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Springsted on Zaretsky’s The Subversive Simone Weil

Eric Springsted read


“. . . On the whole, Zaretsky tends to round most of the edges off Weil. In part, this is a matter of reinforcing a liberal sense of the good and using her to be a shining example of that. Philosophically, it is the result of trying to skate around the hard edges of her religious thinking. For Zaretsky, attention is not supernatural; the divine is not the place we are forced to find purpose when confronting affliction; societies can be made up of nice committed people without higher callings. All this is reinforced in the final chapter where Zaretsky does take on Weil’s religion. He lays out the religious experiences that led to her conversion, making that conversion largely a matter of belief, ignoring the personal sense of Christ that she experienced. It was this personal sense of unconquerable love in a person that caused her to find a use for affliction; it was Christ’s own crucifixion that lay at the center of her understanding of attention, for attention is a self-emptying to give life to another. Zaretsky does note with concern that there is a kenotic quality to Weil’s religion and then quickly shifts the conversation to the soft Platonism of Iris Murdoch, who indeed owed much to Weil. But in the end, what this religious factor amounts to for him is chiefly “do-gooding,” without the mordancy of Weil’s uncompromising transcendence and mysticism. Whether one can build politics or ethics on such transcendence and mysticism is debatable. But to have the debate, you have to articulate the ideas rightly and clearly.

So, in the end, it seems to be that it is Weil who is being subverted here. I wish I could say it was done deeply. But the problem is that the book just does not engage in any kind of in-depth examination of Weil’s thinking as she expressed it. It is a paraphrase, it is rounding. It is within the author’s own experience (there is no bibliography, for example). Love Weil or hate Weil—there are plenty of people that go each way—a reader will be better off with something more substantial.”

Review of Politics, vol. 84, no. 2 (March 10, 2022), pp. 294-296

Note: Robert Zaretsky was invited to reply in this Journal but declined.


Thinking about Judaism: Jacques Maritain and Simone Weil (Italian edition) 

Emanuele Pili read

Pensare l’ebraismo: Jacques Maritain e Simone Weil (Italian Edition) Kindle Edition (Feb. 2022), Emanuele Pili, University of Perugia

Abstract in translation

Against the backdrop of the Second World War, Jacques Maritain and Simone Weil reflected deeply on the nature and relevance of Judaism. If Maritain imagined an unprecedented relationship with Christianity, reading the (in) fidelity of Israel in a Pauline way, Weil hoped for a purification of the West from inauthentic cultural traditions, of which Judaism participated in large part, in search of those ties that preserve the ‘human.’

Emanuele Pili originally interprets two very different souls but united by a strong sense of political responsibility, which led to a commitment to fight against totalitarianism. The first Italian translation of the bases for a statute of French minorities appears in the appendix; it is is one of the most controversial texts in the entire body of works by Simone Weil.




Simone Weil: A Very Short Introduction

Rebecca Rozelle-Stone read

Oxford University Press, 2022 (forthcoming)



    Philosophies of Work in the Platonic Tradition: A History of Labor and Human Flourishing

    Jeffrey Hanson read

    The Platonic tradition affords extraordinary resources for thinking about the meaning and value of work. In this historical survey of the tradition, Jeffrey Hanson draws on the work of its major thinkers to explain why our contemporary vocabulary for appraising labor and its rewards is too narrow and cramped. By tracing out the Platonic lineage of work Hanson is able to argue why we should be explaining its value for appraising it as an element of a happy and flourishing human life, quite apart from its financial rewards.

    Beginning with Plato’s extensive thinking about work’s relationship to wisdom, Hanson covers the singularly powerful arguments of Augustine, who wrote the ancient world’s only treatise dedicated to the topic of manual labor. He discusses Bernard of Clairvaux, introduces the priest-craftsman Theophilus Presbyter, and provides a study of work and leisure in the writings of Petrarch. Alongside Martin Luther, Hanson discusses John Ruskin and Simone Weil: two thinkers profoundly disturbed by the conditions of the working class in the rapidly industrializing economies of Europe.

    This original study of Plato and his inheritors’ ideas provides practical suggestions for how to approach work in a socially responsible manner in the 21st century and reveals the benefits of linking work and morality. — Jeffrey Hanson is  a Senior Philosopher in The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University.

    Bloomsbury Academic (April 21, 2022)


    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.