Biographical

ONLINE CLASS: “Simone Weil: Secular Saint” (Nov. 2022)

Frank Ambrosio read

Lecture-Based with Discussion (hosted by Politics  & Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C.)

Simone Weil lived between 1909 and 1943, her short life bracketed by the First and Second World Wars and shaped by the political and economic upheavals that came between.  She registered the anguish of her time with exquisite sensitivity and felt called in the face of this suffering to rethink her collapsing civilization to its roots.  In the 1930s, she was active on the political left, involving herself in trade union politics worker education and the Spanish Civil War.  Albert Camus called her essays of this period “the most penetrating and prophetic contributions to Western social and political thought since Marx.”  Then, in her last years, a mystical spiritual perspective unexpectedly opened to her, and she came, she said, “to know the love of God as intimately as the smile of a friend.” Despite her personal devotion to the Christian Gospel, however, she refused baptism into the Christian Church just as firmly as she refused to identify herself with the Judaism of her family heritage. She died alone in a British sanitorium where she was being treated for tuberculosis at age 34, defying the orders of her doctors to eat a heathy diet on the grounds that she would take no more than her compatriots in the French Resistance had available to them.

Genuine originality is almost unimaginable today in the moral, political and religious dimensions of our lives and societies. We rightly sense that were it to appear, it would be strange and deeply disturbing. This is the importance and fascination of Simone Weil. She puts a human face on the suffering of those who are starving for justice, for truth, for human dignity and love – in other words, all of us – and challenges us to allow our attention to dwell on what is all around us, yet remains unseen.

In his highly acclaimed biographical study of Simone Weil, Robert Coles, distinguished professor of Psychiatry and Pulitzer Prize winner, characterizes her as a brilliant and effective person whose life and death are most remarkable for the paradoxes with which they confront and challenge each of us as human beings. Through a close reading of several her best-known essays, this course will attempt to bring those paradoxes into clear relief as a focus for personal reflection.

  • Six Thursdays: November 3, 10, 17, (no class 11/24- Thanksgiving), and December 1, 8, 15, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. EST Online

Cost

  • $170.00 per person

Required books:

  • Simone Weil: An Anthology, ed. Sian Miles, 9780802137296
  • Simone Weil: A Modern Pilgrimage, by Robert Coles, 9781683362975

Frank Ambrosio is a Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. After studying Italian language and literature in Florence, Italy, he completed his doctoral degree at Fordham University with a specialization in contemporary European Philosophy. He is the founding Director, with Edward Maloney, of the Georgetown University “My Dante Project” a web-based platform for personal and collaborative study of Dante’s Commedia. In 2014, he acted as lead instructor for the launch of an ongoing web-based course (MOOC) on Dante offered by EDX which currently has been utilized by over 20,000 students. He is the author of Dante and Derrida: Face to Face, (State University of New York Press, 2012).

He has received five separate awards from Georgetown University for excellence in teaching. He is the former Director of the Doctor of Liberal Studies Program, and in 2015, he received the Award for Faculty Achievement from the American Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs. In October 2009, The Teaching Company released his course, “Philosophy, Religion and the Meaning of Life,” a series of 36 half-hour video lectures which he created for the “Great Courses” series. At Georgetown, he teaches courses on Existentialism, Postmodernism, Hermeneutics, and Dante.

In addition to his work at Georgetown, he co-directs The Renaissance Company with Deborah R. Warin, leading adult study programs focusing on Italian Renaissance culture and its contemporary heritage.

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).

The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Translating Simone Weil

American Weil Society event watch

Translating is a formidable task. Three translators of Simone Weil’s works: Ros Schwartz, translator of Weil’s L’Enracinement (forthcoming from Penguin UK) and Philip Wilson and Sylvia Panizza, translators of Weil’s Venise Sauvée and poems (Bloomsbury Press) discussed some of the challenges.

Tess Lewis, an internationally recognized translator, moderated the discussion.

Springsted on Zaretsky’s The Subversive Simone Weil

Eric Springsted read

Excerpt:

“. . . 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.