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.

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.

Simone Weil’s exemplary anti-fascism feels urgent today

Richard Penaskovic read

Excerpt: . . . . What can we learn from her today? Plenty. First, in these pandemic times, we need to focus on helping others in a way that makes our own ego disappear as we come to the aid of neighbors less fortunate than we are. Second, Simone suggests that we are to do God’s will and can be a unique presence of God on planet Earth. Third, Simone can be relatable to women today who are experiencing physical, mental, and emotional pain, since she suffered so much pain her entire life yet continued her important work of championing the marginalized.

Times Union (March 5, 2022)

Former Albany resident Richard Penaskovic went on to become a professor of religious studies at Alabama’s Auburn University. He earned his doctorate in theology at the University of Munich in Germany.

SIMONE WEIL – La vie au risque de la vérité (SIMONE WEIL – Life at the risk of the truth)

Catherine Deneuve watch

A documentary written and directed by Catherine Deneuve. (in French)

Produced by Grand Lange and KTO / Good projection