The Subversive Simone Weil—A Review

Seamus Flaherty read

Sample from the introduction to the review:

“How much time do you devote each day to thinking?” That’s a strange question to ask a nurse from one’s hospital bed, but Simone Weil was no ordinary patient. On the contrary, philosopher, mystic, and, at that time, member of the Provisional French government in London, Weil was in every sense extraordinary.

Praised by André Gide as the “patron saint of all outsiders,” known to her fellow students at the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) as the “Categorical Imperative in skirts,” and dismissed by Charles de Gaulle as “a crazy woman,” Weil was certainly unusual. At once charmingly amusing and maddeningly irritating without meaning to be either, Weil was a bona fide eccentric. As T.S. Eliot pointed out, one detects no sense of humour in Weil. Candid to a fault and always in dogged pursuit of the Good, she believed that thinking is what gives us dignity and protects us from tyranny. The unusual question she put to her nurse, in other words, was to her mind perfectly reasonable.

Quillette, July 30, 2021

Pacifist, soldier, mystic, saint: The complex identity of Simone Weil

Karen Olsson

Times Literary Supplement, July 16, 2021 (reviewing Robert Zaretsky’s The Subversive Simone Weil) century French philosopher.

“About a year and a half ago, a bookseller in Princeton, New Jersey, told me that she’d lately noticed an uptick in sales of titles by Simone Weil, the twentieth-century philosopher. Donald Trump had something to do with it, I imagined: living under a regime of facile lies, more readers had been drawn to Weil’s difficult search for truth. While these book-buyers were seeking her guidance on their own, Robert Zaretsky, a professor at the University of Houston, publicly tried to steer more readers to Weil, writing a series of essays, for outlets including the New York Times and Foreign Affairs, in which he invoked some of Weil’s ideas as correctives, a means of seeing our way past the ruts and bromides of contemporary politics. . . . “

The Subversive Simone Weil: A Life in Five Ideas

Robert Zaretsky read

Known as the “patron saint of all outsiders,” Simone Weil (1909–43) was one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable thinkers, a philosopher who truly lived by her political and ethical ideals. In a short life framed by the two world wars, Weil taught philosophy to lycée students and organized union workers, fought alongside anarchists during the Spanish Civil War and labored alongside workers on assembly lines, joined the Free French movement in London and died in despair because she was not sent to France to help the Resistance.

Though Weil published little during her life, after her death, thanks largely to the efforts of Albert Camus, hundreds of pages of her manuscripts were published to critical and popular acclaim. While many seekers have been attracted to Weil’s religious thought, Robert Zaretsky gives us a different Weil, exploring her insights into politics and ethics, and showing us a new side of Weil that balances her contradictions—the rigorous rationalist who also had her own brand of Catholic mysticism; the revolutionary with a soft spot for anarchism yet who believed in the hierarchy of labor; and the humanitarian who emphasized human needs and obligations over human rights. Reflecting on the relationship between thought and action in Weil’s life, The Subversive Simone Weil honors the complexity of Weil’s thought and speaks to why it matters and continues to fascinate readers today.

Robert Zaretsky is the author of Boswell’s Enlightenment; A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning; and Catherine & Diderot: The Empress, the Philosopher, and the Fate of the Enlightenment, among other books. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, the Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, the Times Literary Supplement, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, he lives in Houston with his wife, children, and assorted pets.

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021

Simone Weil Bibliography

Saundra Lipton read

Although Simone Weil died very young at age 34, her essays and notebooks have been the topic of a significant volume of scholarship from a wide variety of disciplines including Religion, Philosophy, Literature, Nursing, Political Science, History, Psychology, Education, and Business.  However, the last comprehensive bibliography of critical works on Simone Weil compiled by J.P. Little, dates back to 1973 with a supplement in 1979 and a small update in 1995.  The diversity and range of this ongoing scholarship make an updated comprehensive bibliography critically important for those writing on Weil and her work.

Saundra Lipton, University of Calgary, and Debra Jensen, Mount Royal University have been active collaborators (till Debra’s untimely death July 15, 2012) in the compilation of a comprehensive bibliography of scholarly works on Simone Weil.  The goal of this project is to provide a valuable service to scholars and students in many fields by facilitating access to Weilian resources across disciplinary, geographic, and linguistic divides.  Publications worldwide have been surveyed. Over 5500 works have been discovered.  This online version of the bibliography currently lists more than 5000 book, essays, journal articles, and theses.

I dedicate my continuing efforts on this project to the memory of my dear friend and colleague Debra Jensen.

University of Calgary online library of resources

When Fiction & Philosophy Meet: A Conversation with Flannery O’Connor and Simone Weil

E. Jane Doering & Ruthann Knechel Johansen read

An innovative book, WHEN FICTION AND PHILOSOPHY MEET explores the intersection between the philosophy of Simone Weil from Paris, France, and the fiction of Flannery O’Connor from the Southern state of Georgia, USA. In an era of war, of unprecedented human displacements, and of ethnic, racial, and religious fears the ideas of these two intellectuals bear on our present condition. Both women keenly desired to perceive the realities of good and evil inherent in human existence and to bring this truth to the consciousness of their contemporaries. Embracing their belief that truth is eternal but must be transposed and translated, generation after generation, in language appropriate to each age, the authors acquaint O’Connor readers with concepts in Weil’s religious philosophy as seen in O’Connor’s stories. Doering and Johansen simultaneously illustrate how Weil’s philosophy, when embodied in fiction, reveals the lived realities of the human condition across time and space.

Simone Weil and Flannery O’Connor were audacious thinkers with inquiring minds who held clear and firm religious convictions. Each applied her understandings of enduring spiritual truths to the challenges of nihilism and social oppression as seen in the spreading totalitarianism and the distressing legacy of slavery throughout human history. Both Weil and O’Connor crossed disciplinary boundaries and influenced their respective fields with innovative ideas and artistic expressions.

Taking their cues from these writers, Doering and Johansen bring these two remarkable women into a four-voiced dialogue–Simone Weil and Flannery O’Connor with Doering and Johansen–by engaging each writer in the forms of her own genre and inviting readers to enter a dialogue of courage with Weil and O’Connor in the postmodern and post-Christian world.

Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2021

Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil

Deborah Nelson read

This book focuses on six brilliant women who are often seen as particularly tough-minded: Simone Weil, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Diane Arbus, and Joan Didion. Aligned with no single tradition, they escape straightforward categories. Yet their work evinces an affinity of style and philosophical viewpoint that derives from a shared attitude toward suffering. What Mary McCarthy called a “cold eye” was not merely a personal aversion to displays of emotion: it was an unsentimental mode of attention that dictated both ethical positions and aesthetic approaches.

Tough Enough traces the careers of these women and their challenges to the pre-eminence of empathy as the ethical posture from which to examine pain. Their writing and art reveal an adamant belief that the hurts of the world must be treated concretely, directly, and realistically, without recourse to either melodrama or callousness. As Deborah Nelson shows, this stance offers an important counter-tradition to the familiar postwar poles of emotional expressivity on the one hand and cool irony on the other. Ultimately, in its insistence on facing reality without consolation or compensation, this austere “school of the unsentimental” offers new ways to approach suffering in both its spectacular forms and all of its ordinariness.

Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (2017)