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ONLINE CLASS: “Simone Weil: Secular Saint” (Nov. 2022)

Frank Ambrosio read

Lecture-Based with Discussion (hosted by Politics  & Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C.)

Simone Weil lived between 1909 and 1943, her short life bracketed by the First and Second World Wars and shaped by the political and economic upheavals that came between.  She registered the anguish of her time with exquisite sensitivity and felt called in the face of this suffering to rethink her collapsing civilization to its roots.  In the 1930s, she was active on the political left, involving herself in trade union politics worker education and the Spanish Civil War.  Albert Camus called her essays of this period “the most penetrating and prophetic contributions to Western social and political thought since Marx.”  Then, in her last years, a mystical spiritual perspective unexpectedly opened to her, and she came, she said, “to know the love of God as intimately as the smile of a friend.” Despite her personal devotion to the Christian Gospel, however, she refused baptism into the Christian Church just as firmly as she refused to identify herself with the Judaism of her family heritage. She died alone in a British sanitorium where she was being treated for tuberculosis at age 34, defying the orders of her doctors to eat a heathy diet on the grounds that she would take no more than her compatriots in the French Resistance had available to them.

Genuine originality is almost unimaginable today in the moral, political and religious dimensions of our lives and societies. We rightly sense that were it to appear, it would be strange and deeply disturbing. This is the importance and fascination of Simone Weil. She puts a human face on the suffering of those who are starving for justice, for truth, for human dignity and love – in other words, all of us – and challenges us to allow our attention to dwell on what is all around us, yet remains unseen.

In his highly acclaimed biographical study of Simone Weil, Robert Coles, distinguished professor of Psychiatry and Pulitzer Prize winner, characterizes her as a brilliant and effective person whose life and death are most remarkable for the paradoxes with which they confront and challenge each of us as human beings. Through a close reading of several her best-known essays, this course will attempt to bring those paradoxes into clear relief as a focus for personal reflection.

  • Six Thursdays: November 3, 10, 17, (no class 11/24- Thanksgiving), and December 1, 8, 15, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. EST Online

Cost

  • $170.00 per person

Required books:

  • Simone Weil: An Anthology, ed. Sian Miles, 9780802137296
  • Simone Weil: A Modern Pilgrimage, by Robert Coles, 9781683362975

Frank Ambrosio is a Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. After studying Italian language and literature in Florence, Italy, he completed his doctoral degree at Fordham University with a specialization in contemporary European Philosophy. He is the founding Director, with Edward Maloney, of the Georgetown University “My Dante Project” a web-based platform for personal and collaborative study of Dante’s Commedia. In 2014, he acted as lead instructor for the launch of an ongoing web-based course (MOOC) on Dante offered by EDX which currently has been utilized by over 20,000 students. He is the author of Dante and Derrida: Face to Face, (State University of New York Press, 2012).

He has received five separate awards from Georgetown University for excellence in teaching. He is the former Director of the Doctor of Liberal Studies Program, and in 2015, he received the Award for Faculty Achievement from the American Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs. In October 2009, The Teaching Company released his course, “Philosophy, Religion and the Meaning of Life,” a series of 36 half-hour video lectures which he created for the “Great Courses” series. At Georgetown, he teaches courses on Existentialism, Postmodernism, Hermeneutics, and Dante.

In addition to his work at Georgetown, he co-directs The Renaissance Company with Deborah R. Warin, leading adult study programs focusing on Italian Renaissance culture and its contemporary heritage.

Simone Weil and Emmanuel Levinas on Human Rights and the Sense of Obligation toward Others

Pascal Delhom read

There was no dialogue between Simone Weil and Emmanuel Levinas. In many regards, however, their philosophies have much in common. Both defend a conception of human rights as rights of others and as an obligation for the self. Both understand this obligation as an obligation of attention and action for others, based on their needs and their vulnerability. Both find the source of this obligation in the transcendence of the other, and both connect it with a radical passivity of the self, who is subjected to this obligation in spite of itself. At the same time, this proximity between the two philosophers entails and reveals profound differences between them, partially due to the difference between Weil’s metaphysics of light and Levinas’s metaphysics of language. These differences concern the status of subjectivity and of its duty toward the other, as well as the idea of an acceptation of sufferance, especially of the sufferance of others.

Levinas Studies (Aug. 3, 2022)

  • Pascal Delhom is on the faculty of Europa-Universität Flensburg.

 

 

Two Perspectives on Sainthood in 1951: Roberto Rossellini’s Europe ’51 and Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, Bright Lights Film Journal

Andrei Gorzo read

“Religion was a source of truth for Rossellini at the time, perhaps the sole source of truth,” writes Tag Gallagher in his indispensable critical biography of the Italian filmmaker. Rossellini’s 1950 film Stromboli (his first collaboration with Ingrid Bergman) had been recognized by young French critic Eric Rohmer as a “great Catholic film”; years later, Rohmer would add that Stromboli was also his personal road to Damascus, turning him away from existentialism.5 And 1950 had also been the year of Rossellini’s The Flowers of St. Francis. He would describe Europe ’51 to Bergman as another St. Francis story: “I am going to make a story about Saint Francis and [this time] she’s going to be you.”

Rossellini also described his heroine as “a spiritual sister to Simone Weil.” Reviewing in 1951 (the year of The End of the Affair) an English translation of Weil’s Waiting on God (her first book to be published in English), Graham Greene would describe her as “a young Jewish teacher of philosophy who died in exile from her native France in 1943 at the age of thirty-four. Since that time knowledge of her has spread by word of mouth, like the knowledge of some underground leader in wartime […] a woman who wished ardently to share the labours of the poor, working with broken health in the Renault works, and who in safe England confined herself to the rations of those she had left in France.” In Cristina Mazzoni’s summary of her life (from Mazzoni’s Saint Hysteria: Neurosis, Mysticism, and Gender in European Culture), Weil was a “philosopher and religious thinker, farm and factory worker, mystic, political theorist and social activist, [who] became in the course of her life increasingly attached to the Catholic faith (she was born in a nonpracticing Jewish family), although she always refused to receive the sacraments. […] Hospitalized in England after a life of privations (most of which she imposed on herself), Simone Weil refused to eat and died shortly thereafter of tuberculosis and malnutrition, [the coroner’s report accusing her] of intentionally starving herself to death.” Like Weil, Rossellini’s heroine (Ingrid Bergman) wants at some point to share the lot of the industrial proletariat, the director condensing in a day the experience of Weil’s factory year. And this is only the most obvious of Rossellini’s borrowings: as Martin Scorsese has put it, Rossellini used “the short and intense life of Simone Weil as a kind of model” for “exploring the question of modern sainthood.”

Education and the ethics of attention: The work of Simone Weil

Peter Roberts read

This paper argues that the influential French thinker, Simone Weil, has something distinctive and important to offer educational and ethical inquiry. Weil’s ethical theory is considered against the backdrop of her life and work, and in relation to her broader ontological, epistemological and political position. Pivotal concepts in Weil’s philosophy – gravity, decreation, and grace – are discussed, and the educational implications of her ideas are explored. The significance of Weil’s thought for educationists lies in the unique emphasis she places on the development of attention, a notion elaborated here via the key themes of truth, beauty, and love.

British Journal of Educational Studies (Aug. 22, 2022)