Venice Saved

Theatre as Creative Failure: Simone Weil’s Venise sauvée Revisited

Thomas Sojer read

Abstract: Simone Weil’s dramatic criticism and dramatic writing offer a way of reconceptualizing what it means to engage critically under fascist censorship. This essay explores her closet drama Venise sauvée as an example of her embrace of writing political resistance in a time when classical theatre criticism was absent and artistic resistance had been made futile. Simone Weil called for an awakening in the audience to acknowledge their responsibility of how they let theatre shape their way of thinking about war. I demonstrate that Weilian theatre theory does not only consider the stage an object to be analyzed, but also the very subject through whose lenses one can undertake a critical reshaping of ways to interpret the world. In this dramatic view on WW II Weil exhibits the artistic voices of resistance in occupied France as caught in its own echo chambers and thus no longer perceptible in society. The essay reads her unfinished historical tragedy Venise sauvée and its central motif of the silenced voice of resistance as an implicit warning to the contemporary théâtre resistant to become the agent of its own irrelevance. I propose that beyond this warning there lies a theory of deconstructing propaganda theatre by unleashing the creative power of theatre’s failure, namely via a distortion of the socially synchronized inner and outer stage of the audience.

Platform, Vol. 13, No. 1, On Criticism, Autumn 2019, pp. 17-30

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.

Decreation and the Ethical Bind

Yoon Sook Cha read

In Simone Weil’s philosophical and literary work, obligation emerges at the conjuncture of competing claims: the other’s self-affirmation and one’s own dislocation; what one has and what one has to give; a demand that asks for too much and the extraordinary demand implied by asking nothing. The other’s claims upon the self―which induce unfinished obligation, unmet sleep, hunger―drive the tensions that sustain the scene of ethical relationality at the heart of this book.

Decreation and the Ethical Bind is a study in decreative ethics in which self-dispossession conditions responsiveness to a demand to preserve the other from harm. In examining themes of obligation, vulnerability, and the force of weak speech that run from Levinas to Butler, the book situates Weil within a continental tradition of literary theory in which writing and speech articulate ethical appeal and the vexations of response. It elaborates a form of ethics that is not grounded in subjective agency and narrative coherence but one that is inscribed at the site of the self’s depersonalization.

New York: Fordham University Press, 2020

Yoon Sook Cha received her Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the University of California, Berkeley.