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Simone Weil (LIVES) Hardcover – 23 Aug 2001
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In Simone Weil, Francine du Plessix Gray writes with her customary grace and acuity. The author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated At Home with the Marquis de Sade examines an equally extreme character at the opposite end of the moral spectrum in Weil. This French "mystic" (1909-1943) displayed early the ferocious intellect that took this daughter of affluent, highly assimilated French Jews to the peak of her country's rigorous educational system and made her an important modern philosopher. But Weil remains a beacon to activists because of her passionate, intensely personal commitment to the world's oppressed and her need to directly share their sufferings. This need had its neurotic aspects, and Gray's elegant biography does not gloss over Weil's lifelong anorexia, her distaste for physical contact, her peculiar brand of anti-Semitism or the unyielding self-righteousness that led her to cut off friendships for minor offences. Yet the overall tone is one of sympathetic respect for an extraordinary human being unable to develop the willed blindness that enables most of us to live comfortably while others go without. Weil gave up prestigious teaching jobs to do manual labour; she performed dangerous work in the Resistance; and, when threatened by a Vichy policeman who exclaimed angrily, "You little bitch, we'll have you thrown in jail with the whores!" she replied coolly, "I've always wanted to know that milieu." Her slow, exceedingly tentative movement toward Christianity grew from her need to affirm her solidarity with the world's "slaves", and her prescient denunciation of Communism at a time when most radicals embraced it, arose from her understanding that Soviet apparatchiks abused the working class just as egregiously as their putative opponents, the fascists. This is an outstanding introduction for general readers to the influential thought and rivetingly conflicted life of a seminal figure in 20th-century intellectual history. --Wendy Smith
The life and thought of the French mystic, social philosopher and activist in the Resistance whose work profoundly influenced French and English social thought.See all Product description
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The book provides an good introduction to both, and is liberally sprinkled with quotes and vignettes from her work and life. She comes accross as an eccentric and electic charector. However, this book is sufficiently short so as not to allow a full overview of the influences of her parents and family. Indeed, they obviously had a great impact on her life and work, but are mentioned in passing within the text. Also missed is her family background, and her families background. She is not presented as a dislocated by this, but there are more questions left unanswered at the end of the book than might otherwise have been the case.
My main complaint about this book, as an English reader, is that it is full of unacademic colloquial Americanism's which add nothing to the text, and actually detract to the setting, and the points being made. Examples of these 'Americanisms' include Trimester (ok, perhaps not un-academic, but not in common use outside of the Amercian continent); Fall (for Autumn) and Flunked. The latter of which is a slang word/ colloquialism, and should surely have no place in a pseudo-academic book.
These two complaints are the only two issues I have at present, and this book does not show the lack of editing/prood-reading that many books have begun to show over the past few years.
What this book has done however is to consider going and reading Weil (in English), to capture what she said, and the context's within which she was saying it. If this book is anything to go by, she seems a deep, but accessible writer, presenting truths about ourselves, God and work in a new and enlightening way.
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A refined poseur with a bleeding heart for the cause of the toiling masses; a petty-bourgeois mademoiselle "obliviuos[...] to "normal" boy-girl relationships"; an inquisitive and penetrating reason armed with the fruit of one of the best systems of education of that time; a heart finely attuned to the grievances and calamities of her time-- what a zesty mixture it was. Perhaps there were many mademoiselles like that among millions of their sisters in the interwar France, and whom of them do we remember now?
What was left after Simone in 1943? Just collections of graceful, mind-nourishing haiku-like religious poems in prose. It is incredible as to what those do to your mind-- not unlike cognac, that gently envelopes your intestines and permeats them with warmth, and energy, and good mood, and gratitude. Reading Weil your mind is attentive and amazed and absorbing the beauty, grace and utter wisdom of the world and of its creator.
Reading Weil is very much like meditation, like unspoken prayer to the miracle of life, and of knowledge, and of "I" inside me, and of "You" outside.
It is actually quite easy to lapse into some "esoteric" incomprehensible stuff, which Ms. du Plessix Gray happily avoids. Gray's lucid, elegant prose flows graciously, meandering calmly between dates and events of Simone Weil's life. With every turn it unveils more of fascinating vistas of Weil's character and thought. The warm irony of the book, its compassion to the subject is charming and inspiring. As one feels pity for poor Simone, wishing she got a partner and took better care of herself, and wonders how such a neglected flesh produced such a formidable spirit-- the reader (or maybe it's just me?) wants to do good to the world, people, relatives.
There are some less persuasive passages, like the one about Weils "Jewish self-hate"(it's fashionable in every work on Weil to squeese some juice from her Jewish ancestry). Some passages beg for attention of TV-folks like Seinfeld, e.g.:
"[Simone] taught her friend some(!?-- It's a full-time job!-- Z.R.) Tibetan in order that they might read Milarepa together. [She], on her part, tried to teach Simone how to drive, but gave up after one attempt--Simone had two small accidents within ten minutes." (Oh, those short-tempered friends with little or no knowledge of Tibetan!)
Weil's longing for justice and equality, her attempt to synthesize "the incarnations of the Word prior to Christ" with Christianity, her questions like "Is the knowledge of God given to non-Christians in contemporary India are as genuine as the knowledge of God offered to Christians?" communicate directly to my heart and the nobleness of her mind and heart makes me think of the world as of better place.
Thnaks a lot to Ms. Gray for the book.
Thanks God for Simone Weil.
There is a passage in Anne Carson's wonderful "Decreation" that as far as I know is not a reaction to this book specifically, but works well as one:
"At the same time, it is hard to commend moral extremism of the kind that took Simone Weil to death at the age of thirty-four; saintliness is an eruption of the absolute into ordinary history and we resent that. We need history to remain ordinary. We need to be able to call saints neurotic, anorectic, pathological, sexually repressed or fake. These judgments sanctify our own survival."