Hungry for Beauty: Simone Weil’s Inversion of Kant’s Aesthetics

Lyra Koli read

This master’s dissertation argues that Simone Weil’s aesthetics can be seen as an inversion of Immanuel Kant’s, concerning the relation between natural dependency and beauty. Kant’s notions of beauty and sublimity are shown to be founded on overcoming hunger and fear, and the relevance of the immortality postulate for the Critique of the Power of Judgment is demonstrated. Following Angelica Nuzzo’s Ideal Embodiment, Kant’s aesthetics is understood as describing a transcendental embodiment, where the feeling of life is an experience of the “humanity” of man. This “humanity” is argued as exclusionary in that it rests on an overcoming of hunger and fear. Furthermore, his notions of finality without an end and disinterested pleasure are described as reinforcing the view of man’s superiority to the rest of nature. The extensive Kantian influences on Weil’s aesthetics often claimed to be mainly Platonically inspired, are presented. Through a critical examination of beauty and eating in her life and work, the common idea of her aesthetics as one of ascetic renunciation is disputed. Instead, her aesthetics is found to be a radical materialist reinterpretation of some of Kant’s central notions, particularly finality without an end and disinterested pleasure, where hunger, fear and suffering remain present. An examination of the metaphors of eating used by Weil to describe beauty illustrates how her aesthetics reverses the relation between man and his natural dependency: instead of an immortal moral humanity, free from hunger and fear, the center of her aesthetics is the very mortal muddle Kant ostensibly overcame. For Weil, beauty is not an outline for man’s superiority; instead, it makes it possible for us to love the fact that we are not all, but part of the world of eating and being eaten.

Philosophy: Aesthetics and Art Theory: Kingston University, London.

“Simone Weil on Beauty”

Patrick Sherry

in Richard H. Bell, ed., Simone Weil’s Philosophy of Culture: Readings Toward Divine Humanity, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 260-276