Simone Weil
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: HiLo Heroes

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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Joshua Glenn is a cultural and brand semiotician, and co-principal of the agency SEMIOVOX LLC. He is editor and publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age sci-fi paperback imprint HILOBOOKS. He is author of (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY (2008) and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY (2011), and editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY (2007) and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (2012). With Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone, Josh produced the popular family activities guides UNBORED (2012), UNBORED GAMES (2014), and UNBORED ADVENTURE (2015), not to mention two UNBORED activity kits from MindWare. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons.