Book Review: The Ethics of Attention: Engaging the Real with Iris Murdoch and Simone Weil

Cathy Mason read

Excerpt: “‘Attention, Iris Murdoch tells us in ‘The Idea of Perfection’, is “the idea of a just and loving gaze directed upon an individual reality.’ (Murdoch 1999: 327). She takes this to be the characteristic and proper mark of moral agents, a claim that is both descriptive – a claim about what in fact characterises us as agents – and normative – a claim about how we should act, what we need to do more of in order to become better moral agents.

Silvia Caprioglio Panizza follows Murdoch in making both of these claims. Her new book The Ethics of Attention is an extended discussion of the role and importance of attention within our moral lives. Panizza here draws on the work of Murdoch and Simone Weil to explore the nature and moral importance of attention. This commonplace and recognisable activity, she suggests, is both essential for accessing moral truth and also morally significant in and of itself. Moreover, it is ‘fundamental to morality’ (16) in that many of the other things we care about morally (such as moral knowledge and moral motivation) are well-understood as depending on attention.'”

Cathy Mason is an Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Central European University.


Book Review: Simone Weil for the Twenty-First Century by Eric O. Springsted

Marie Cabaud Meaney read

In his book, Simone Weil in the Twenty-First Century, Eric Springsted–pioneering Weil–specialist in the USA as well as co-founder and long-time president of the American Weil society–-reveals his thorough knowledge and deep understanding of this French philosopher and mystic. In dialogue with thinkers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Michael Foster, Gabriel Marcel, Henri de Luba, and Jacques Maritain, he covers much ground in his book’s fourteen chapters, focusing in the first part on Weil’ philosophical and theological thought before turning to her social and political thinking.

The themes range from the place of mystery and the supernatural in Weil’s philosophy to her understanding of obligations, the need for roots, the role of culture, and the relationship between religion and politics. Though there is no central argument holding these different chapters together–-indeed, eleven of the fourteen chapters were published in earlier versions in various journals– the book does justice to Weil’s diverse interests . . . .

Theology Today, vol. 79, no. 3, p. 352 (2022)



Two Perspectives on Sainthood in 1951: Roberto Rossellini’s Europe ’51 and Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, Bright Lights Film Journal

Andrei Gorzo read

“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.”


Review of Eric O. Springsted’s “Simone Weil for the Twenty-First Century”

Dean Hammer read

Simone Weil is an enigmatic figure: a philosopher whose thoughts we know largely through fragments; a mystic who had her own complicated relationship with the Catholic Church; a pacifist who worked for the Resistance; an intellectual who took a sabbatical to join with unskilled female laborers in gruelling and humiliating factory work; and a theologian whose view of the human condition is as compassionate as it is severe. Eric Springsted offers a version of Weil for the twenty-first century. This is not a comprehensive treatment of Weil’s corpus. For example, her early Marxist works on oppression and revolution are almost completely absent. What comes to the fore is a nuanced interpretation of what Springsted refers to as Weil’s “retheologization of the political” (146). Springsted’s version of Weil is a gentler one than provided by some of her critics. But his own lifelong engagement with Weil provides for compelling reading. . . .

Springsted has written a deeply thoughtful and engaging book about a complicated thinker. How the argument is framed, though, limits both the reach and power of the interpretation. He positions his interpretation as a reaction to Martin Heidegger, the postmodern world (without reference to any author or text) in which there is neither depth nor responsibility for one’s thought, and liberalism that transforms public discourse into a language of individual rights. Invoking the usual suspects, however, has the effect of talking past what may be the pressing problems facing the twenty-first century: the fundamental decay of democratic norms, the resurgence of white nationalism, and the division of a nation into strangers who neither understand nor trust each other. Similarly absent is any reflection on the history or complexities of the theologization of politics up to the current day, which is at least as problematic as its detheologization in liberalism. Weil provides perspective on these issues in her willingness to embrace, rather than resolve, the contradictions of human existence, to listen to the suffering of the voiceless, and to introduce a decentering vocabulary of justice, love, and humility that changes how we relate to each other and the world. Hearing the critique requires attention. And that is Weil’s and Springsted’s point.

Review of Politics, vol. 84, no. 3 (June 17, 2022).