Biographies

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)

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

Palle Yourgrau

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

The Mystical and Prophetic Thought of Simone Weil and Gustavo Gutierrez

Alexander Nava read

Two Christian thinkers—philosopher Simone Weil and theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez—are brought together here. While very different in background, situation, and in their writings, Weil and Gutiérrez display striking points of contact in their lives and work. Author Alexander Nava finds that together the two provide a philosophical and theological vision that integrates the mystical and the prophetic, two dimensions of the Christian tradition that are often considered mutually exclusive. Exploring the thought of Weil and Gutiérrez, this book shows that both are suspicious of forms of mysticism that minimize the harsh reality of suffering and violence, and that both have a serious mistrust of prophetic traditions that deny the contributions of mystical interpretations, practices, and ways of speaking to and about the Divine mystery. Nava proposes that dialogue between the thought of Weil and Gutiérrez and between the mystical and prophetic traditions can lead to a more authentic understanding of the diversity and creativity of religious thought.

Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001