The Story of a Friendship
Mysticism and the Making of Simone Weil
Two Perspectives on Sainthood in 1951: Roberto Rossellini’s Europe ’51 and Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, Bright Lights Film Journal
“Religion was a source of truth for Rossellini at the time, perhaps the sole source of truth,” writes Tag Gallagher in his indispensable critical biography of the Italian filmmaker. Rossellini’s 1950 film Stromboli (his first collaboration with Ingrid Bergman) had been recognized by young French critic Eric Rohmer as a “great Catholic film”; years later, Rohmer would add that Stromboli was also his personal road to Damascus, turning him away from existentialism.5 And 1950 had also been the year of Rossellini’s The Flowers of St. Francis. He would describe Europe ’51 to Bergman as another St. Francis story: “I am going to make a story about Saint Francis and [this time] she’s going to be you.”
Rossellini also described his heroine as “a spiritual sister to Simone Weil.” Reviewing in 1951 (the year of The End of the Affair) an English translation of Weil’s Waiting on God (her first book to be published in English), Graham Greene would describe her as “a young Jewish teacher of philosophy who died in exile from her native France in 1943 at the age of thirty-four. Since that time knowledge of her has spread by word of mouth, like the knowledge of some underground leader in wartime […] a woman who wished ardently to share the labours of the poor, working with broken health in the Renault works, and who in safe England confined herself to the rations of those she had left in France.” In Cristina Mazzoni’s summary of her life (from Mazzoni’s Saint Hysteria: Neurosis, Mysticism, and Gender in European Culture), Weil was a “philosopher and religious thinker, farm and factory worker, mystic, political theorist and social activist, [who] became in the course of her life increasingly attached to the Catholic faith (she was born in a nonpracticing Jewish family), although she always refused to receive the sacraments. […] Hospitalized in England after a life of privations (most of which she imposed on herself), Simone Weil refused to eat and died shortly thereafter of tuberculosis and malnutrition, [the coroner’s report accusing her] of intentionally starving herself to death.” Like Weil, Rossellini’s heroine (Ingrid Bergman) wants at some point to share the lot of the industrial proletariat, the director condensing in a day the experience of Weil’s factory year. And this is only the most obvious of Rossellini’s borrowings: as Martin Scorsese has put it, Rossellini used “the short and intense life of Simone Weil as a kind of model” for “exploring the question of modern sainthood.”
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Simone Weil and Emmanuel Levinas on Human Rights and the Sense of Obligation toward Others
There was no dialogue between Simone Weil and Emmanuel Levinas. In many regards, however, their philosophies have much in common. Both defend a conception of human rights as rights of others and as an obligation for the self. Both understand this obligation as an obligation of attention and action for others, based on their needs and their vulnerability. Both find the source of this obligation in the transcendence of the other, and both connect it with a radical passivity of the self, who is subjected to this obligation in spite of itself. At the same time, this proximity between the two philosophers entails and reveals profound differences between them, partially due to the difference between Weil’s metaphysics of light and Levinas’s metaphysics of language. These differences concern the status of subjectivity and of its duty toward the other, as well as the idea of an acceptation of sufferance, especially of the sufferance of others.
Levinas Studies (Aug. 3, 2022)
- Pascal Delhom is on the faculty of Europa-Universität Flensburg.
Education and the ethics of attention: The work of Simone Weil
This paper argues that the influential French thinker, Simone Weil, has something distinctive and important to offer educational and ethical inquiry. Weil’s ethical theory is considered against the backdrop of her life and work, and in relation to her broader ontological, epistemological and political position. Pivotal concepts in Weil’s philosophy – gravity, decreation, and grace – are discussed, and the educational implications of her ideas are explored. The significance of Weil’s thought for educationists lies in the unique emphasis she places on the development of attention, a notion elaborated here via the key themes of truth, beauty, and love.
British Journal of Educational Studies (Aug. 22, 2022)
- Professor Peter Roberts, University of Cambridge, School of Educational Studies & Leadership. His many works include “Simone Weil: Education, Spirituality and Political Commitment,” in Kirylo JD (ed.), A Critical Pedagogy of Resistance: 34 Pedagogues We Need to Know (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2013), pp. 129-132.
In Pursuit of Language: The Life and Work of Brice Parain
‘None Enters Here Unless He is a Geometer’: Simone Weil on the Immorality of Algebra
The French philosopher Simone Weil (1909-1943) thought of geometry and algebra not as complementary modes of mathematical investigation, but rather as constituting morally opposed approaches: whereas geometry is the sine qua non of inquiry leading from ruthless passion to temperate perception, in accord with the human condition, algebra leads in the reverse direction, to excess and oppression. We explore the constituents of this argument, with their roots in classical Greek thought, and also how Simone Weil came to qualify it following her exchange with her brother, the mathematician André Weil.
About the Author
Aviad Heifetz is a professor in the Department of Management and Economics at the Open University of Israel.
Dialectics of Silence for a Time of Crisis: Rethinking the Visionary Insights of Michel Serres and Simone Weil
This paper examines the figure of silence in the works of Michel Serres and Simone Weil. It argues that, in the spirit of Serres and Weil, our time of crisis calls not for a short-term response, but for long-term engagement in a dialectics of silence: the dialogical movement between the silencing of institutions and the attentive silence of visionary insights. Such dialectics can revalidate the value of institutional silencing if based on solid rational proof (rebutting so-called visionary ideas that are baseless) while simultaneously showing the value of visionary ideas that rightfully combat problematic institutional silencing. Especially in this current moment, in which science and scientific propositions are relentlessly questioned, there is a need to lean into silence so as to promote a productive dialogue that regains trust in proven scientific ideas and institutions while allowing visionary insights their place as well, provided that we are willing to test them.
About the author
Marjolein Oele is a professor of philosophy at the University of San Francisco and was trained as an MD at the Free University of Amsterdam. She has a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Amsterdam and received her PhD in philosophy in 2007 from Loyola University Chicago