Love

Simone Weil and George Herbert on love through poetry

H. Roberts read

Abstract: In two letters written shortly before she sailed from Marseille in May 1942, Simone Weil reveals the profound impact George Herbert’s ‘Love (III)’ had on her. When reciting the poem to herself during intense headaches, she had a religious experience that involved Christ descending and taking her up. This article offers a comparative case study of focused attention on poetry as a form of prayer leading to a religious experience. It offers a close reading of ‘Love (III)’ through the lens of Weil’s philosophical and spiritual writings from the last year of her life and vice-versa. The beauty of poetry on Weil’s account is analogous to the beauty of the world and hence can approach human expression of God’s will or the ineffable order of the universe.

Forum for Modern Language Studies (2022)

Anemones—A Simone Weil Project

Lisa Robertson read

It is with great pleasure that we present Lisa Robertson’s Anemones: A Simone Weil Project, the fourteenth publication within the “If I Can’t Dance” Performance in Residence programme.

Three years ago, “If I Can’t Dance” invited poet and writer Lisa Robertson to develop an experimental research project based on her long-term study of medieval troubadour poetry and the invention of the rime in the historical region of Occitania. The scope of this investigation offered “If I Can’t Dance” an intriguing proposition to revisit genealogies of performance that sit outside the canons that define this rather young discipline. Troubadour poetry was composed and sung in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries using the Occitan vernacular language, a language of migratory confluences, where Arab, Jewish, Christian, and secular popular traditions blend and jostle. Unlike the stability and authority of Latin or of the then forming French territory to the north, troubadour rime culture elaborated a poetics of intermixture—linguistic, erotic, and mystical, in the southwest region of what is now France, in relation to Andalusian, Syrian and Palestinian cultural movements and influences, as well as to plant and animal neighbours. As Robertson explained at the Edition VIII—Ritual and Display introductory weekend in October 2019, this language “learn[ed] from birds, leaves and tree frogs as well as people”, each of which moved between lands and over the borders of political territories.

What was initially going to be a publication on the invention of the rime within these vocal and cultural movements eventually took a different turn. The archival research and the collaborations Robertson had envisioned for the project had to come to a halt due to the prolonged confinements provoked by the outbreak of Covid-19. In this space of arrest, Robertson encountered the essay “What the Occitan Inspiration Consists of,” penned by philosopher, mystic and political activist Simone Weil in 1942 for the Marseilles-based anti-fascist literary journal Les Cahiers du Sud. Written from within the devastations of World War II, Weil elevates the troubadour concept of love to a practice of political resistance that rejects force in all its forms. In a new annotated translation that lies at the heart of the volume, Robertson dwells on the transhistorical potential of this notion, coming to terms with the broken lineage of troubadour culture, the legacy of Weil’s philosophical thought, and the violent context from which it emerged. In so doing, Robertson embraces the effect of both actualised and suppressed histories, testifying to friendship, readership, and the resistance of words across incommensurable distances.

Designed by Amsterdam-based Rietlanden Women’s Office, Anemones: A Simone Weil Project moves between poetry, the epistolary genre, and scholarly research. Echoing Weil’s philosophical concerns, the publication is also the site of a performance of dedication that takes the form of a series of floral actions conceived and realised by artist Benny Nemer. Carrying a letter written by Robertson, Nemer delivered an arrangement of flowers to seven people—artists, writers, poets—this book is dedicated to. The pages of the book then become the receptacle of a performativity that resists consumption and is not meant to be seen, announced, and disclosed, but rather imagined, whispered, and savoured in a moment of intimacy.

Attention in Simone Weil’s Thought

Zahra Qasemzadeh, Seyyed Mostafa Mousavi Azam, & Ehsan Momtahen read

Abstract

Simone Weil has considered attention more than any other philosopher and mystic. Her thoughts on attention are not merely cognitive, scientific, or psychological issues, rather, it has direct and far-reaching effects on education, theology, and even politics. She expresses attention as a way of life, both at individual and socio-political levels. According to Simone Weil, although man does not create or make anything by paying attention to it, attention brings life to what is being attended to. Only that man’s attention to surrounding matters is a life-giving one which is “pure”. Pure attention is free from any attachments and through which man frees himself from imaginary and illusory matters and achieves the truth. What leads a person to pure attention is “to desire without an object”. On the other hand, Simone Weil refers to the suspension of thought as a state of pure attention, which is to endure void and wait.

In Simone Weil’s view, pure attention can be considered as love, because just as attention is consenting for anything other than oneself, so love also requires recognizing reality by turning away from oneself. Simone Weil introduces attention-based ethics, and by turning one’s attention to God, not only she builds her individual ethics, but also her epistemology and socio-political philosophy. And along with divine grace, she considers attention as an antidote that is necessary for man’s salvation.

Philosophy of Religion Research, vol. 19, no. 37, issue 1 (Summer/Autumn 2021), pp. 1-28