. . . . Truth is one of the first casualties of deracination. Of course, it was hard not to be driven mad by the assault on truth both before and during the war. Though trained as a philosopher, Weil’s preoccupation with truth was not a professional habit, but an existential imperative. She loathed fascism and communism not simply because they deny the inherent dignity of each and every human being, but also the existence of objective truth and a common reality.
This threat — both political and epistemological — was embodied by the German occupiers, of course, but also by their French collaborators based at Vichy. Inevitably, some were true believers in the reality offered by Nazi ideology — a reality that divided human beings worthy of life from those unworthy of life. Many more collaborators, though, were little more than opportunists for whom truth was as expendable as were the lives of those who depended on seeing and speaking the truth.
Forward, May 17, 2021
Simone Weil, legendary French philosopher, mystic and political activist who died in England in 1943 at the age of thirty-four, belongs to a select group of thinkers: as with St Augustine, Pascal and Nietzsche, so with Weil a single phrase can permanently change one’s life. In this book, Palle Yourgrau follows Weil on her life’s journey, from her philosophical studies at the École Normale Supérieure, to her years as a Marxist labour organizer, her explosive encounter with Leon Trotsky, her abortive attempt to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, her mystical experience in the town of Assisi. We see how Weil’s struggle to make sense of a world consumed by despotism and war culminated in her monumental attempt, following St Augustine, to re-imagine Christianity along Platonistic lines, to find a bridge between human suffering and divine perfection.
How seriously, however, should Weil’s ideas be taken? They were admired by Albert Camus and T. S. Eliot, yet Susan Sontag wrote famously that ‘I can’t imagine more than a handful of the tens of thousands of readers she has won . . . really share her ideas.’ If this is really true, Palle Yourgrau must count as one of the handful. Though he brings to life the pathos of Weil’s tragic-comic journey, Yourgrau devotes equal attention to the question of truth. He shines a bright light on the paradox of Simone Weil: at once a kind of modern saint, and a bête noire, a Jew accused of having abandoned her own people in their hour of greatest need. The result is a critical biography that is in places as disturbing as Weil’s own writings, an account that confronts head-on her controversial critique of the Hebrew Bible, as well as her radical rejection of the received wisdom that the Resurrection lies at the heart of Christianity.
Reaktion Books, 2013
With Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) and Simone Weil (1909-1943), we are confronted with two philosophers who examine events, understand their present, and consider the “disorder” of their time caused by Marxism, Fascism, and National Socialism. Their respective works constitute acts of resistance against ideology. Wondering about the “dark times” (Bertolt Brecht), they diagnose a Europe that suffers from a disease that is not without precedent, a disease that affects the spirit, the soul, and a disease that can be grasped by its several symptoms. In order to cure this disease, it is necessary to find remedies, and they both believe two countries in particular offer some hope.
VoegelinView.com, The Eric Voegelin Society publishes VoegelinView in partnership with Louisiana State University’s Eric Voegelin Institute, the University of Wisconsin’s Center for the Study of Liberal Democracy, and Nichollas State University’s Nicholls Foundation.
Rene Girard’s expansive comments apropos Simone Weil to a French journalist in 1987 give food for exploring intertwining of themes in the thought of Girard and Weil, whom he considered one of the greatest intellects of her time. I plan to expand those concepts of Weil that he admired: mimetic desire, reciprocal violence, collective victimization, Christ as the Truth, and caritas, while testing their limits, and suggest divergences of thought: on historical progress; disdain for the Old Testament, despite her Jewish ancestry; and the Revelation in respect to non-Christian societies.
In the concept of mimetic desire, Girard applauded Simone Weil’s horror of the “Great Beast” mentality, which she found even in the Church. He praises her insights into Christ’s parable of the adulterous woman for its mimetic group behavior but also for its implied concepts of punishment. The mimetic rivalry that holds primacy in her “The Iliad: A Poem of Force,” impelling the Greeks and the Trojans to destroy each other, had a decisive influence on Girard.
Girard prized Simone Weil’s “theory of the human condition,” illuminated by the Gospels: Christ incarnates the Truth; to pursue the Truth implies always going toward Him. Loving God and loving the order of the world are one, and love of neighbor must govern social decisions. Weil selflessly spent her early activist energies on encouraging marginalized workers to improve their inhuman working conditions. Weil’s concept of decreation has its model in Christ, i.e., He is the innocent, pure, victim, a model of selflessness, free consent to God’s love, and total obedience. In the Bhagavad Gita, Weil found corroboration of her ideas for minimizing violence and its contagion.
The two principal Girard texts for my presentation will be: Violence and the Sacred, and Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre.
E. Jane Doering, “René Girard’s Mimetic Desire as Seen in the Writings of Simone Weil” at Transforming Violence: Cult, Culture, and Acculturation, (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University, 2010).
Contemporary philosophers, wary of the vaulted metaphysical systems proposed by Enlightenment thinkers, have explored alternative avenues of doing philosophy. Unfortunately, these “new” philosophical systems often neglect their roots in ancient philosophical practice. The purpose of this thesis is to textually ascertain the ancient concept of philosophy as a way of life in the contemporary philosophical work of Simone Weil. This connection is demonstrated in two distinct yet related ways. The practical pedagogy demonstrated through biographical work and student lecture notes provide a distinct vision of her life’s bent toward practical philosophy. In addition, her Notebooks, read in light of Pierre Hadot’s interpretation of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, demonstrate the pervasiveness of this way of life in her personal textual engagement. In Weil, therefore, we find an important contemporary instance of continuing and reinterpreting the ancient philosophical practice where she finds her philosophical origin.
A thesis submitted to the faculty of the Institute for Christian Studies in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Philosophy, Toronto, Ontario, July 2007.
Cahiers Simone Weil, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 389-418