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Anemones—A Simone Weil Project

Lisa Robertson read

It is with great pleasure that we present Lisa Robertson’s Anemones: A Simone Weil Project, the fourteenth publication within the “If I Can’t Dance” Performance in Residence programme.

Three years ago, “If I Can’t Dance” invited poet and writer Lisa Robertson to develop an experimental research project based on her long-term study of medieval troubadour poetry and the invention of the rime in the historical region of Occitania. The scope of this investigation offered “If I Can’t Dance” an intriguing proposition to revisit genealogies of performance that sit outside the canons that define this rather young discipline. Troubadour poetry was composed and sung in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries using the Occitan vernacular language, a language of migratory confluences, where Arab, Jewish, Christian, and secular popular traditions blend and jostle. Unlike the stability and authority of Latin or of the then forming French territory to the north, troubadour rime culture elaborated a poetics of intermixture—linguistic, erotic, and mystical, in the southwest region of what is now France, in relation to Andalusian, Syrian and Palestinian cultural movements and influences, as well as to plant and animal neighbours. As Robertson explained at the Edition VIII—Ritual and Display introductory weekend in October 2019, this language “learn[ed] from birds, leaves and tree frogs as well as people”, each of which moved between lands and over the borders of political territories.

What was initially going to be a publication on the invention of the rime within these vocal and cultural movements eventually took a different turn. The archival research and the collaborations Robertson had envisioned for the project had to come to a halt due to the prolonged confinements provoked by the outbreak of Covid-19. In this space of arrest, Robertson encountered the essay “What the Occitan Inspiration Consists of,” penned by philosopher, mystic and political activist Simone Weil in 1942 for the Marseilles-based anti-fascist literary journal Les Cahiers du Sud. Written from within the devastations of World War II, Weil elevates the troubadour concept of love to a practice of political resistance that rejects force in all its forms. In a new annotated translation that lies at the heart of the volume, Robertson dwells on the transhistorical potential of this notion, coming to terms with the broken lineage of troubadour culture, the legacy of Weil’s philosophical thought, and the violent context from which it emerged. In so doing, Robertson embraces the effect of both actualised and suppressed histories, testifying to friendship, readership, and the resistance of words across incommensurable distances.

Designed by Amsterdam-based Rietlanden Women’s Office, Anemones: A Simone Weil Project moves between poetry, the epistolary genre, and scholarly research. Echoing Weil’s philosophical concerns, the publication is also the site of a performance of dedication that takes the form of a series of floral actions conceived and realised by artist Benny Nemer. Carrying a letter written by Robertson, Nemer delivered an arrangement of flowers to seven people—artists, writers, poets—this book is dedicated to. The pages of the book then become the receptacle of a performativity that resists consumption and is not meant to be seen, announced, and disclosed, but rather imagined, whispered, and savoured in a moment of intimacy.

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Ideas To Save Your Life

Michael McGirr read

Ideas to Save Your Life follows Michael McGirr’s much-admired Books that Saved My Life (2018). This time, instead of sharing his love of literature, McGirr shares his love of philosophy, focusing on the works of twenty-plus eminent thinkers across history.

The book goes back to Pythagoras and comes forward to the contemporary Australian Frank Jackson; back to Mungo Woman and forward to Martha Nussbaum, by way of Simone Weil [Chapter 16] and Iris Murdoch. It is animated by two related questions: from where do we draw a sense of life’s purpose? And how can philosophy make life better? It ranges widely across subjects—from solitude to community, language to order, experience to ecstasy, the idea of good to that of a good idea.

McGirr’s approach is warm and inviting. Drawing on his many years of teaching philosophy to teenagers, he shares stories from his life and the lives of others. Ideas to Save Your Life is often funny, but it is always serious about the task of philosophy. It makes the impenetrable accessible, the indescribable palpable, and invites you to change how you see the world.

Text Publishing (2021) (ch. 16 on Weil and attention)

Reviewed by Gregory Day in The Sunday Morning Herald (Dec. 31, 2021)

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Attending: An Ethical Art

Warren Heiti, editor read

Attending – patient contemplation focused on a particular being – is a central ethical activity that has not been recognized by any of the main moral systems in the European philosophical tradition. That tradition has imagined that the moral agent is primarily a problem solver and world changer when what might be needed most is a witness.

Moral theory has been agonized by dualism – motivation is analyzed into beliefs and desires, descriptions of facts and dissatisfactions with them, while action is represented as an effort to lessen dissatisfaction by altering the empirical world. In Attending Warren Heiti traces an alternative genealogy of ethics, drawing from the Platonism recovered by Simone Weil and developed in the work of Iris Murdoch, John McDowell, and Jan Zwicky. According to Weil, virtue is knowledge, knowledge is embodied, and the knower is nested in an ecosystem of relationships. Instead of analyzing and solving theoretical problems, Heiti aims to clarify the terrain by setting up objects of attention from more than one discipline, including not only philosophy but also literature, psychology, film, and visual art.

The traditional picture captures one important type of ethical activity: faced with a moral problem, one looks to a general rule to furnish the solution. But not all problems conform to this model. Heiti offers an alternative: to see what is needed, one attends to the particular being.

Warren Heiti is a Professor of philosophy and liberal studies at Vancouver Island University.

McGill-Queen’s University Press, July 15, 2021

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Simone Weil (French Edition)

Florence de Lussy read

Throughout her life, Simone Weil tried to understand herself and the world and pushed back the horizon of the intelligible to try to think of God. With firmness but using great psychological finesse, she made men’s grandeur and miseries appear in full light. An uncomfortable figure that cannot leave anyone indifferent, she always provokes so many contradictory and often violent reactions. But everyone agrees on one thing: Simone Weil’s strength is her purity.

Florence de Lussy restores this purity of the gaze to us with great honesty, without ever forgetting the excesses and errors of the author of The Need for Roots, depicted here in chiaroscuro. At the end of these pages, it is the great philosopher – who was at the same time a mystic – who imposes herself. A welcome essay, uncompromising and bursting with truth. [translation from the French abstract]

Presses Universitaires de France / Humensis (2021)

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The Gospel According to Hermes: Intimations of Christianity in Greek Myth, Poetry & Philosophy

Ron Samuel Dart, Bradley Jersak, Simon Oliver, Lazar Puhalo, & Wm. Paul Young, read

Tertullian famously asked, “What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Perhaps the title of this work will raise the question, “What hath Hermes to do with Christ?” Quite a lot, as it turns out, by way of comparison, contrast, illustration, and prefigurement. Hermes, herein, represents far more than a particular figure in Greek mythology. Hermes functions as a placeholder, symbolizing the legacy of ancient Greek myth, poetry, and philosophy—and also the layered hermeneutics that classical Greek education contributed to both Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Scriptures, and the development of their theology, doctrine, and ethics. Despite the unfortunate but popular assumption of a Jewish-Greek dualism among many scholars since Adolf von Harnack, the stubborn and happy fact is that the New Testament itself already demonstrates a profound integration of the Hellenized Judaism established in Alexandria. The first Christian theologians were not contaminating some imaginary pure Jewish Christianity with Greek accretions. Rather, our authors will propose and demonstrate the confluence of both great streams in the development of the New Testament Scriptures, patristic theology, and hermeneutics. This collection of essays is but a faint echo of Simone Weil’s formidable work, Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks, and is certainly inspired by her insights. Our authors will propose and demonstrate the confluence of both great streams in the development of the New Testament Scriptures, patristic theology, and hermeneutics. This collection of essays is but a faint echo of Simone Weil’s formidable work, Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks, and is certainly inspired by her insights.

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Attending: An Ethical Art

Warren Heiti read

“Attending addresses a significant gap in the literature on attention. The way Heiti places important twentieth-century authors in conversation with each other is original and well done. This is a very rich and beautiful book.” Sophie Bourgault, University of Ottawa and co-editor of Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?

_____________________

Attending – patient contemplation focused on a particular being – is a central ethical activity that has not been recognized by any of the main moral systems in the European philosophical tradition. That tradition has imagined that the moral agent is primarily a problem solver and world changer when what might be needed most is a witness.

Moral theory has been agonized by dualism – motivation is analyzed into beliefs and desires, descriptions of facts and dissatisfactions with them, while action is represented as an effort to lessen dissatisfaction by altering the empirical world. In Attending Warren Heiti traces an alternative genealogy of ethics, drawing from the Platonism recovered by Simone Weil and developed in the work of Iris Murdoch, John McDowell, and Jan Zwicky. According to Weil, virtue is knowledge, knowledge is embodied, and the knower is nested in an ecosystem of relationships. Instead of analyzing and solving theoretical problems, Heiti aims to clarify the terrain by setting up objects of attention from more than one discipline, including not only philosophy but also literature, psychology, film, and visual art.

The traditional picture captures one important type of ethical activity: faced with a moral problem, one looks to a general rule to furnish the solution. But not all problems conform to this model. Heiti offers an alternative: to see what is needed, one attends to the particular being.

Warren Heiti is a professor of philosophy and liberal studies at Vancouver Island University.

McGill-Queen’s University Press (2021)

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Iris Murdoch and the Others: A Writer in Dialogue with Theology

Paul S. Fiddes read

The “others” examined by Fiddes are mainly those with whom Murdoch entered into explicit dialogue in her novels and philosophical writing-including Immanuel Kant, Simone Weil, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rudolph Bultmann, Paul Tillich, Don Cupitt, Donald Mackinnon, and Jacques Derrida. This “historic” dialogue is, however, placed within a wider dialogue between literature and theology being conducted by the author, and “others” are brought into relation with Murdoch in order to illuminate this more extensive conversation-notably the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and the feminist philosopher Julia Kristeva.

The book demonstrates that characteristic themes in Murdoch’s novels and philosophy-the love of the Good, the death of the ego, illusory consolations, the death of God, the modifying of the will by “waiting”, the sublime and the beautiful, and attention to other things and persons-all take on a greater meaning when placed in the context of her life-long conversation with theology. The exploration of this context is deepened in this volume by reference to annotations and notes that Murdoch made in a number of theological books in her personal library.

Paul S. Fiddes is Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Oxford and is Director of Research at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, UK.
Publisher: ‏ T&T Clark (December 2, 2021)
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Homer: The Very Idea

James L. Porter read

Homer, the great poet of the Iliad and the Odyssey, is revered as a cultural icon of antiquity and a figure of lasting influence. But his identity is shrouded in questions about who he was, when he lived, and whether he was an actual person, a myth, or merely a shared idea. Rather than attempting to solve the mystery of this character, James I. Porter explores the sources of Homer’s mystique and their impact since the first recorded mentions of Homer in ancient Greece.

Homer: The Very Idea considers Homer not as a man, but as a cultural invention nearly as distinctive and important as the poems attributed to him, following the cultural history of an idea and of the obsession that is reborn every time Homer is imagined. Offering novel readings of texts and objects, the book follows the very idea of Homer from his earliest mentions to his most recent imaginings in literature, criticism, philosophy, visual art, and classical archaeology.

University of Chicago Press, October 25, 2021

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The Subversive Simone Weil: A Life in Five Ideas

Robert Zaretsky read

Known as the “patron saint of all outsiders,” Simone Weil (1909–43) was one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable thinkers, a philosopher who truly lived by her political and ethical ideals. In a short life framed by the two world wars, Weil taught philosophy to lycée students and organized union workers, fought alongside anarchists during the Spanish Civil War and labored alongside workers on assembly lines, joined the Free French movement in London and died in despair because she was not sent to France to help the Resistance.

Though Weil published little during her life, after her death, thanks largely to the efforts of Albert Camus, hundreds of pages of her manuscripts were published to critical and popular acclaim. While many seekers have been attracted to Weil’s religious thought, Robert Zaretsky gives us a different Weil, exploring her insights into politics and ethics, and showing us a new side of Weil that balances her contradictions—the rigorous rationalist who also had her own brand of Catholic mysticism; the revolutionary with a soft spot for anarchism yet who believed in the hierarchy of labor; and the humanitarian who emphasized human needs and obligations over human rights. Reflecting on the relationship between thought and action in Weil’s life, The Subversive Simone Weil honors the complexity of Weil’s thought and speaks to why it matters and continues to fascinate readers today.

Robert Zaretsky is the author of Boswell’s Enlightenment; A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning; and Catherine & Diderot: The Empress, the Philosopher, and the Fate of the Enlightenment, among other books. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, the Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, the Times Literary Supplement, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, he lives in Houston with his wife, children, and assorted pets.

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021