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

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.

Simone Weil’s Philosophy of History

Bennett Gilbert read

The philosophical and religious ideas of Simone Weil bear on the theory of history and historiography in ways not previously explored. They amount to a view of history as a consequence of the original creation, but they also generally exclude theodicy. By examining these ideas we see some of the ways in which to develop a theory of history centered on a conception of moral understanding that is impartialist and universal. For Weil such understanding is both inside of and outside of history. This leads to an approach to human history that centers on the moral dilemmas and choices of historical actors and that matches the force of compassion with that of power. Under an approach inspired by Weil’s ideas, the historian’s work of understanding can be an experience of moral growth.

Journal of the Philosophy of History, vol. 13, no. 1, 2019, pp. 66-85.

Against History: A Lesson from Simone Weil

Palle Yourgrau read


“At the heart of Weil’s argument against history resides a lesson she tried over and over again to teach those who would listen, a lesson we today need specially to heed. The lesson concerns the fundamental question of whether the meaning of the world, as one might put it, or its value, or its significance, can be found within it. That it can is the message of so-called humanism, a child of The Enlightenment, the view that the key to our destiny lies within us. Call that view immanentism, in contrast with transcendentalism, or if you prefer, the horizontal vs the vertical perspective, or, perhaps most perspicuously, naturalism vs. supernaturalism. On this question, one cannot avoid taking sides.”

iai News, July 18, 2017