Reviews
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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.”

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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).

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For Simone Weil, philosophy was not merely academic

 Charles Scriven read

Excerpt: “It’s commonplace to note the contradictions in Simone Weil’s life. She was an anarchist and a conservative, a pacifist and a warfighter, a French patriot and a critic of France, a Jew who was buried in the Catholic section of an English cemetery. Robert Zaretsky believes that these contradictions reflect “inevitable tensions” that arose as Weil inhabited her philosophical convictions. For her, philosophy could not be merely an academic discipline; it had to be a “way of life.” You had to accept the consequences of the truth you told, had to live them out, and that was complicated. . . .”

The Christian Century (April 11, 2022) (reviewing Robert Zaretsky, The Subversive Simone Weil)

Charles Scriven is the author of The Transformation of Culture: Christian Social Ethics after H. Richard Niebuhr (Herald Press).

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Book Review: “The Subversive Simone Weil: A Life in Five Ideas”

Fouad Mami. read

In The Subversive Simone Weil: A Life in Five Ideas, Robert Zaretsky offers a new biography of the influential French thinker through exploring five key concepts within her body of work. Zaretsky’s thematic study will inspire readers to find resistance in the power of paying deep attention, just as Weil passionately and convincingly argued, writes Fouad Mami.

LSE* Review of Books (April 2022)

*London School of Economics

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Simone Weil: A Thinker for Our Trying Times

Erika Bachiochi read

Book Review Excerpt: “A good number of biographies have been penned about Weil since her death in 1943, a few quite recently. Now, wishing to cull from her work ideas most relevant to our times, intellectual historian Robert Zaretsky has written yet another: The Subversive Simone Weil: A Life in Five Ideas. The five ideas Zaretsky draws out in as many chapters are: the force of affliction; paying attention; the varieties of resistance; finding roots; and the good, the bad, and the Godly. The first three chapters are strong, as Zaretsky’s deftly situates Weil in historical, literary, and philosophical context. In the third chapter on resistance, the best of the book, we find, for instance, a riveting account of how Weil’s engagement in both the Spanish Civil War and World War II dramatically transformed her from a committed pacifist to one who would in time declare that the inaction of pacifists up and against Hitler’s violent advance betrayed “a propensity to treason. . . .”

SourceLaw & Liberty (Feb. 3, 2022)

Erika Bachiochi is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a Senior Fellow at the Abigail Adams Institute where she founded and directs the Wollstonecraft Project. Her new book, The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision, was published by Notre Dame Press in 2021.