Simone Weil
December 19, 2011 6:07 PM   Subscribe

Some lives are exemplary, others not; and of exemplary lives, there are those which invite us to imitate them, and those which we regard from a distance with a mixture of revulsion, pity, and reverence. It is, roughly, the difference between the hero and the saint (if one may use the latter term in an aesthetic, rather than a religious sense). Such a life, absurd in its exaggerations and degree of self-mutilation — like Kleist’s, like Kierkegaard’s — was Simone Weil’s. - Susan Sontag

Hers was a spastic, moribund, intellectual and spiritual agony. We can sympathize with it, be moved to tears by it, much as we are by the last awful lunacies of Antonin Artaud, but we imitate it, allow it to infect us, at our peril. This is a Kierkegaard who refuses to leap. Angst for angst’s sake. Anguish is not enough. When it is made an end in itself it takes on a holy, or unholy, folly. - Kenneth Rexroth
posted by Trurl (8 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
They seem to be expressing their own feelings about her. I guess it's the royal "we".
posted by LogicalDash at 6:17 PM on December 19, 2011

i don't pretend to understand such a genius but i wonder if she made the fatal mistake of smart people and started to believe her own thoughts
posted by facetious at 6:19 PM on December 19, 2011

I end up reading a lot of Simone Weil in school, almost accidentally. This week for a course on Bonhoeffer. Last year for a liturgy about via negativa. Her lack of suriety was one of the things that convinced me to study theology, and her moral severity is something i hope for but can never achieve.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:36 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Simone Weil is one of my favorite writers. Her commentary on the Iliad, 'The Poem of Force', is in addition to its insight, almost as moving as the poem itself.

There's no reason to ignore the known personality and character of the author, but pieces on Weil consistently overemphasize her biography and neglect her words. The extreme nature of her life in addition to the compression of thought in her aphorisms make it easy to do. It's still the easy way out.

Kenneth Rexroth's essay is awful, it's on the same level as Jillian Becker's hatchet job "A Saint for Our Times" (published in the New Criterion, no longer online but you can find excerpts that summarize Becker's views). Susan Sontag's is a little more respectful and willing to concede Weil's work has value but doesn't engage with Weil's work except to express her skepticism at Weil as historian. Well OK, but as Sontag herself acknowledges, "I cannot accept Simone Weil’s gnostic reading of Christianity as historically sound (its religious truth is another matter)", this is petty stuff. There just isn't much substance - labeling it unhealthy makes for an awful thin (heh) essay.

A few essays more sympathetic to Simone Weil:

Iris Murdoch's review of Simone Weil's Notebooks can be read here.

Prestige: Simone Weil's Theory of Social Force

The Sacrificial Faith of Simone Weil
posted by BigSky at 7:50 PM on December 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

The congruence, or more likely, the discrepancy, between an artist's work and his or her lifestyle or even philosophy is a constant source of discourse and debate, and it should be. Of course, sometimes Wagner's thoughts or Beethoven's personality will inevitably be at odds with the beauty of their art. Van Gogh. Pollack. Lennon. Name your favorite artist.

Rene Magritte, who subscribed to the Surrealist manifesto of revolution, was a famous example of one who led a perfectly bourgeois lifestyle, while producing revolutionary Surrealist dream-logic on canvas.

Perhaps I am muddying the waters a little, though. Or the artists are. The product of artistic endeavor has a complex relationship with the philosophy, class background, and lifestyle of the artist. We are ever conflating the two. But not unreasonably: an artist's work cannot be totally divorced from her background/lifestory.

BUT: Sometimes the imperatives of an aesthetic movement wash clean the back story of an individual's life. That is one of the many beautiful things about art.
posted by kozad at 9:03 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

But not unreasonably: an artist's work cannot be totally divorced from her background/lifestory.

Simone Weil was not an artist, she was a philosopher.

No one said anything about totally divorcing the work from her life story. In fact, I said the opposite.

The point remains, Simone Weil is a difficult, challenging thinker. A salacious fixation on her personality and personal history is a cheap way for a writer to hook readers and avoid contending with the substance of her work. Fortunately the writers who take such an angle can easily adopt, almost by default, some sort of bullshit "meta" perspective whereby they can explain it all away for us, their lucky reader. The unspoken presumption being of course, that they know what she, and her work, was all about better than Weil herself.
posted by BigSky at 9:39 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I only read her work on the Cathars (a review of her presentation of them here) for my diss. Not for her critical history of European Christianity, mind you. She was very useful in demonstrating the rhetorical force of particular stories.

I felt like it was more aspirational than anguish and angst... maybe I misunderstood.
posted by ServSci at 5:48 AM on December 20, 2011

Website for documentary - 'An Encounter with Simone Weil'.

One of the larger collections of quotes.
posted by BigSky at 10:42 AM on January 14, 2012

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