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Book Review: Simone Weil for the Twenty-First Century

Stephen J. Plant read

Excerpt: “Eric O. Springsted’s latest book on Simone Weil’s life and thought (it matters to him very much that her thinking is a lived philosophy) tackles the same subject matter again and again, doggedly pursuing the same questions from chapter to chapter. Yet far from being repetitious, this is done with the wisdom of a walker traversing a familiar mountain and finding fresh knowledge and delight in each ascent. There is a practical reason for the repetition: 11 of the book’s 14 chapters are adapted from previously published chapters in edited collections or from journal articles (whose original places of publication are given on pages xv-xvi). Naturally, some of the subject matter, citations used, and even points made recur. But any frustration a reader might feel is mitigated in three clever ways. First, Springsted structures his book into two parts that make a virtue of the similarity between the themes addressed in individual chapters by grouping them under two tightly conceived themes: philosophical and theological thought (Part I) and social and political thought (Part II). Second, for his monograph Springsted lightly edits the start and end of each chapter, erecting clear ‘sign-posts’ that make it seem as though a narrative argument is being sustained and developed from one chapter to the next. Though this may be a trompe-l’oeil, it is so skilfully realized one finds oneself reaching for the painted door handle. Finally, and most importantly, Springsted’s ‘take’ on Weil is so consistent and distinctive that a clear argument emerges in the book that is genuinely greater than the sum of its individual chapters.  . .  .”

“. . . . In his Preface, Springsted tells us openly that his aim is not scholarly exegesis, but to ‘offer Weil as something like a polestar to help orient our thinking in a time when the spiritual, moral, and intellectual world has become, in Charles Taylor’s word, “flattened”’ (p.vii). The book is a product of a lifetime of close and thoughtful engagement with Weil’s writings in which, to some extent, Weil’s thought and Springsted’s have become intertwined, such that it becomes hard to tease one out from the other. He is a guide with something to share not only with those new to Weil’s thought, but those who have explored her highways and byways on many occasions.”

Philosophical Investigations, 44, no 4 (October 2021) pp. 448-451.

Stephen J. Plant is Dean and Runcie Fellow at Trinity Hall and lectures on Christian theology and on ethics in the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge.

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The Subversive Simone Weil—A Review

Seamus Flaherty read

Sample from the introduction to the review:

“How much time do you devote each day to thinking?” That’s a strange question to ask a nurse from one’s hospital bed, but Simone Weil was no ordinary patient. On the contrary, philosopher, mystic, and, at that time, member of the Provisional French government in London, Weil was in every sense extraordinary.

Praised by André Gide as the “patron saint of all outsiders,” known to her fellow students at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) as the “Categorical Imperative in skirts,” and dismissed by Charles de Gaulle as “a crazy woman,” Weil was certainly unusual. At once charmingly amusing and maddeningly irritating without meaning to be either, Weil was a bona fide eccentric. As T.S. Eliot pointed out, one detects no sense of humour in Weil. Candid to a fault and always in dogged pursuit of the Good, she believed that thinking is what gives us dignity and protects us from tyranny. The unusual question she put to her nurse, in other words, was to her mind perfectly reasonable.

Quillette, July 30, 2021