Of Colonialism and Corpses: Simone Weil on Force

Helen M. Kinsella read


“. . . . In the scholarship on Simone Weil, her emphasis on colonialism is still not yet fully integrated into analyses of the use of force nor, more generally, as another source of her reflections on the concepts which adumbrate her work.6 Processes that she identified as constitutive of colonialism’s brutality – uprooting, loss of the past, degradation of labor, and the pursuit of unlimited profit and power – inform her thought. As Dietz points out, the hallmarks of Weil’s concerns are “the meaning of individual freedom in the modern collectivity, the nature of community in the nation-state, and the political and social possibilities for an end to the affliction and oppression of the human condition,” each of which directly implicates colonialism and empire. In this chapter, I propose to explore the relationship of colonization to her concept of force and her exposition of rights – to draw out the ways in which her argument that force turns “man into a thing” is born out of her earlier analysis of how in colonial wars “we, first of all, reduce whole populations to slavery, and then we use them as cannon fodder.”

I argue that this accomplishes three things. First, Weil provides an analysis of modernity and the rise of totalitarianism that specifically centers colonialism as fundamental to each and, consequently, to any analysis of international politics. Second, she develops her theories through her own political engagement and activism in the context of her time, negotiating and unsettling the governing intellectual, social, and political expectations – as articulated through gender, certainly, but also no less so through the complex intersections of class and religion. Accordingly, her politics and her scholarship continue to challenge a disciplinary post-1945 positioning of colonialism as peripheral to the development of international thought, and further confirm the significance of “historical women” in the field. Third, Weil’s own reckoning with the tumultuous politics of her time can animate contemporary analyses of force as understood and enacted in complex and critical ways.”

** Essay in Patricia Owens & Katharina Rietzler, eds., Women’s International Thought: A New History, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press (2021), pp. 72-92.

Helen M. Kinsella is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

“Contesting Immigration Detention: St. Augustine & Simone Weil on use of Force”

Dr. Anna Rowlands watch

St. John’s University, CRS Global Campus Committee

What is la force in Simone Weil’s Iliad?

D.K. Levy read

Weil’s essay on Homer’s Iliad contains a philosophical analysis of la force that divides it into two phenomena with one metaphysical ground. Her analysis is a corrective to misunderstandings of force as something that can be possessed. The first half of my elaboration of Weil’s analysis is devoted to the phenomena she identifies in relation to la force, which I call might. In the second half, I elaborate the varieties of misunderstanding of la force. First, might is an illusion sustained by the shared belief of those in submission to might. Second, forces, i.e. the material forces on which weaponry depends, cannot be possessed. Third, what lies behind material forces is necessity, a third meaning of la force, which functions as a superordinate or ultimate force to which everyone and everything is subject. Understanding the last of these is the corrective that Weil means to present.

Philosophical Investigations, vol. 43, nos. 1-2, pp. 8-18.

“The Colonial Frame: Judith Butler and Simone Weil on Force and Grief”

Benjamin P. Davis

in Sophie Bourgault & Julie Daigle, eds., Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?, New York: Palgrave Macmillan pp. 125-142

The Play’s the Thing: On Simone Weil’s Venice Saved

Ronald KL Collins read

Excerpt: With Venice Saved, yet another of Weil’s unfinished works is resurrected, and happily so. Early on, Albert Camus recognized in Weil a great mind that wrestled, as did his, with fundamental problems of the human condition. And so he arranged to publish 11 of the first Weil books to be released by Gallimard. There was also Gustave Thibon, who culled portions of her journals and organized them topically, and with a Catholic bent, in Gravity and Grace (La Pesanteur et la grâce). Others followed suit in piecing together her writings on topics ranging from colonialism to mysticism and from political philosophy to physics.

Enter Silvia Panizza and Philip Wilson, who are the first to translate into English Weil’s three-act tragic play, including eight pages of revealing extracts from the author’s notebooks that sketch out her ideas about the direction of the play, which was almost complete. Panizza and Wilson also add explanatory commentaries and endnotes to fill in a number of the blanks left open by Weil. In most cases, these notes are quite insightful and helpful. Sometimes, however, the editors’ scholastic asides distract from the main focus of the play (e.g., on the question of whether Weil was a “feminist” or whether her views match up with Sudhir Hazareesingh’s “five characteristics of French thought”). Even so, their translation and admirably researched presentation of Venice Saved fill a gap in the Weil literature and contribute much to the mosaic — at once philosophical, political, and mystical — of her legacy.

Los Angeles Review of Books, August 28, 2019.

Sacrifice Between West and East: René Girard, Simone Weil and Mahatma Gandhi on Violence and Non-Violence

Wolfgang Palaver read

Wolfgang Palaver In this chapter, Wolfgang Palaver looks at developments in Rene Girard’s later work, in particular, at Girard’s assessment that he had earlier unfairly “scapegoated” sacrifice in an effort to rid humanity of violence. In recognition of the need to address — not erase — the violence that is with us, Girard developed his thinking in at least two ways. The first is his growing interest in how an “ontology of peace,” which Girard held undergirds all faith traditions, is expressed in non-Christian faiths. Second is his insight that Jesus’s death on the cross tells us not only about the evils of sacrifice-as-murder but also about the productive possibilities of sacrifice-of-self, giving for the sake of others. To explore what such donative sacrifice consists in, Palaver investigates the theories of oppression, resistance, and sacrifice in the works of Simone Weil and Mahatma Gandhi.

in in Marcia Pally, ed., Mimesis and Sacrifice Applying Girard’s Mimetic Theory Across the Disciplines, Bloomsbury (2019), pp. 37-50