The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simore Weil?

Roberto Esposito

Vincenzo Binetti & Gareth Williams, trans., New York: Fordham University Press,

From the Cave to the Cross : The Cruciform Theology of George Grant and Simone Weil

Bradley Jersak

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Simone Weil

Palle Yourgrau read

Simone Weil, legendary French philosopher, mystic and political activist who died in England in 1943 at the age of thirty-four, belongs to a select group of thinkers: as with St Augustine, Pascal and Nietzsche, so with Weil a single phrase can permanently change one’s life. In this book, Palle Yourgrau follows Weil on her life’s journey, from her philosophical studies at the École Normale Supérieure, to her years as a Marxist labour organizer, her explosive encounter with Leon Trotsky, her abortive attempt to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, her mystical experience in the town of Assisi. We see how Weil’s struggle to make sense of a world consumed by despotism and war culminated in her monumental attempt, following St Augustine, to re-imagine Christianity along Platonistic lines, to find a bridge between human suffering and divine perfection.

How seriously, however, should Weil’s ideas be taken? They were admired by Albert Camus and T. S. Eliot, yet Susan Sontag wrote famously that ‘I can’t imagine more than a handful of the tens of thousands of readers she has won . . . really share her ideas.’ If this is really true, Palle Yourgrau must count as one of the handful. Though he brings to life the pathos of Weil’s tragic-comic journey, Yourgrau devotes equal attention to the question of truth. He shines a bright light on the paradox of Simone Weil: at once a kind of modern saint, and a bête noire, a Jew accused of having abandoned her own people in their hour of greatest need. The result is a critical biography that is in places as disturbing as Weil’s own writings, an account that confronts head-on her controversial critique of the Hebrew Bible, as well as her radical rejection of the received wisdom that the Resurrection lies at the heart of Christianity.

Reaktion Books, 2013

At Home with André and Simone Weil

Sylvie Weil

Benjamin Ivry, trans., Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Simone Weil: A Study in Christian Responsiveness

Vivienne Blackburn read

The book is the first major study to bring together the two early twentieth-century theologians Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor, and Simone Weil, French philosopher, and convert to Christianity. Both were victims of Nazi oppression, and neither survived the war. The book explores the two theologians’ reflections on Christian responsiveness to God and neighbour, being the interdependence of the two great commandments of the Jewish Law reiterated by Jesus. It sets out the common ground and the differing emphases in their interpretations. For Bonhoeffer, responsiveness was the transformation of the whole person affected by faith (Gestaltung), and the responsibility (Verantwortung) for one’s actions which it implies. For Weil, responsiveness was the hope and expectation of grace (attente) reflected in attention, the capacity to listen to, understand, and help others. Both Bonhoeffer and Weil faced a world dominated by aggression and horrendous suffering. Both endeavoured to articulate their responses, as Christians, to that world. The relevance of their thought to the twenty-first century is explored, in relation to perspectives on grace and freedom, on aggression, suffering, and forgiveness, and on the role of the church in society. Conclusions are illustrated by reference to contemporary theologians including Rowan Williams, Daniel Hardy, Frances Young and David Tracy.

Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2004

Saints of the Impossible: Bataille, Weil, and the Politics of the Sacred

Alexander Irwin

Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press

Simone Weil

Francine Du Plessix Gray read

From Publishers Weekly

Gray, who as novelist and biographer has illuminated the mystery of human suffering (most recently in At Home with the Marquis de Sade, 1998, a Pulitzer Prize finalist), was the perfect pick to write a volume on Simone Weil (1909-1943) for the admirable Penguin Lives series of short, popular biographies. Weil, the Jewish-born but Christ-loving, intermittently blue-collar author of brilliant political essays and breathtaking spiritual aphorisms, was a complex of suffering on all levels. She suffered from a profoundly negative self-image, incapacitating migraines and self-starvation, voluntarily assumed factory labor of the most grueling kind, endured the defeat of France in WWII and distance from God. The paradox in this panoply of ills is that, while superficially humbling, they reveal Weil’s enormous force of personal will. Gray is a wise and compassionate Virgil to the bewildered reader who chances upon this transfixing, even seductive inferno (or purgatory, or heaven the boundaries blur) of largely self-imposed pain. She clarifies the gradual transition in Weil’s life from left-wing political activism to world-renouncing spirituality, and critiques what she sees as “priggish” and “perverse” tendencies in Weil’s moral idealisms, from her Francophile fervors to her gnostic anti-Judaism. In some ways, Weil was simply a “spoiled brat,” Gray notes. Finally, Gray absolves Weil of her excesses by revealing the intense spirituality beneath them and the love and admiration she elicited despite them.
If Gray herself tends to excess, it is in her multiple citings (at least 13) of anorexia as medical cause of her subject’s extremes. But her fine selection of perfectly apposite anecdotes more than compensates. The result is a virtuosic achievement, possibly unique among popular treatments of Weil: a short, measured biography of a short but startlingly unmeasured and unmeasuring life.

New York: Viking, 2001

Simone Weil

Palle Yourgrau

Reaktion Books, UK, reviewed by Marie Cabaud Meaney, French Studies: A Quarterly review, vol. 66, no. 3, (July 2012), pp. 419-420.