Simone Weil

By: Joshua Glenn
February 3, 2010

It’s difficult to know exactly what to make of SIMONE WEIL (1909-43). The Franco-Jewish quasi-Christian gnostic philosopher, anti-Communist labor activist, and rifle-toting pacifist suffered, according to ex-comrade Georges Bataille’s paradoxical quip, from a “blind passion for lucidity.” Weil’s is “the most comical life I have ever read about, and the most truly tragic and terrible,” claimed Flannery O’Connor, referring, for example, to the frail, near-sighted intellectual’s attempt to join a unit of anarchists during the Spanish Civil War, only to put her foot into a pan of boiling oil; and to her pointless efforts, during World War II, to have herself parachuted back into France — on what can only be interpreted as a suicide mission. Though the following analysis might smack of the sort of reductionism she so fiercely rejected, it’s perhaps most appropriate to describe Weil’s as an anorectic philosophy: i.e., one which revolves around a notion of the over-full self (“The self is only the shadow which sin and error cast by stopping the light of God, and I take this shadow for a being”); of truth which has grown fat and sedentary (“Perfect detachment alone enables us to see things in their naked reality, outside the fog of deceptive values”); and of eternal standards of morality buried under layers of bourgeois sentiment (“[society has become] a machine for breaking hearts and crushing spirits, a machine for manufacturing irresponsibility, stupidity, corruption, slackness and, above all, vertigo”). She was brilliant and cracked. In the end, by refusing to eat more than the Resistance could in German-occupied France, Weil succeeded in starving herself to death.

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  1. Excellent, Josh. I have a growing interest in Weil.
    “There is always a sense of the limitless in desire,” wrote Simone Weil. “Limited desires are in harmony with the world: desires that contain the infinite are not.”
    This Weil quote crops up in Zizek’s Violence, and is the cornerstone upon which I am assembling a talk on the Future Human and advertising.

  2. “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force” is Weil’s great essay on the topic of the necessity of limits in all human affairs. (Mary McCarthy translated it for Dwight Macdonald’s Politics magazine in 1945.) Weil admired the condemnation of hubris in the Iliad, and the way characters who surpass natural limits get punished proportionately in classical Greek drama: “We are only geometricians in regard to matter; the Greeks were first of all geometricians in the apprenticeship of virtue.”

  3. …an argument with great relevance to our superhumans microfiction contest, come to think of it!

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