Simone Weil/Formative Writings

Springsted, Eric O.

CONDEMNED TO MORAL LONELINESS SIMONE WEIL A MODERN PILGRIMAGE Robert Coles Addison-Wesley, $17.95, 170 pp. FORMATIVE WRITINGS: 1929-1941 SIMONE WEIL Edited and translated, D. McFarland & W....

...The first is her religious sensibilities, often presented in striking sexual metaphors resembling the effects of an aberrant psychology, easily ignored by more balanced people...
...The picture of Weil that emerges from Coles is one of a committed moralist uncompromising in her attempts to see life clearly in moral terms and undaunted by the personal cost of such a search...
...The flaw is plain and yet mysterious because it stands for an attitude that Weil found reprehensible and tried to eradicate in her life...
...There is a key to Robert Coles's biography of Simone Weil that he himseli provides in an article written four years ago, an essay he thought, at the time, would be his last on Weil...
...but at least striking when compared to those of us who after a hard day of lecturing and preaching on the good have worked up an appetite only for a really good Burgundy...
...and "War and Peace" charting Weil's changing position from pacifism to the recognition of the inevitability of World War II and her arguments to fight that war as a moral necessity (but to fight it as a moral force, not just as a force...
...Eric O. Springsted Such a course is to condemn oneself of a certainty to moral loneliness...
...Often her writings are dramatic and her social solutions dangerous in the wrong hands which might be any hands...
...One can sense how much of the author's life is seriously focused in it...
...Physical hunger seemed to remind her of spiritual hunger and spurred her to pursue her spiritual goals with greater ardor...
...However, they are crucial for any real understanding of her...
...The challenge can be seen particularly in two areas...
...In a moving passage, he draws upon an interview with a dying prostitute in Brazil who often expressed herself similarly...
...The personal dimension of these words is clear...
...But Coles lets us see that her concern for workers is also a criticism of the arrogance and idolatry of intellectuals who facilely sympathize with workers without really becoming involved in their lives...
...Included are her diploma thesis, "Science and Perception in Descartes," which is important for understanding her beginnings as a serious philosopher...
...That experience marked what is perhaps the most important turning point in Weil's life...
...it is also a key and warning to the reader who might otherwise expect either sentimental adulation from Coles the admirer or the clinical arrogance of "explaining Weil" by a noted psychiatrist...
...Many commentators have argued she was self- destructively anorexic...
...If Coies's book is one that appropriately appears forty plus years after Weil's death, so also is Van Ness and McFarland's edition of a number of previously untranslated Weil essays...
...Yet Coles shows these attitudes come from a deep desire for human fulfillment of an intensity only the erotic can describe...
...Additionally, Weil offers a challenge in her critique of intellectual idolatry...
...She would only be satisfied with the Great Feast...
...His chapter on her hunger is an excellent example...
...The Situation in Germany," a series of ten articles Weil wrote on Hitler and Communist politics in Germany during 1932-33...
...What emerges from that comparison is the degree to which the human spirit needs grace to live without resignation and how much that grace can be loved in bitter circumstances...
...She is often criticized for being naive and idealistic about workers...
...The translation of all the pieces is accurate and well reflects Weil's original French...
...She had a particularly unattractive and hostile attitude towards Judaism, her own background...
...However, unlike her treatment of any other religion, she neversought to revise her reading of Judaism or to see if it actually corresponded with Jewish self- understanding...
...To have written this book any earlier would be to have spent less thought...
...All her life Weil ate little and often refused food...
...Coles's approach to Weil is a process of discovery in which he attempts to take her life and writings seriously, including their idiosyncrasies...
...This obsession with food, they believe, is confirmed by her metaphorical use of food throughout her writings...
...morbid, perhaps...
...Coies's biography is, in the end, a marvel of takjng his subject seriously...
...Uncommon, yes...
...Coles goes about the subject differently...
...It is all the more incredible in that she rarely took anybody's opinion as settled on anything...
...But perhaps most important of all is the "Factory Journal" which is the personal record of the year Weil spent in three Paris factories doing piecework...
...These are not the first writings with which one should begin to read Weil if one wants her mature judgment...
...Thus what may be most important about Weil is not so much her schemes as such, but her clearsightedness about intellectuals...
...she foresaw the high costs of her own vision...
...food, therefore, was the metaphor of the spiritually hungry...
...After all, she wasn't writ638 ing to workers but to those who controlled them...
...This attitude is partially explained by her dislike of numerous parts of the Old Testament such as the book of Joshua...
...can't take for granted, dip into now and then . . . even on one or another rainy day feel immensely drawn to, though not in such a fashion as to jeopardize a quite comfortable life...
...in the end this contributed to her death from tuberculosis...
...This is an incredible blindspot...
...He wrote then that the very availability and sum oi Weil's writings seem to "offer ample evidence that there is nothing that the Western haute bourgeoisie...
...to have the record of it in English is an invaluable benefit, especially since its fragmentary and idiomatic qualities make it difficult even for those who know French...
...This is, not only accurate to a degree most presentations of Weil have not been, but also allows us to see her religious life, too often described and dismissed as'' mystical," as the outcome of that moral commitment...
...Weil's spirituality is therefore a challenge to the depth of ours, we who have not really suffered much humiliation at all...
...What does seem to be the case, he shows, is that Weil demonstrated an incredible will to pursue a higher good to which eating played only a secondary role...
...yet she accepted certain French anti-Semitic opinions without much investigation...
...FORMATIVE WRITINGS: 1929-1941 SIMONE WEIL Edited and translated, D. McFarland & W. Van Ness University of Massachusetts, $30, 289 pp...
...This, according to Robert Coles, is the "unforgettable phrase" Simone Weil "used to describe what happens to someone who decided to scrutinize society so closely...
...But perhaps the best way of putting his treatment is that it could not have appeared much earlier since it is the result of many years of thinking through Weil's life and writings...
...Anorexia, he notes, does not seem an accurate clinical diagnosis (Weil, for example, had a lifelong habit of slight eating, unlike anorexics who develop the habit suddenly...
...To have these writings now and Coies's biography does indeed underline the editors' suggestion that writing and publishing in Weil studies has entered a new era...
...The title, Formative Writings, is an apt one since the contents of this volume are essentially writings which mark beginning and transition points in Weil's thought...
...Weil clearly had her faults...
...This is a personally heeded warning for Coles...
...Weil, he continues," spells out what that 'moral loneliness' means that one will incur enemies all over, that those in positions of power 'servants of the existing order' will be critical and punitive...
...This picture ultimately makes her life a challenge to others...

Vol. 114 • November 1987 • No. 19


 
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