A Degrading Division: Hands & Minds in Simone Weil

Edward J. Hughes read

— essay in Edward J., Hughes, Egalitarian Strangeness: On Class Disturbance and Levelling in Modern and Contemporary French Narrative (Liverpool University Press, 2021), pp. 131-156

Book Abstract: The formulation ‘egalitarian strangeness’ is a direct borrowing from Courts voyages au pays du peuple [Short Voyages to the Land of the People] (1990), a collection of essays by the contemporary French thinker Jacques Rancière. Perhaps best known for his theory of radical equality as set out in Le Maître ignorant [The Ignorant Schoolmaster] (1987), Rancière reflects on ways in which a hierarchical social order based on inequality can come to be unsettled. In the democracy of literature, for example, he argues that words and sentences serve to capture any life and to make it available to any reader. The present book explores embedded forms of social and cultural ‘apportionment’ in a range of modern and contemporary French texts (including prose fiction, socially engaged commentary, and autobiography), while also identifying scenes of class disturbance and egalitarian encounter. Part One considers the ‘refrain of class’ audible in works by Claude Simon, Charles Péguy, Marie Ndiaye, Thierry Beinstingel, and Gabriel Gauny and examines how these authors’ practices of language connect with that refrain. In Part Two, Hughes analyses forms of domination and dressage with reference to Simone Weil’s mid-1930s factory journal, Paul Nizan’s novel of class alienation Antoine Bloyé from the same decade, and Pierre Michon’s Vies minuscules [Small Lives] (1984) with its focus on obscure rural lives. The reflection on how these narratives draw into contiguity antagonistic identities is extended in Part Three, where individual chapters on Proust and the contemporary authors François Bon and Didier Eribon demonstrate ways in which enduring forms of cultural distribution are both consolidated and contested.”

Horror Transfigured: Force Drama and World’s Beauty According to Simone Weil

Rodolphe Olcèse read

This text, dedicated to the thought of Simone Weil, aims to show how misfortune and the experience of horror are the extreme consequence of an immoderate exercise of force, understood as one mode of the natural necessity. The purpose of Simone Weil’s reflections on human distress is to show that misfortune, by sharpening our faculty of attention, opens the way of its own excess.


Homer: The Very Idea

James L. Porter read

Homer, the great poet of the Iliad and the Odyssey, is revered as a cultural icon of antiquity and a figure of lasting influence. But his identity is shrouded in questions about who he was, when he lived, and whether he was an actual person, a myth, or merely a shared idea. Rather than attempting to solve the mystery of this character, James I. Porter explores the sources of Homer’s mystique and their impact since the first recorded mentions of Homer in ancient Greece.

Homer: The Very Idea considers Homer not as a man, but as a cultural invention nearly as distinctive and important as the poems attributed to him, following the cultural history of an idea and of the obsession that is reborn every time Homer is imagined. Offering novel readings of texts and objects, the book follows the very idea of Homer from his earliest mentions to his most recent imaginings in literature, criticism, philosophy, visual art, and classical archaeology.

University of Chicago Press, October 25, 2021