, and those not yet borne up into bodies — surely those who do not even draw breath are among the most exalted (because our deity is good above all things and His domain, which is the largest domain and therefore more good (another corollary of Acquinas) would be even larger if extended also to the non-existent). This is a bit of twisted eschatology that comes out the bottom of Gravity and Grace, but it's useful if we are willing redeem baby Scamandrius and also to see the Force which is using his body as a club as a beautiful thing.
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Joe.Olipo | 6 other reviews | Jan 1, 2024 |
 
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betty_s | 7 other reviews | Sep 26, 2023 |
collection of Weil's work
 
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SrMaryLea | Aug 22, 2023 |

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