The Critical Spirit: The Pessimistic Heterodoxy of Simone Weil

This dissertation is a study of the heterodox social thought of the French philosopher, activist, and mystic, Simone Wei

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The Critical Spirit: The Pessimistic Heterodoxy of Simone Weil

Table of contents :
Coverpage
Dedication
Preface
Acknowledgements
Table of Contents
Introduction
Chapter One_On Collective Idolatries
Chapter Two_The Training of the Soul
Chapter Three_Above Sin
Chapter 4_Compromised Utopia
Conclusion
Bibliography
Blank Page

Citation preview

Abstract: This dissertation is a study of the heterodox social thought of the French philosopher, activist, and mystic, Simone Weil (1909-1943). I present, analyze, and critique Weil’s analysis of social oppression as a part of a tradition of pessimistic political thought that offers a critique of society as a totality without offering a preferred alternative. In hope of influencing future social critique and resistance, I draw inspiration from Weil’s advocacy for heterodox thought with a view toward the next wave of anti-ideological movements. I present her deep understanding of the affliction of the workers in France’s interwar factory system as a model for understanding how precarious laborers are oppressed by the constant threat of humiliation in contemporary society; I see the social ramifications of “the violence that does not kill just yet” in the dehumanization of both victims and abusers of violence; and, like Weil, I see the promise of a free society of ethical individuals in nourishing communities, but do not expect such a society to resolve all the contemporary forms of social oppression. At the same time, I highlight Weil’s relevance to understanding the rising authoritarianism, racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism of the past few years. From a critical standpoint, I challenge Weil’s individualistic conception of resistance and her problematic and often internally contradictory concessions to a theoretical asceticism that she was unable to achieve in her own political life. This includes hesitancies concerning the moral purity she demands of any actor seeking to use violence or make revolution through any means. Her turn to an individualist and inactive conception of resistance through decreation takes away from her goal of re-rooting society as a whole because decreation offers no path to collective action and seems impossible in a collective setting. I argue that Weil falls into a complicated compromise with the State, a real-world idol, which she seeks to abolish but in fact requires if she is to organize a society that can be prepared for mass individual resistance through the mystical passing through of decreation.

THE CRITICAL SPIRIT The Pessimistic Heterodoxy of Simone Weil

by

Scott B. Ritner

March 2018

Submitted to The New School for Social Research of The New School in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Dissertation Committee: Dr. A. Banu Bargu Dr. Nancy Fraser Dr. Jeremy Varon Dr. Robyn Marasco



   

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“Ce ne sont ici que quelques idées, peut-être hasardées, certainement hérétiques par rapport à toutes les orthodoxies, destinées avant tout à faire réfléchir les militants.” “Here are a few ideas, adventurous perhaps, certainly heretical compared with all [established] orthodoxies, intended above all to make militants think.” Simone Weil, “Réflexions concernant la technocratie, le national-socialisme, l’U.R.S.S. et quelques autres points”, 1934

To Michaela, you are my roots in the ground and the sky.



Preface



Preface: The political, theological, mystical, and philosophical arguments made in this dissertation are drawn from the works of Simone Weil. However, there is one argument that I wish to make that is not “part” of the dissertation in the sense that it is not from Weil herself, but is instead related to my choice of her thought in the first place. This dissertation began as something larger than what you will see here. I had proposed a reading of a constellation of thinkers including Weil, Georges Bataille, and Walter Benjamin. Such a project, however, quickly became unwieldy and theoretically suspect. As such, I was encouraged by members of my dissertation committee to narrow the scope of my project. That is, to either narrow the scope of how I would engage with all three of these thinkers or to choose one and keep the scope of my reading, analysis, and critique at a more general level. I chose the second, and I chose Simone Weil. I chose Weil for a number of reasons: that she was less widely read in political theory circles, that she was perhaps the one true believer in this constellation of mystics, and that her political leanings were the most ambiguous. I also chose Weil for a political reason that has little to do with my analysis of her thought. That is, I chose Weil in part because there are too few books that engage with and celebrate the work of women who wrote political theory and philosophy outside of feminist thought (with the notable exception of Hannah Arendt). Moreover, there are too few men in this field who engage directly and earnestly with these thinkers in print. Throughout my life and my time as a student, I have been lucky enough to have an uninterrupted series of excellent mentors and teachers, nearly all of whom have been women. In a very direct fashion, this dissertation is a response to my time spent being taught the philosophical writings of dead men by brilliant living women. It is past time to return the favor. And, I hope that for myself choosing Simone Weil as my starting point for a life of pursuing knowledge and truth will be a north star that I do not lose track of.

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Acknowledgments



Acknowledgements: I would like to thank a few people who have been invaluable in my intellectual development, generally, and the development of this project specifically. Professor Banu Bargu has been my mentor and friend for nearly ten years now. I would not be the person, student, or teacher that I am without her. Other teachers who have provided me their time, energies, and wisdom include Professor Valerie Sperling a mentor and friend for life and a model for how to be a great teacher, Professor Nancy Fraser without whom this project would have been an unseemly mess, and Professor Jeremy Varon who gave his attention, gently and thoughtfully, in times of need. I would like to thank The American Weil Society (AWS) for their openness and thoughtful comments and expertise as I presented sections of this dissertation at more than one Annual Colloquy. I am proud to consider myself among their number. Two especially valuable relationships have grown out of my membership in the AWS. Professor Rebecca Rozelle-Stone has shepherded a collection of essays in which a variation of Chapter 2 is included, and has sent timely suggestions of nostalgic films, records, and television shows relating to our shared love of 1990s Alternative Rock. Professor Rozelle-Stone’s former student Benjamin Palmer Davis has become a dear friend, editor, companion, comrade, and a member of my family. In due course, Ben, I will return all of your favors. Peter J. Galambos, Arya Zahedi, Jan Dutkiewicz, and Tania Islas Weinstein have been friends, collaborators, commiserators, teachers, editors, debate partners, and drinking buddies. I never would have made it through without them. The Theory Collective working group in the Department of Politics at The New School for Social Research has been a testing ground for various ideas, arguments, and experiments over the years. I thank all of its past and current participants and urge them to continue on. My family has been endlessly supportive. My mother, Cathy, was my first mentor and it is she (and my maternal grandmother, her mother) whom I will follow into the family

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Acknowledgments



business of education. My father, Steve, has been a great friend to me, and has been infinitely patient with my, at times arrogant, rejection of his social position. My parents have always been there in times of need and emergency. My sister, Molly, and I have little in common in our lives or our politics, but we share a filial love without which I cannot survive. My brother, Jesse, is the next to begin this long and difficult process. I wish him the best and when he has finished I promise not to call him “my baby brother” anymore. My mother in law, Morning Star Holmes (the first published author on that side of the family), and her father, Professor Harold J. Larsson, have opened up their lives and their home to me in times of need, and been caring and loving supporters of my life and my project. In eight months of living with Harold, he kept me on track by asking each day if I had finished my thesis yet (even when I was in the process of writing my proposal). My father in law, Dr. Hank Holmes partially funded the cross-country road trip on which this project was conceived, has made me laugh on many occasions, and has shared with me his love of life. Lastly, but most importantly, I thank my partner, Michaela, to whom this dissertation is dedicated. I would not have been able to complete this project if it were not for her material, emotional, and intellectual support. I would not know the kind of happiness I know if she had not taught me how to love. (And I would not know that I loved animals if she had not brought a dog, Lou, and a cat, Piper – who have provided me limitless affection and timely diversion – into our lives.)

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Table of Contents Preface:

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Acknowledgements

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Introduction

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I. Pessimism and Political-Theology II. Terms and Terminology, A Note on Methodology III. Organization of the Dissertation Chapter One: On Collective Idolatries I. The Church II. The State III. The Party Chapter Two: Real Life: The Training of the Soul I. Affliction II. Attention

16 26 32 38 50 58 69 76 81 100

Chapter Three: Above Sin: A Pessimistic Morality of Violence and Revolution

110

I. II. III. IV.

114 121 124 135

On War Letter To Bernanos The Poems of Force The Opium of the Masses

Chapter Four: A Mystical, Compromised, Utopia I. Decreative Resistance – Grace Contra Gravity

150 154

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II. Roots and Rootedness: The Heuristic State III. A Compromised Utopia Conclusion: Simone Weil & The Pessimistic Spirit of Criticism I. Simone Weil’s Heterodoxy II. Analysis of Oppression III. Precarity and Pessimism Bibliography

169 175 186 189 201 205 211

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Introduction



Introduction: In 1909 Simone Weil was born into a petit bourgeois family of assimilated Alsatian Jews; in 1919, when she was ten, the first World War came to an end after engendering in her a deep passion for those less fortunate; in 1929, when she was just twenty, she was one of the earliest female students at the central Paris campus of the École Normale Supérieure; in 1939, when she was thirty and had secretly embraced her own mystical version of Christianity, the Nazi’s invaded Poland. She died in 1943, just 34 years of age, of complications from tuberculosis, from suicide, or “of love.” No 1

matter her cause of death, her political, philosophical, and mystical reflections on life in the throes of the chaotic early twentieth century are, in her own words, “a deposit of pure gold which must be handed on.” She worried that no one would receive it because, “to receive it calls for an effort. And effort is so fatiguing!”

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Why then would such a confusing and fatiguing figure and her thought be a suitable subject for a student of political thought? For the simple reason that an attentive study of Simone Weil’s writings is worth the effort – she does not give us anything, but she offers us a great deal. Simone Weil is most certainly outside of the mainstream of political theory, which has led her work to be lesser known than those of her fellow French philosophers born in that first decade of the 20

th

Century, including Louis

Althusser, Raymond Aron, Maurice Blanchot, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Hyppolite, Alexandre Kojève, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jacques Lacan, Henri Lefebvre, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jean-Paul Sartre, among others. Much like these other members of her generation, Weil’s intellectual impulses strain against the limitations of the political ideas she engaged with as much as the theological constraints of the Catholicism she practiced. To borrow from Gershom Scholem, heterodoxies like

Richard Rees, Simone Weil: A Sketch for a Portrait (London; Oxford University Press, 1966), 191. Simone Weil, “To Her Parents,” in Seventy Letters, trans. Richard Rees (London; Oxford University Press, 1965), 196.

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Prologue



Weil’s are indicative of “new impulses [which] do not break through the shell of the old [ideological] system and create a new one, but tend to remain confined within its borders.”

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This is not to say that there is either an explicit or implicit argument for Weil’s inclusion in the canon forthcoming in this dissertation. Instead this dissertation will treat as ambiguous the ramifications of canonization in the academic and philosophical milieu for a writer who has already been beatified by so many biographers. Simone Weil did not live for her biographers, nor did she write for the future academicians of Political Theory, Philosophy, Theology, or Religious Studies. Simone Weil’s heterodoxies are “designed 4

above all to make militants think.” It is for this reason that her work deserves thorough 5

treatment. The following pages and chapters will rely on the premise that in a post-modern age when heterodoxy on the radical left is as common as orthodoxy, it is reasonable and relevant to revisit heterodox thinkers of dead generations because of their heterodoxy, not in spite of it. The goal is not to redeem Weil, as this would be too optimistic, but to glean from her thought some new ideas of our own as we continue the historical struggle against oppression in its contemporary forms. In Simone Weil’s work we may find that

Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, ed. Robert Alter (New York; Schocken Books, 1974), 8-9. I capitalize these words for the exact reason that their meanings have become ossified by their discreet qualities rather than as some ad-hominen or post-hoc attack on academia and its categorization of study that coincides with an intensification of the division of labor. Weil offers a critique of both “words with capital letters,” and the division of labor and ossification of scientific knowledge, in her “The Power of Words” and “Human Personality” on the one hand, and “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression” on the other. The depth of her analysis in these regards will be treated extensively in this dissertation. See Simone Weil, “The Power of Words,” in An Anthology, ed. Siân Miles, 238-258 (New York; Penguin, 2005); Simone Weil, “Human Personality,” in An Anthology, ed. Siân Miles, 69-98 (New York; Penguin, 2005); Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression,” in Oppression and Liberty, trans. Arthur Wills and John Petrie, 37-124 (Amherst, MA; The University of Massachusetts Press, 1958). Simone Weil, “Reflections Concerning Technocracy, National-socialism, the U.S.S.R., and Certain Other Matters,” in Oppression and Liberty, trans. Arthur Wills and John Petrie, 25-36 (Amherst, MA; The University of Massachusetts Press, 1958), 25.

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Introduction



our efforts are rewarded by the depth and breadth of her insights. Weil offers us, in spite of being outside of the canon, a “prolegomena” to radical politics in thought and deed. 6

T.S. Eliot’s insistence on the term prolegomena – with all of its Kantian implications – is apt for Weil’s work because she treats social phenomena as a whole. Though Eliot only describes The Need for Roots in this way, it is an underlying assumption of this dissertation that Weil’s work as a whole forms a prolegomena for radical thought in that it provides a critique of the totality of social oppression and aims towards a world of liberated individuals working together in common. This dissertation will attempt to show that the implications for contemporary radicals of Weil’s comprehensive critique of oppression include a foundation for a reconsideration of political speech, the use of humiliation as a mode of control in precarious labor, the use and misuse of violence, the entrenched meaninglessness of the idea of revolution, and the debates over morality and utopianism in left-wing politics. For Simone Weil, oppression begins with the subservience of the individual to the collectivity. This critique is one that includes, dialectically, a critique of the struggle against oppression. Furthermore, in dialectical fashion, Weil puts forward both a negative critique of her contemporary political institutions and a critical utopian framework for an improved society in which individual liberty is held sacred. It is in line with these political goals that she challenges the Marxist orthodoxies of the early 1930s (Stalinism and Trotskyism), presents an antagonistic critique of the Catholic Church and its decisions in the Council of Trent, and refuses to settle for the oppression of even one individual or one collectivity. In Scholem’s account, heterodoxy and mysticism begin from broadly orthodox premises. As such, Simone Weil’s critique begins from the same place as other far-left 7

T.S. Eliot, “Preface,” in Simone Weil, The Need for Roots: prelude to a declaration of duties towards mankind, trans. Arthur Wills (New York; Routledge, 1952), xiv. Eliot writes, “[The Need for Roots] belongs in that category of prolegomena to politics which politicians seldom read, and which most of them would be unlikely to understand or to know how to apply. Such books do not influence the contemporary conduct of affairs: for the men and women already engaged in this career and committed to the jargon of the marketplace, they always come too late.”

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Prologue



critiques begin, namely, the alliance with the working and disinherited classes of society. Moreover, there is a radical disjuncture in the relations between subject and object, qua Karl Marx’s famous Theses “On Feuerbach,” and as described in the Chapter 1 of Capital, on “The Commodity”: the relations between subjects (humans) have been reorganized in capitalism as relations between objects (commodities). By Weil’s 8

analysis, this is described as an oppressive set of social relations in which “machines do not run in order to enable men to live but we resign ourselves to feeding men in order that they may serve the machines.” This Marxian inversion of means and ends (man as means 9

and tool as ends instead of vice versa) is the integral cog in her considerations on the organization of labor and on violence as the fundamental mechanisms of political oppression. That Weil shares this first principle with other leftist thinkers, Marxist or otherwise, is indicative that her conceptualizations of oppression and liberty are not total departures from the left opposition to capitalism and capitalist modes of social organization, but rather a nuanced and powerful heterodoxy within this historically developed frame of resistance. In opposition to this state of affairs in which the relationship of means and ends is inverted, Weil suggests the rationalization of the labor process and society in general as the reinstatement of the tool as a means with the individual as the ends. In contrast to an unmediated politics of purity – a politics she links to the collectivities of the ancient Hebrews, the Romans, the Catholic Church, Nazi Germany, and Third Republic France – in which the individual is made subservient in thought and action to the collectivity, Weil imagines a politics that escapes the totalitarian impulses of formal organizations and the domination of dead labor over living by insisting on the importance of metaxu. Metaxu,

Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 8-9. Karl Marx, Theses “On Feuerbach,” in Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 5: Marx and Engels 1845-1847, 6-9 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1976), 6. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 111.

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or mediation, simultaneously creates separation and connection between humans in Weil’s thought. It requires a proper object and a proper place. Her critique of the ideological violence of the collectivity, in her analysis of the crises of ascendant fascism and totalitarian Bolshevism during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and the dominating violence of labor, is often overshadowed by her critique of violence as such. In her famous “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force” Weil describes a violence that overwhelms the user and the victim alike. This violence is, as a response to 10

Marxian frameworks, the real indicator of history. In spite of this, violence is a 11

transhistorical property present in all forms of social organization in history up until, and including, the moment in 1938 when her essay was written. Her concerns about the 12

continuation of the reign of violence are still true today. And one does not have to be a pacifist, as Weil was when she penned the essay on the Iliad, to contemplate and understand the totality of violence in society. No matter one’s position, violence and Weil describes it raises the serious question of how to act in the face of the violence of oppression. It is not enough to say, as Weil acknowledges in her later works, that the only acceptable violence is the violence of defense. Such a logic – that of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan – fails to take into account the intensely dominating force that Weil desires to discredit, that of the State and of wars of conquest. In line with her eclecticism, Weil’s answer is drawn from the Plato’s conceptualization of the State as the conqueror of itself,

Simone Weil, “The Iliad, of the Poem of Force,” in An Anthology, ed, Siân Miles, 182-215 (New York; Penguin, 2005), 191. In this regard, Weil’s 1938 essay on the Iliad presents a political framework not wholly different from Max Weber’s 1920 lecture on “The Profession and Vocation of Politics” in which he describes politics as bounded by the monopoly of legitimate violence, or Carl Schmitt’s 1932 The Concept of the Political which takes violence and absolute enmity to be the hallmark of “the political.” What distinguishes Weil’s understanding of History from that of Weber and Schmitt is that hers is historical, whereas theirs is existential. See, Max Weber, “The Profession and Vocation of Politics,” in Political Writings, eds. Peter Lassman & Ronald Spiers, 309-369 (Cambridge, UK; Cambridge University Press, 1994), 310-311, 324, 330, 343, 356, 360; and Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, trans. George Schwab (Chicago; The University of Chicago Press, 2007). Simone Weil, An Anthology, 183. See also, Roberto Esposito The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil?, trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Gareth Williams (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017).

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the moral conundrum of the prince Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, and Marx’s definition of the State as the bureaucracy, the police, and the army. This hesitancy concerning violence complicates her idea of revolution. Weil observed the increasing reduction of the word “revolution” itself into a meaningless symbol. The difficulty for someone like Weil – a fellow traveller of the radical left 13

without identifiable affiliation – lies in the analysis and comprehension of the various meanings of this word without trapping oneself in an ideological corner. These impasses are compounded by the other transhistorical element of Weil’s thought: a deep and defiant love of God. Simone Weil’s conception of the love of God stands as the antithesis for the destruction of human violence. Following Matthew 22:3940 , Weil proclaims that the love of God is indistinguishable from the love of neighbor 14

expressed by the courage to ask the question “what are you going through?” . This 15

question, more than the beauty of the world – another manifestation of God – is the lodestone that guards against domination and violence. It is also the touchstone for the distinction between the historically oppressive collectivity and the liberated community

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of free and cooperative producers. For Weil, the distinction between the immanent and the transcendent is, in her more mystical writings, couched in terms of gravity, on the one hand, and grace, on the other. The conceptual framework of gravity is not simply that it is a physical force and can be described by science, but that it is the force that maintains the current state of affairs (that we do not float, uncontrollably, towards the sky) through a downward force. It is the most oppressive and least noticeable form of the force that does not kill just yet. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 55. Matthew 22:39-40 in The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha, ed. M. Jack Suggs, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, James R. Mueller (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 1293. Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” in Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd, 57-66 (New York; Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2009), 64. I use this term in the sense of Roberto Esposito who writes, “the most paradoxical aspect of the question is that the ‘common’ is defined exactly through its most obvious antonym: what is common is that which unites the ethnic, territorial, and spiritual property of everyone one of its members. They have in common what is most properly their own; they are the owners of what is common to them all.” Roberto Esposito, Communitas: The Origin and Destiny of Community, trans. Timothy Campbell (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010), 3.

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A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone argue that gravity represents the status quo. It is the normal state of affairs of oppression in which the only movements can only be within the norm. Gravity, however, is an even broader category than “the norm.” It is not 17

simply the absence of Carl Schmitt’s sovereign exception or Machiavelli’s status of a 18

principality well “governed and maintained.” Instead, gravity, by virtue of being a 19

natural physical force, also includes the possibilities of radical rupture, revolution, epochal change, and crisis, or any social force resulting in a simple change in the personnel of government. In other words, it is as much the state of exception become the norm, as it is the norm itself.

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Whereas, in Weil’s thought, only the love of neighbor can undo violence, only grace can undo gravity. This second and more profound undoing, however, is never so complete as the first. Just as gravity is not simply the norm, grace is more and less than simply a rupture. Simone Weil’s grace is the moment in which the love of God and 21

neighbor comes into contact with the negation of what she calls “human personality”

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that is held down by gravity. It is a vertical movement that is not made physically, but on the plane of politics and morality. The limitation of grace, and its pessimistic implication, is that one cannot seek it, for it is not an object. One can only open one’s self, through dedicated training of the soul, to the possibilities of its coming. But what does this mean for politics? Can we only struggle for something that we cannot desire or name? Must we, as Walter Benjamin suggests, wait for the divine act and then act in alliance with it?

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Is the disposition of a state of grace, what Weil calls decreation, the categorical necessity A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology (New York; Bloomsbury, 2013), 163-165. See Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, Four Essays on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. George Schwab (Chicago; The University of Chicago Press, 2006). See, Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, trans Harvey C. Mansfield (Chicago; University of Chicago Press, 1998), Chapter 2. Walter Benjamin, “On The Concept of History,” in Selected Writings, Vol. 4: 1938-1940, 389-400 (Cambridge, MA; The Belknapp Press of Harvard University Press, 2003), 390. A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 164. Simone Weil, An Anthology, 71. Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” in Selected Writings, Volume 1: 1913-1926, eds. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings, 236-252 (Cambridge, MA; The Belknapp Press of Harvard University Press, 1996).

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for recognizing the act of God? Or, is it, as Rozelle-Stone and Stone suggest, the ability to see the oppression that gravity brings upon our world without seeking to fulfill our own happiness first. And then only to stop short of making concrete political or 24

theological demands? In spite of the absence (for this is not a lack) of demands, Simone Weil’s politics end with neither a radical agonism nor a prefigurative shrug. Weil’s suggested utopian vision is closer to that of Marx and Engels – a moral society in which the factories become cooperative workshops of small producers who are well skilled and well informed of the intricate role their materials play in the whole of the product and at what step their labor enters and leaves the procedure. These workers work in common rather than in concert. Their labor is not in isolation to produce identical things, but together toward a common product. As per social need, they would only work for a short amount of time each day, with the rest held over for the development of camaraderie and educational purposes. In Weil’s vision of a utopian post-war France these workers would, to paraphrase Marx and Engels, labor in the morning, kibitz in the afternoon, critique in 25

the evening, and pray each night, all while chain-smoking the rolled cigarettes Weil 26

always kept in her pockets.

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Simone Weil’s theories are not without contradictions, gaps, missteps, or misrecognitions. Her comprehension and constructions of French history are not one of an archivist, but are instead produced for the purposes of her political and philosophical arguments. Her position on revolution is counterintuitive to the left-wing politics of the A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 174. Marx and Engels write, “[I]n communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology. Critique of Modern German Philosophy According to Its Representatives Feuerbach, B. Bauer and Stirner, and of German Socialism According to Its Various Prophets, in Marx & Engels Collected Works Vol 05: Marx and Engels: 1845-1847, 19-539 (New York: International Publishers, 1976), 47. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots: prelude to a declaration of duties towards mankind, trans. Arthur Wills (New York; Routledge, 1952) 73-76. Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 50.

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Introduction



rest of her oeuvre, but is consistent with a decidedly individualized conception of resistance. This decreative idea of resistance is the compromise between her mystical asceticism and her revolutionary politics. Although this is consistent with the general dampening of her radicalism during her time in Vichy, New York, and London, it is nonetheless disheartening that the chaos of this political crisis led her to a more moderate, anti-fascist, position rather than her earlier, more assertive demands for the reorganization of society along liberatory lines. While not limited to her late work, Weil’s contradictions gleam more brightly in the essays of the 1940s (including “Human Personality,” “The Power of Words,” and the Note On the Abolition of All Political Parties) as well as in her “second magnum opus” The Need for Roots than they do in 28

“Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression.” If maturation

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requires compromise, then Weil’s work follows the rule. If compromise is simply a kinder term for unresolved contradiction, then Weil’s work may define the rule itself. Weil’s largest manuscript, The Need for Roots, published posthumously under the editorial direction of Albert Camus at Gallimard, carries within it startling paradoxes and compromises of many of her most radical ideas and arguments, including the acceptance of grace. Weil twists and turns trying to find a role for the State in balance with her Christian ethics and workers’ control of production. Because of this fundamental contradiction, perhaps willingly and perhaps not, Weil systematically undermines the role of the State and of political parties in this book written, ostensibly, as a model for the reorganization of post-war France by the request of the Free French (it is worth acknowledging that attaining a position with this group was perhaps the prerequisite compromise to the book). The Need for Roots was an impossible book for its multiple audiences. According to Eric O. Springsted, The Need for Roots is the apex of her

Simone Weil, Letter “To her parents”, in Seventy Letters, 186. Miklós Vetö, The Religious Metaphysics of Simone Weil, trans. Joan Dargan (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994), 7.

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comprehensive political thought; it is also her most perplexing and difficult work to read or categorize.

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Categorizing Simone Weil’s thought is a difficult proposition. In his Looking for Heroes in Postwar France: Albert Camus, Max Jacob, and Simone Weil (only Camus survived the war; Weil died in 1943 and Jacob in 1944), Neal Oxenhandler posits, “As much as any single figure of the postwar period, Weil has become a Rorschach test for [her] critics. She forces us to face the fact that what we say about a writer may often reveal more about us than about her.” This difficulty in categorization is reflected by her 31

English language commentators, and lauditors, who span the political spectrum ranging from T.S. Eliot’s conservatism to Dwight MacDonald’s anti-Stalinist socialism. And while I hope to be “objective” to a certain extent, I do not propose to pretend that this is entirely possible. The choice to compose a dissertation on the work of Simone Weil is itself a political statement. At the most minimal level, it is a political step that calls for more of the men in the academic ranks of political theory to consider, analyze, and critique, the writings of the exceptionally brilliant women who have thought and fought within the political realm. It is of great value to highlight those voices of historically oppressed peoples be it by their race or their gender. As if to echo Weil’s own concerns, Christopher J. Frost and Rebecca BellMetreau write, “Readers may tire as they tackle Simone Weil’s work… but they are more likely to be fatigued and confused by the presentation of her life and work by biographers and critics offering biographical ‘portraits’.” There is, as Frost and Bell-Metreau 32

indicate, a plethora of intellectual biographies, hagiographies, and condemnations of Simone Weil’s life in print, in a variety of languages. There are too many to recount here, and in fact, a survey just of Weil biographies could constitute a dissertation of its own. Eric O. Springsted, Simone Weil and the Suffering of Love (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1986), 103. Neal Oxenhandler, Looking for Heroes is Postwar France: Albert Camus, Max Jacob, Simone Weil (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1996), 6. Christopher Frost & Rebecca Bell-Mertereau, Simone Weil On Politics, Religion and Society (London; Sage Publications, 1998), 8.

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Among these include David McLellan’s Utopian Pessimist: The Life and Thought of Simone Weil (1990), and Thomas Nevin’s Simone Weil: Portrait of a Self-Exiled Jew (1991). Simone Pétrement’s two volume French edition La Vie de Simone Weil and one 33

volume English edition, Simone Weil, A Life (1976), are so valuable to students of Weil’s thought because Pétrement achieves something that none of the other biographers possibly can: her works serve as a source of primary material collected and reorganized to tell the story of Weil’s life through the editing of her close friend. Within her book are transcriptions of letters, conversations, and some articles and essays that are unavailable even in the French-language Oeuvre Complete. Simone Weil’s friend, and post-homous critic, Maurice Blanchot wrote, “She does not give the outward impression of having been capable of the immobility that she recommends to thought. She was rather restless, … always wanting to experience everything so as to test herself … in her efforts to devote herself to and recognize herself in [the other].” To put this more simply, Weil attempted to live her politics. She often 34

suffered for them greatly: whether it was the suffering of the soul at the hands of the machines she describes in her “Factory Journal,” or the physical suffering of burning her 35

foot during the Spanish Civil War. Weil also attempted to live her religious convictions, 36

as seen in her mystical experiences, described in her epistolary conversion narrative, “Spiritual Autobiography,” published in French and English as part of the collection Waiting for God. Save for her autobiographical writings and letters, the details of her life will be mobilized only to reinforce her theoretical writings or to explicate the contradictions David McLellan, Utopian Pessimist: The Life and Thought of Simone Weil (New Yorl: Poseidon Press, 1990). Thomas R. Nevin, Simone Weil: Portrait of a Self-Exiled Jew (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991). Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson, (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 122. See Simone Weil “Factory Journal” in Formative Writings: 1929-41, ed. Dorothy Tuck McFarland and Wilhelmina Van Ness, trans. Dorothy Tuck McFarland and Wilhelmina Van Ness, 153-225 (Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987). Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, trans. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Schocken Books, 1976), 274.

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thereof. It is enough at this moment to say that Simone Weil was a philosopher, a mystic, and a dedicated political radical and activist, and each designation has just as much importance to her humanity as they do to a detailed and critical reading of her thought. Critical and analytic works on Weil have come in bursts in the years since her death. In English, among the most influential have been Mary G. Dietz’s Between the Human and the Divine: The Political Thought of Simone Weil (1988), Lawrence A. Blum and Victor Seidler’s A Truer Liberty: Simone Weil and Marxism (1989), and Eric O. Spirngsted’s Simone Weil and the Suffering of Love (1986). These three books take a significantly different tact in terms of the presentation of Weil’s thought. Dietz’s book is a work of political theory, Blum and Seidler’s is a narrow examination of where and how Weil’s work fits within their understanding of Marxism, and Springsted’s is a work of theology. More recently, A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone’s Simone Weil and Theology (2013) and E. Jane Doering’s Simone Weil and the Specter of Self-Perpetuating Force (2010) have become touchstones of Weil scholarship. Methodologically, RozelleStone and Stone take a political-theological approach influenced by the work of Gershom Scholem and Alain Badiou; Doering’s book is a focused study of Weil’s readings and interpretations of the Iliad and the Bhagavad Gita. Finally, a recently translated book by Roberto Esposito, The Origin of the Political: Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil? (Italian 1996, English 2017) has been further helpful in conceiving of Weil’s reading of the Iliad and her political proximity to Hannah Arendt. In these various books, the Rorschach text that is Weil’s thought is analyzed, criticized, and catalogued from different perspectives. Mary Dietz’s Weil appears as an ambiguous figure suspended between the Platonic/Rousseauean republican tradition and an a-political mystical theology thus presenting a “limited ‘politicalness’… which stems from … a patriotic ethic that is informed by a private, spiritual, morality rather than a

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public one.” What Dietz does recognize is the ambiguity of Weil’s conceptions of 37

resistance and the pessimistic streak in Weil’s writings, especially concerning the relationships of the collective and the individual as well as the human and the divine. Blum and Seidler’s book is of significance for this dissertation because it also begins from the position that Weil’s work should be considered within the tradition of radical political thought. Their collaboration takes a piece-by-piece approach to comparing and contrasting Weil’s writings with other Marxist theoreticians. However, the book does not reach outside of the limitations of their construction of Marxism, and the question of whether or not Weil’s work fits into that formulation. Springsted’s work is just one of his multiple works on Weil – including translations of her work, various articles, and co-edited and co-authored books. While he acknowledges that suffering (what I will call affliction) is a social condition, his analysis 38

recovers the theological roots of Weil’s dual conceptions of suffering and love without discussion of the political implications thereof. Nonetheless, Springsted’s elaboration of suffering as a category and his recognition of the role of humiliation in Weil’s conceptualization of affliction is without peer, and serves as the basis for my own understanding that will be elaborated further in Chapter Two. A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone’s reading of Weil is perhaps the closest to what I will present in this dissertation, though we approach Weil from different angles. They begin with this proposition: “[Weil] does not communicate a theology but instead reveals a conception of human life, albeit in paradoxical ways.” The conception 39

of human life that the two authors find in Weil’s thought is one in which Weil’s conception of grace is presented as a transcendent rupture of the immanent oppression of gravity. It is from this position that Rozelle-Stone and Stone argue for Weil’s thought as

Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine: The Political Thought of Simone Weil (Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1988), 184. Eric O. Springsted, Simone Weil and the Suffering of Love, 27-29. A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 2.

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comprising an “atheology” purified through her early atheism and her late mysticism. In 40

spite of approaching Weil from the position of philosophy and theology, their determination to take Weil’s thought as a totality is shared by this dissertation. E. Jane Doering’s Simone Weil and the Specter of Self-Perpetuating Force is the most thorough study of Weil’s understandings and writings on violence. Doering, like Springsted, has spent a career translating, analyzing, and criticizing Weil’s work, and this book is her magnum opus. Doering traces Weil’s early pacifism, through her abandonment of that same position, and finally her construction of an antithetical relationship between totalitarianism and love of neighbor. More than any other commentary on Weil’s work, this book offers a close reading of Weil’s grappling of the Bhagavad Gita. What makes this so difficult is that Weil’s writings on the Gita (as she called it) are scattered throughout her various notebooks. This dissertation takes influence from each of these books in distinct ways. I agree with Dietz that Weil’s work must be considered as an expression of political pessimism; with Blum and Seidler that Weil’s undergirding in Marxism cannot be ignored or discredited by her mysticism or Platonism; with Springsted that affliction is the irreducible core of Weil’s critique of oppression; with Rozelle-Stone and Stone that Weil offers a Christian conception of human life purified by atheism; and with Doering that Weil’s recognition of and resistance to force as a fundamental category of history and politics is a fundamental insight into her entire politics. That said, this dissertation also departs from each of these previous works in significant ways. Weil’s heterodox mysticism, Marxism, Platonism, and pessimism are intertwined, and at times indistinguishable from one another. Instead of being caught “between the human and the divine,” I will argue that Weil’s mystical divinity is decidedly materialist, and that her materialism never shies away from transcendent heterodoxy. Avoiding categorizing – and thereby limiting – Weil in to a specific philosophical tradition, as 40

Ibid., 5.

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Blum and Seidler do, I will offer a reading of Weil that attempts to synthesize her different influences without submitting one to the other. I will, however, argue that Weil’s thought is a product of a broadly defined leftist position that opposes oppression and seeks radical social change in favor of greater liberty in a universal sense. Distinguishing this dissertation from Springsted’s work, I will situate Weil’s conceptions of affliction and humiliation within her thinking on labor, discipline, training, and oppression. While I am inclined towards Rozelle-Stone and Stone’s reading of Weil’s conception of human life, I depart from them in regard to their reading of her foundational formulas of gravity and grace. This dissertation does not take such a Schmittian (or Badiouean) line on a clean distinction between gravity, as the norm, and grace, as the exception or the rupture, but rather finds both gravity and grace present and possible in the quotidian and the revolutionary moment. Finally, in regard to Doering’s development of Weil’s “self-perpetuating force,” this dissertation challenges this reading because it places too much certainty on Weil’s eventual regard for defensive violence. I will argue that this lends itself too easily to a social contract style (as in Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, Rousseau, and Kant) or even neo-liberal (as in the preemptive defensive wars of the early Twenty-first Century) interpretation of Weil that depoliticizes both her pacifism and her call for a moral reckoning with violence before its utilization. In place of objectivity, this dissertation is rooted in what Weil’s critique of oppression may offer us in the seventy-four years after her death. Thereby, this dissertation focuses on Weil’s analysis of oppression in a time of economic crisis and the rise and apex of fascism in Europe – a crisis of its own, no doubt. This dissertation attempts a rooted reading of Weil in her historical epoch with hope of providing a distinctive lens on the political crises of our own times. Additionally, the choice of the broad term “oppression,” following Weil’s own inclusion of this word in the title of her

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“first magnum opus,” the 1934 “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and 41

Social Oppression,” provides her critics the semantic space to engage with Weil’s work at the edges of mysticism, anarchism, and communism. And it is without doubt that I can admit that these three terms express a great deal about my own political leanings as well as my understanding of Weil’s. Simone Weil’s thought comes from communism, anarchism, and mysticism, but cannot fully be summed up by any single one of the three. Instead it is the intersections of the three: the immanent critique, the transcendent demand, and the engagement with the things and acts that mediate between the two that makes her politics and her mystical theology such fertile ground for the planting of a revolutionary mustard seed.

Pessimism and Political-Theology “in a general way, it is not easy to bear misfortune with decency; because a defiant attitude is unbecoming to the human condition, which obliges us to bow to necessity, while submission must never touch the soul itself, or it will wipe out all its humanity.” 42

Simone Weil’s polemics, ruminations, critiques, and insights are political and theological just as much, if not more than they are political-theological. This distinction is not necessarily a clear one. Simone Weil is not a writer of political theology in the sense that Christine de Pizan or Baruch Spinoza are; but she is a writer of politics and a writer of mystical thought. A student of her thought one must nevertheless at least entertain the idea that the study of her work can be labeled as political-theology complete with all the assumptions, positive and negative, that this entails. It is telling that Weil’s biographers find her at the peripheries of social movements and organizations, throwing herself into the workers’ movements, the Spanish Civil War, and the French Resistance while simultaneously maintaining her Simone Weil, Letter “To her parents”, in Seventy Letters, 186. See also, Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine: The Political Thought of Simone Weil (Totowa, NJ: Rowan & Littlefield, 1988) for a discussion of “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression” (1934) and The Need for Roots (1943) as Weil’s first and second magnum opus, respectively. Simone Weil, “Three Letters on History,” in Selected Essays, 1934-1943: Historical, Political, and Moral Writings, ed. Richard Rees, trans. Richard Rees, 73-88 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015), 78.

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intellectual, political, and religious independence and a critical distance from her comrades in arms. Weil presents a different view of oppression, and therefore a different 43

view of the possibilities and pitfalls of political action than most, which kept her from fully embracing any particular dogma. The early years of the 21 Century have seen open and anti-ideological st

movements such as Occupy Wall Street in the United States, the movement of the Indignados in Spain. Outside of a North American and Euro-centric vision of politics, the revolutions in North Africa show us again, and again, the problems and pitfalls of revolutions and coup d’états when political organizations are non existent (as in Libya) or when one of them is too strong (as in Egypt, first the Muslim Brotherhood, then the Army), and the quagmire in Syria is reminiscent of Weil’s warning that violence taints everything it touches. These past seventeen years have seen political theorists in the 44

United States lurch from Bush era reflections on Carl Schmitt’s exceptional politics, to musings on economic crisis during the Obama administration (and the Occupy Movement). Now, we are likely to see a continued rise in studies of authoritarianism, fascism, and recriminations of liberalism as the Trump administration continues to hold the stage. This dissertation began as part of that second group – it was driven by a desire for a heterodox crisis critique for a time of great mobilization but absent a coherent web of ideology on the left. By the time of its submission, it became necessary for this dissertation to take more seriously the development of a Weilienne idea of resistance rather than revolution. This is reflected in some of the differences in tone from the first to the fourth chapters and from this prologue to the closing epilogue. In a 2015 interview, the Italian Operaist thinker Mario Tronti referenced Weil and spoke of his own drift away from the “left” and toward political theology as being a result

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Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 47; Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, 122. Simone Weil, An Anthology, 191.

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Prologue

of both the left and himself being “defeated.” (How can anyone who identifies as part of 45

the left not feel defeated in the age of Brexit, Sisi, Maduro, and Trump?) Tronti’s ruminations are deeply relevant to the motivations for this dissertation. Contemporary pessimism is the pessimism that each generation experiences when what Walter 46

Benjamin called the “weak messianic power” seems to peak and wither. 47

Perhaps, it was best described by Hunter S. Thompson who painted a picture of the end of the 1960s (one that Tronti repaints over forty years later when he speaks of the “small twentieth century” that begins in the 1970s ) in his famous Fear and Loathing in 48

Las Vegas – Thompson narrates a scene from 1971 that many of the participants in the American version of 2011’s Occupy Movement and 2014’s Black Lives Matter uprisings feel existentially in the wake of the 2016 U.S. elections, “less than five years later, you can go up steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

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This is a pessimism of hoping and working for what can only be described as radical social change without – the pseudonymous Monsieur Dupont summarizes this in the parenthecial portion of the subtitle to their book Nihilist Communism: A critique of optimisim (the religious dogma that states there will be an ultimate triumph of good over evil) in the far left – a firm belief that what is being fought for will ever be attained. In 50

Antonio Gnoli. Mario Troni: I am defeated. March 3, 2015. http://hshldsvt.tumblr.com/post/112617340642/mario-tronti-i-am-defeated (accessed March 9, 2015). “… pessimism is as old as human culture and has a long history…. Hesiod thought that he was living in the age of iron; Cato the Elder blamed Greek philosophy for corrupting the young; Saint Augustine exposed the pagan decadence responsible for Rome’s collapse; the Protestant reformers felt themselves to be living in the Great Tribulation; French royalists blamed Rousseau and Voltaire for the Revolution; and just about everyone blamed Nietzsche for the two world wars.” Simone Weil’s pessimism is of a decidedly more active sort. See Mark Lilla, “Slouching Toward Mecca,” New York Review of Books, April 2, 2015, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/apr/02/slouching-toward-mecca/, Accessed March 22, 2015. Walter Benjamin, “On The Concept of History,” 390. Antonio Gnoli, Mario Troni: I am defeated. Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream (New York; Random House, 1971), 68. Monsieur Dupont, Nihilist Communism: A critique of optimism (the religious dogma that states there will be an ultimate triumph of good over evil) in the far left (San Francisco, CA; Ardent Press, 2009).

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spite of this pessimism, of a defeated (but not defeatist) attitude, the persistence of oppression drives continued participation in social struggles. While some have turned to the Apostle Paul , which Simon Critchley reminds us 51

is a cliché , this project suggests turning to Weil who thoughtfully wrote in her 52

notebooks, “‘No need of hope…’ But since one must have some purpose... Do what? Make a survey of our contemporary [civilization] which is crushing us.” Her purpose, is 53

the critic’s purpose. It is not something that can make one complete, or happy, or necessarily move one to act (thought that is its purpose). It is for this reason that this project, as noted above, is a prolegomena. The survey of Simone Weil’s survey provides a radical departure for the continued critique of oppression and the struggle for liberty. This dissertation’s turn to Simone Weil, unlike Tronti’s, is not a withdrawal from the left or from politics in general. What is of import is that the pessimisism expressed by 54

Thompson, Tronti, and Simone Weil is shared, and their continued intransigence towards the situation of the world is unphazed. This dissertation is approached from an atheistic position with a piety only for thinking, antagonistically and critically, about oppression and struggle. The following reflections on Simone Weil’s critique of oppression may be misunderstood without repeating the off-hand comments of a contemporary scholar of Walter Benjamin’s work: “theology is for atheists.” Such a move requires that we be true to the authors we are 55

interpreting and criticizing, but it does not require that we accept their premises simply because we are attracted to their thought and choose to study it. Taking atheistic distance from Weil’s mysticism that allows a reading of its deep and thirsty roots in politics and

Slavoj Žižek, Alain Badiou, and Jacob Taubes, among others. Simon Critchley, The Faith of the Faithless: Experiments in Political Theology (New York, NY: Verso, 2012), 8. Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks, trans. Richard Rees (New York; Oxford University Press, 1970), 45. Antonio Gnoli. Mario Troni: I am defeated. I owe this quotation to conversations with Sami Khatib.

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philosophy distinct from the skeptical secularism of previous studies, including Dietz’s 56

Between the Human and the Divine, where she writes “I think we can most fruitfully interpret Weil’s work as consistently beset by a tension between the political and the spiritual and also characterized by an almost palpable sense of urgency to reconcile the two.” I suggest, instead, a reading of Weil that does not see a tension between the 57

political and the spiritual, but a totality of thought from which neither can be fruitfully excised. The contemporary discourse in the turn to religion on the left is largely split between messianic narratives (most of which draw on the work of Walter Benjamin) and pessimistic narratives (that draw on more various influences, including Benjamin) – the narrative of Simone Weil’s thought is of the pessimistic type. Weil offers something different from other political theologies – because hers is not a theology in a traditional sense. As Rozelle-Stone and Stone point out in their Simone Weil and Theology, Weil’s work more accurately constitutes a “conception of human life.” Weil conceives of an 58

alternative vision of the future (now, the past) with utopian fervor, and yet she offers no hope of divine or messianic intervention in the world or promise of successful revolution. This dissertation, then, proposes to be another step in the “organization of pessimism” that ought to be “the call of the hour.” “Our era is not the first in history,” 59

60

Weil wrote about her own, “in which the dominant feeling is distress, anxiety, a sense of

A distinction between atheism and secularism is of the utmost importance. This dissertation regard secularism as a dogmatic separation of what are both considered legitimate but irreconcilable orthodoxies of politics and religion, atheism, however, denies the existence of God and therefore is capable of accepting theology as a part of philosophy as such and religion as part and parcel of politics. Whereas secularism desires a separate, but equal, status for the two realms, atheism does not rely on their separation at all to seek their comprehension. Mary G. Dietz, Between The Human and the Divine: The Political Thought of Simone Weil (Totowa, NJ; Rowman & Littlefield, 1988), 106. A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 5; and Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks, trans. Richard Rees (New York; Oxford University Press, 1970), 147. Walter Benjamin, “Surrealism,” in Selected Writings, Vol. 2, Part 1, 1927-1930, eds. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, Gary Smith, 207-221 (Cambridge, MA; The Belknapp Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), 216. Ibid.

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waiting for one knows not what.” Neither was her era or ours “the first in which men 61

feel they have the painful privilege of being a generation destined for an exceptional fate.”

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This “postsecular” age of social and political thought is a bit of a farce,

nonetheless. Simone Weil and her contemporaries, Georges Bataille, Walter Benjamin, Maurice Blanchot, Ernst Bloch, Gershom Scholem, among others, and more contemporary writers including the above-mentioned Critchley and Tronti, as well as Jacques Derrida, Slavoj Žižek, Terry Eagleton, and John Milbank (and Ludwig Feuerbach before them all) are evidence that the theological, whether it appears as interwar mysticism, or post-cold war realism, was never far from leftist social thought. The persistence of the theological in critical social thought gives credence to what Max Horkheimer said upon learning of the death of the theologian Paul Tillich, “I believe that there is no philosophy to which I could assent which did not contain a theological moment, for it relates to the recognition of how much the world in which we live is to be interpreted as relative” In spite of its author’s atheism, this dissertation participates in 63

this very tradition and is carried out in correspondence with Horkheimer’s ideal. The purpose of this dissertation is not to “reclaim” the messianic, the theological, or politicaltheology for the left, but to remind the left that it must not abandon its own transcendent impulses. Instead my purpose is to focus specifically on Simone Weil’s thought and how her diagnoses and prescriptions of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s may help us understand the current historical juncture. The purpose of this dissertation, moreover, is to ask if Weil’s brand of non-messianic, mystical and political pessimism is of help to the continuation of the critique of oppression. To take this tack requires a broad reading of Simone Weil’s work, without parsing it into “theological,” “mystical,” “Marxist,” Simone Weil, “The Distress of our Time,” in Formative Writings, 1929-1941, eds. Dorothy Tuck McFarland and Wilhelmina Van Ness, 272-273 (Amherst, MA; The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987), 272. Ibid. Quoted in Eduardo Mendieta, “Introduction,” in Jürgen Habermas, Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity, ed. Eduardo Mendieta (New York: Polity Press, 2002), 6-7.

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“anarchist,” or other discreet categories that can be capitalized or placed in scare quotes. Instead it is to reconcile these distinctions so much as possible and in Weil’s own fashion, to harness the power of the contradictions in her thought, and her thought has deep, and possibly unresolvable, contradictions. In short, Simone Weil’s thought is “coherent, but not systematic.”

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For all her contradictions, Weil is also, at seemingly odd moments, prone to compromise. “We must,” she cautions, “prefer real hell to an imaginary paradise.” None 65

of religion, philosophy, nation, community , or ascetic solitude should ever be an escape 66

from the world, but only a greater opportunity to engage with it. By her own standards, even Weil, famous for her asceticism, cannot forsake the world and retreat to the “Grand Hotel Abyss” to which Georg Lukács condemned Adorno and the rest of the Frankfurt School. Weil, more than once, told friends she was retreating from politics into either 67

study or faith, but never stopped participating in the political movements of the day. Her 68

critique of oppression provides a negative critique of the conditions of the day, and her deep-seeded political and theological pessimism provide an alternative positive, dialectical, opposite that maintained her philosophical goal of exposing, rather than resolving, the contradictions of contemporary life. While I do not agree with her assertion that “the famous ‘negation of the negation’, is pure rubbish,” I do agree that that what 69

can be “intelligible [in society] is [little] more than the idea of relation,” or, mediation, what Weil calls by its Greek equivalent metaxu, “which can be seen” very clearly in 70

Weil’s work, especially when asked to speak to a far-left perspective.

I owe this construction to the advice of my friend, Benjamin Palmer Davis. Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, trans. Emma Crawford and Mario von der Ruhr (New York, NY; Routledge Classics, 1952), 53; Simone Weil, The Notebooks of Simone Weil, trans Arthur Wills (New York: Routledge, 1956), 321. Again, in Esposito’s sense. Georg Lukács, The Theory of the Novel: A Historico-Philosophical Essay On the Forms of Great Epic Literature, trans. Anna Bostock (Cambridge, MA; The MIT Press, 1971), 22. Simone Weil, Letter “To Albertine Thévenon,” in Seventy Letters, 14-17. Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks, 17. Ibid.

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Such a reading requires finding, in Weil’s writings and in radical politics, the relationships between the immanent (gravity) and the transcendent (grace) that is often the bugbear of the student of political thought. This relationship makes a great deal of difference to the politics of both the far left and the far right. Such leanings are supremely contradictory to a neo-liberal anti-politics and its rejection of any sort of transcendent political possibilities. While the transcendent right is generally religious and reactionary and the transcendent left is generally atheist and revolutionary, it is hard to avoid the explicit messianisms of the two opposed tendencies. This is not to say that the left and the right are somehow the same – this is the dangerous mistake of the, historically contingent, center –, nor is it to even compare their transcendent impulses, for they are for decidedly distinct purposes and have decidedly distinct source. The distinction between the transcendence of the left and the right is therefore not the presence of the messianic and the transcendental ideal, but the locus of the messianic mediation. For the right, the mediating agent (if we may call it that) is often some institutional structure: the state, the church, the nobility, God, or the charismatic individual. For the left, on the other hand, the messianic mediation is often some sort of 71

collective activity. The institutional role, when it is present, for the left is often fulfilled by something both vague and concrete at the same time; for instance, “the people,” or “the Party”. For Simone Weil, the mediator is always and already present. In a simultaneous rewriting of the opening lines of Genesis, and the first long speech of Plato’s Timaeus, Weil proposes, “In the beginning was Mediation.” And this mediation is that of Christ 72

(for Weil, he is always “Christ,” the incarnated and crucified, and never “Jesus”) as incarnated suffering rather than as messiah. This decoupling does not lend itself well to

Max Weber, “The Profession and Vocation of Politics,” in Political Writings, eds. Peter Lassman and Ronald Speirs, 309-369 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 311-2, 313, 315, 320. Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest (New York, NY; Penguin Books, 2003), 44.

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messianism. The mediating presence of Christ in the world is distinguished from the messianic activity of the revolutionary and rebellious actions of the oppressed. This paradox in Weil’s thought could be smoothed over easily by one of the basic tenets of Catholic belief: resurrection. The resurrection of the dead in Pharisaic Judaism, from whence Christianity was born, constitutes the uniting of the messianic agent and the mediating divinity. The resurrection, for Weil, is a hindrance both to belief and to politics. And so, her paradox becomes an aporia. She confided in her fellow refugee, Father Couturier, the Dominican Friar and addressee of her famous Letter to a Priest: “[I]f the Gospel omitted all mention of Christ’s resurrection, faith would be easier for me. The Cross by itself suffices.” For Simone Weil, the Great Beast of institutional and 73

divine sovereignty and the optimistic vagaries of revolution are excuses for immoral 74

behavior, power plays, and, most importantly, opiates for the masses. The Great Beast is 75

a term that Weil uses as a description of uprooted collectivities, especially the State (in the same fashion that Hobbes uses the Leviathan, a Great Beast in the biblical sense), in the same regard that Plato does in his description of the mob of Sophists who influence public opinion in an unlearned way.

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In this light – if statement of such pessimism can be called “light” –, Weil’s mysticism and the ramifications for her politics are merely teased. The complex system of mediation, immanence, and transcendence are among the most perplexing and difficult characteristics of Weil’s thought for the thinking of politics, broadly understood. But when placed in the context of the study of immanent social relations Weil experienced, participated in, and criticized, and the radical and transcendental conceptualizations of God, justice, and love of neighbor she hoped would answer the oppressive social Ibid., 55. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 55-57, 134, 136; Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 181; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 79; Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 80. Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 181; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 79. See Plato, The Republic of Plato, Second Edition, trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1968), 493a-493b. Bloom translates this passage as “great, strong beast.”

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Introduction



conditions of her epoch, the question of the mediating agents or acts (if these terms are appropriate) becomes of particular importance. The fundamental political contradiction for Weil, as a thinker of modern politics, is the contradiction between the individual and the collectivity in its various different forms. In her thought, the danger to the individual from the collectivity is equally as powerful from the left as it is from the right or the center. But the liberation of the collectivity and the individual in common is the purview of the left. The goal of a liberated collectivity of rooted individuals is Simone Weil’s specific political choice for the present and future of humanity. But it requires constant work on the part of the individual and the collectivity in relation, rather than one prescribing actions for the other. Though Weil writes her utopian vision of this future society, it remains an unfinished description in which the heuristic State she designs in The Need for Roots must somehow wither away. The move from the individual overcome by the collectivity to the individual rooted in a nourishing community is, in part, a move inside of oneself. The decentering of the individual through engagement with one’s own affliction and the affliction of those around one is an act of decreation. A mystical conception to be sure, decreation is the process of making the ‘I’ [the ipse] “pass into the uncreated.” It is, in short, the divine 77

love of the neighbor that allows us not only to recognize the suffering of the other, but also to sympathize and empathize with their plight, by reaching outside of ourselves. The mystical anti-ipseity of decreation is the root of solidarity. Beyond the recognition of the other, solidarity, for Weil, is the abnegation of the self. In decreation, Weil offers mystical answer to a political problem that seeks not to deviate or destroy politics, but instead to make politics possible.

Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 27, 32. Simone Weil, Notebooks, 337, 247 (corresponds to Gravity and Grace, 32).

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Prologue



Still, like her heuristic State, decreation is only a first measure. Decreation is the opening up to the possibility of the vertical movement that is grace, which is an unfortunately individualized phenomenon. While it requires interactions of love with the neighbor, it remains an individualized form of resistance that does not seem capable of rising to the level of a generalized revolt. Whether this is the reality of Weil’s pessimism preventing her from conceiving of true liberty or that the idea of true liberty is both transcendent and individual but not collective, it is a significant shortcoming for a theorist of oppression.

Terms and Terminology, A Note on Methodology In simple terms, the task at hand is a reading of Simone Weil’s oeuvre from the perspective of the anticapitalist and anti-State left. This task is based upon a survey of her entire body of work, including one book-length manuscript, a number of polemical and theoretical essays, notebooks, confessional and epistolary writings, and fragments; this reading will present Weil’s critique of oppression in both its explicit and implicit forms. Re-introducing Simone Weil’s thought to the discourse of the critique of oppression offers a reading that attends to the historical rootedness of her critique in the interwar period – when high-modern industrial capitalism was giving way to the post-war consumer boom – and provides insights into the contemporary organization of society 78

rife with war, austerity, social movements, and systemic and individual precarity. Simple terms are an important consideration for any working through of Weil’s oeuvre. Despite her use of difficult conceptual frameworks, Weil always sought to make herself understandable to both the dedicated and the casual reader. Her simultaneous theological, Platonic, and Marxian language is rarely convoluted. This unhesitating straightforwardness allows even her contemplative notebooks to read as a forthright

78

Stuart Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School (New York: Verso, 2016), 32.

26



Introduction



attack on her enemies; and even her kind words to personal friends on the other side of the philosophical (and real) barricades and pickets comes with a truthfulness about the extent of this kindness and the moment at which it will no longer be available. Because of the problematical lack of definitional clarity that she discerned in 1930’s discussions of revolution, Weil worked hard to use terminology that would both project clarity and 79

differentiate her meanings from the morass that surrounded her. Weil’s language is clear, but it is also prone to extremity and to absolutes. Weil’s affective language pulverizes her readers and was carefully considered to distinguish her own universal thought from the historical specificity of her contemporaries’ meanings of words like “communism,” “socialism,” and “fascism.” The definitional difficulties of the interwar period is not dissimilar to the contemporary problems with “terms like ‘Democracy,’ ‘[Socialism],’ ‘Freedom,’ and ‘Terrorism.’” As Weil instructs her readers directly, 80

Words with content and meaning are not murderous. If one of them occasionally becomes associated with bloodshed, it is rather by chance than by inevitability, and the resulting action is generally controlled and efficacious. But when empty words are given capital letters, then, on the slightest pretext, men will begin shedding blood for them and piling up ruin in their name, without effectively grasping anything to which they refer, since what they refer to can never have any reality, for the simple reason that they mean nothing. 81

This is not to imply that her concepts are not rooted in her own epoch; nor is it to imply that her contemporaries did not mistreat their own terminology. But the intentional transcendence of words like affliction, slavery, prayer, uprootedness, attention, justice, doubt, violence, the good, the perfect, and the Great Beast point to a radical political demand that cannot be fulfilled by any state, any government, any party, or any church – such terminology has no choice but to make demands on a higher principle, or a higher

Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 55. A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 26. Simone Weil, “The Power of Words” in in Simone Weil An Anthology, ed. Siân Miles, 238-258 (New York; Penguin, 2005), 241. Rozelle-Stone and Stone follow the previous quotation with a direct citation of an abridged version of this same passage from “The Power of Words.” A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 26.

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Prologue



power. Weil speaks to higher principles and higher powers, and her thought is historically situated. War, social movements, austerity, instability, and oppression, however, are only meaningful in context of the considerations with which they are imbued. Our times are no stranger to war, but the scale and purposes of these myriad wars have little commonality with the two World Wars of Weil’s lifetime; the revolutions of our time are post-colonial and the revolutions of hers were the breakdowns of the European and Asiatic Empires; the labor of our time is decreasingly physical – though the physicality of service industry 82

jobs and production around the world is undeniable – while that of hers was factory work. The austerity and instability (political crises) of our times are not simple reflections of those of the Great Depression. The governmental responses then (the development of the welfare state) and now (its dismantling through domestically and internationally imposed austerity measures) belie this distinction, but the political affinities of the rise of charismatic authoritarianism and general international instability are striking. Then, pervasive unemployment led to the development of the welfare state; in our times, it has led to its dismantling. Then, the collapse of the European empires in the wake of the First World War led to the Second World War and an attempt to recapture the grandiosity of the imperial era. Now, instability has predominantly been in the postcolonial states that came into existence in the post-War epoch. This context does not negate her basic premises of attention, doubt, labor, and affliction, all of which have resonance in today’s society. A thorough and clear study of Weil’s work requires the student to follow Weil in her embrace of contradiction more than seeking to resolve it. Her form of dialectic is more Platonic than it is Hegelian, but it is a dialectic nonetheless. This decision, of

See Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014); and Isabell Lorrey, State of Insecurity, trans. Alan Dereig (New York: Verso, 2015).

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Introduction



embracing the contradictions in Weil’s thought, allows for a fuller grasp of the specificity and power of her terms and ideas that could otherwise be overlooked. There is a further methodological point, with political ramifications of its own, that is contained inside this dissertation: Among the difficulties of pursuing the thought of someone like Simone Weil is that there are myriad sources made available from her friends and family after her death. Simone Weil’s Notebooks, First and Last Notebooks, Gravity and Grace, and Lectures on Philosophy are not only fragmentary, but there is 83

also a great deal of anecdotal debate within the community of Simone Weil scholars about the usefulness of the second two books. Lectures on Philosophy is a printing of the collated notes of Anne Reynaud-Guérithault during Weil’s lectures “at the girls’ secondary school at Roanne during the school year 1933-4.” In fact, Reynaud84

Guérithault herself proclaims, “So these published notebooks are not a text produced by Simone Weil, and one might be mistaken in attributing to her some remark taken out of its context. But at least I hope that the notes, taken as a whole, present a faithful reflection of her thought.” Gravity and Grace contains fragmentary selections from Weil’s Notebooks 85

made by the lay theologian Gustave Thibon, the friend with whom she had left this collection of thoughts when she escaped Vichy France. Thibon’s influence is a common theme in anecdotal debates and is especially decried at the annual Colloquies of the American Weil Society. But the real question is not so much one of authorship – if one

As discussed in the Introduction, the Notebooks are certainly preferable from a scholarly standpoint. The context they offer for Weil’s musings are less edited than those in Gravity and Grace. That said, Gravity and Grace presents a useful and intriguing text to lure in those who may be captured by the beauty and pain of Simone Weil’s thought. In all cases of reference to Gravity and Grace will include the corresponding pages in Weil’s Notebooks and First and Last Notebooks. Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, trans. Emma Craufurd and Mario van der Ruhr (New York; Routledge, 1952); Simone Weil, The Notebooks of Simone Weil, trans. Arthur Wills (New York; Routledge, 1956), hereafter Notebooks. A “cheat sheet” of sorts, compiled by Martin Andic and transcribed by Eric O. Springsted, can be found at the website of the American Weil Society. This key is either helpful or not depending on which printing of the Notebooks, First and Last Notebooks, and Gravity and Grace one may have in their possession. See, for reference, www.americanweilsociety.org/yahoo_site_admin/docs/Andic_Key_to_Gravity_and_Grace.287182452.doc (accessed January 22, 2017). Anne Reynaud-Guérithault, “Anne Reynaud-Guérithault’s introduction,” in Simone Weil, Lectures on Philosophy, trans. Hugh Price, 24-26 (New York; Cambridge University Press, 1978). Ibid., 25. The emphasis on the first clause of the sentence is Reynaud-Guérithault’s.

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Prologue



takes Reynaud-Guérithault’s advice about her book, and reads the Notebooks rather than Gravity and Grace, the conundrum is resolved – but rather one of intent. Materially, if the reader is curious, those who wish to participate in dialogue with Simone Weil’s thought must read all of these “books.” This is especially true of the Notebooks and the First and Last Notebooks, which are treated with special reverence by those of the more theological persuasion. To read Weil without any of these collections at this point in history and, more specifically, in the history of Weil scholarship, would be akin to reading Walter Benjamin, but ignoring The Arcades Project or Karl Marx without the 1844 Manuscripts. We read these works, but only after our teachers have died, and without their permission, and yet they teach us as much about their thought as any of their “completed” books and essays. In the same regard as Marx’s and Benjamin’s, Weil’s fragmentary writings, thought experiments, notes and outlines provide significant supporting material for the ideas expressed in her published works and in her letters. My rehashing of this conundrum serves a methodological purpose and a political one: much of the mysticism ascribed in Simone Weil’s thought is to be found in these notebooks, kept private before her death. That said, the mysticism and Christian morality for which she is known is on full display in her letters to various clergy, some friends, and those works composed in the years after 1938, including “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force,” “Human Personality,” and The Need for Roots. And so, there is as much a balance Weil’s own writings as there is a tension in Weil scholarship. Two impossible Simone Weils are presented as the political radical typified by Lawrence A. Blum and Victor Seidler’s A Truer Liberty: Simone Weil and Marxism, and by the apolitical mystic of Mary G. Dietz’s Between the Human and the 86

Divine. Both of these readings of Weil are imaginary. Her mysticism can be ignored for Lawrence A. Blum and Victor Seidler, A Truer Liberty: Simone Weil and Marxism Routledge, 1989).

86

(New York:

30



Introduction



neither political nor scholarly reasons. Indeed, these two mischaracterizations create the void between the “materialist” Weil and the “mystical” Weil. It takes none of ideology, idolatry, or imagination to fill this void.

87

The truth of Simone Weil’s political thought and her mysticism is that each is impossible without the other as much as each presents a problem for the other. This is an evident truth that is (sometimes begrudgingly) recognized by many students of her thought. Rozelle-Stone and Stone have argued, “In this manner – and in agreement with 88

Scholem’s observations – it can be said that Weil’s entire outlook was a direct and 89

unflinching confrontation with the [political] crises at hand, which included: socialpolitical injustice, intellectual and spiritual nihilism, and the corruption of religion, especially the Catholic Church. And Weil experienced each of these personally.”

90

While this personalization is held in high regard in terms of the mystical, the political thinker generally seeks to avoid this problem. Furthermore, there is a misogynistic tendency in philosophical writing that mobilizes personalization as a way to demean and diminish the philosophical capabilities of any given woman. In this dissertation, I have attempted to maintain the mysticism in Weil’s politics without tokenizing it or presenting it as a series of digressions or dead ends, except when a dead end is its limit. The concerns of Weil’s mysticism and the reason for the development of a mysticism rather than the devotion to an already existing Church are as much derivative

Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 16-17; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 160. Even the two short pages of Gravity and Grace under the heading “Imagination that fills the Void” are taken from four different places in the Notebooks and are not presented in the order in which they have been published in the full Notebooks. Including Richard H. Bell, Simone Weil, The Way of Justice as Compassion (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998); E. Jane Doering, Simone Weil and the Specter of Self-Perpetuating Force (Notre Dame; University of Notre Dame Press, 2010); Dietz, Rozelle-Stone and Stone, and Springsted, among others. Rozelle-Stone and Stone reference Scholem in the previous sentence, where he writes that “mysticism as a historical phenomenon is a product of crises.” A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 9. Gershom Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Sybolism, trans. Ralph Manheim (New York: Schocken, 1996), 32. A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 13.

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of her politics as her politics (even her pre-experiential thought) are intertwined with her mysticism, even in its latent form.

91

Organization of the Dissertation The dual purposes of the explication and critique of Simone Weil’s work, and the carrying forward of her thought to contemporary relations of oppression, are reflected by the organization of the dissertation itself. The balance of this study will be carried out through pessimistic interrogations of the particular metaxu that Weil indicated as either existing or potentially existing in her own time, and in ours. Because her descriptive language runs the gamut from theological descriptions of idolatry to Platonic considerations of the Great Beast to the Marxian critique of the modern State and the factory, this dissertation will unpack the particular meanings and manifestations of each of her linguistic choices and what they mean for her politics. Often times, her choices may seem at odds with one another, perplexing, or fundamentally aporetic. Following Weil’s own method these contradictions may not, necessarily, be reconciled or synthesized for a neatly completed dialectic. In many ways, it is the incomplete quality of her systems that makes her thought so powerful. Organizationally speaking, this dissertation will proceed to reconstruct Weil’s critique of oppression before presenting her pessimistic conception of liberty. Each chapter will approach a political question from her critical framework from the most narrowly political to the most socially complex. This organization of study befits a thinker such as Weil because it allows for the unearthing of the heterodoxical power of each element of her thought. And, because Weil makes little distinction between the material conditions of society and the ideological conditions with which they are paired,

This latent form is evident in Weil’s “Factory Journal,” where Weil expresses the early form of her understandings of slavery and affliction before her conversion. See Chapter 2, above, for a detailed analysis of these writings.

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Introduction



the patterns of means and ends, or means and means (both Weil’s conceptions and those she critiques) for that matter, may be consistently called into question. Chapter One will pose the collectivity and the individual as a contradictory pair through the metaxu of ossified formal organizations. It is the mobilized collectivities of formal institutions, like the State, like the Church, and like the party, in particular, that she found most disturbing and dangerous. In her Notebooks, Weil begins a fragment that has been titled “Israel” in Gravity and Grace: “As for what is great in the social order, only he is capable of it who has harnessed a large part of the Great Beast’s energy. But he can have no share in the supernatural.” She continues, “Israel was an attempt at 92

93

supernatural social life. No country, presumably, has succeeded better at this kind of thing. … The result shows just what sort of divine revelation the Great Beast is capable of.” The shape-shifting monster of State, party, and Church lays claim to guide the 94

transcendent desires of the collectivity by framing their equivalent of a supernatural social life. These formal impulses conjugate around the ideological exaltation of the institution itself. This is, for Weil, the very definition of idolatry. Idolatry circumscribes thought, destroys creativity, and is the utmost form of distraction. Moreover, Weil’s contemplation of idolatry, just as Marx’s contemplations of capitalism, lays the groundwork and leaves open the possibility of redemption and/or communism as a contradictory pair all its own. As her thought coheres, Weil comes to the conclusion that not all collectivities 95

are inherently evil. Weil suggests that those groups who come together to share intellectual debates and possibly to produce some sort of written text for public consumption must remain impermanent in order to maintain their integrity. Any sort of Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 160; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 481. Simone Weil did not live to see the advent of the modern State of Israel or its occupation of the Palestinian lands upon which it rests and which surround it. Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 160; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 481 Eric O. Springsted, Simone Weil and the Suffering of Love, 113; Eric O. Springsted, “Rootedness: culture and value” in Richard H. Bell, ed., Simone Weil’s Philosophy of Culture: Readings Toward a Divine Humanity, 161-188 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 179. Miklós Vetö, The Religious Metaphysics of Simone Weil, 7.

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Prologue

platform – a step toward totalitarianism – must be disavowed; considerations of contingency are necessary for the maintenance of freedom. Of course, considerations of contingency are not worth a damn without the proper orientation and full understanding of the complete task. The problem then is deciphering exactly what that will be and what moral and political codes it needs to maintain in order not to replicate the oppression of the ancien regime. In Chapter Two, the disjuncture between work and life becomes the focal point of Simone Weil’s critique. In her analysis of the organization of the production in her times, heightened in ours, she constructs a disciplinary dialectic. In oppressive social relations, “machines do not run in order to enable men to live but we resign ourselves to feeding men in order that they may serve the machines.” This is manifested by the divorce of 96

thought and spontaneity from the labor process. For Weil, it is the organization of labor that is the deepest root of oppression.

97

She writes, succinctly, “Thus the worker’s complete subordination to the undertaking and to those who run it is founded on the factory organization and not on the system of property.” It is in her “Factory Journal,” written during her year of “real life” in 1934, 98

99

that Weil experienced the affective reality of the theoretical analysis she had already prepared. This affective experience is reflected in her reconsideration and radicalization of the Marxian concept of alienation into a totally overpowering experience of affliction. All the while there is the possibility of a form of “free” labor based on the distinction between repressive needs (those created by capitalism) and real needs (the basic necessities for life). The free form of work requires a free form of discipline: “Work makes us experience in the most exhausting manner the phenomenon of finality rebounding like a ball; to work in order to eat, to eat in order to work. If we regard one of

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98 99

Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 111. Ibid., 24-35. Ibid., 41. Simone Weil, Letter “To a Pupil,” in Seventy Letters, 10.

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Introduction



the two as an end, or the one and the other taken separately, we are lost. Only the cycle contains the truth.” The truth in the cycle is the determinate negation of afflicted labor. 100

It is the difference between work and life. The difficulty in this chapter is to come to grips with Weil’s theological terminology, not least “affliction” and the opposing “mysticism of work.” The interpretation of affliction in particular has significance for its contemporary social life, whether or not we understand it through a Marxian lens as an extreme form of alienation or if we understand it theologically as a description of destitution and slavery the meaning of the term changes dramatically. With an understanding of affliction, including its material realities and its affective properties, its perpetuation, and its descriptive limitations, we can search Chapter Three for its genesis in Weil’s critique of violence and a discussion of “the force … that does not kill just yet.” The dialectical opposition to this category, for Weil, is 101

God, love of neighbor, and justice. The three terms God, love of neighbor, and justice are often synonymous in Simone Weil’s writings and her opposition to violence and affliction. Violence enacted or experienced is a root cause of oppression precisely because it uproots both the victim and the abuser. Violence takes hold of us, whether we make use of it in a revolutionary insurrection or to put one down – both of these acts are acts of conquest. But even for Weil there are historical moments is which there is no choice but to fight. In any case, the anarchism of Weil’s critique of violence does not quite mesh with the theology of her view toward the love of neighbor as the answer to pacified social relations. In an ironical way, if slogans were acceptable to Weil, perhaps hers would be “One (incarnated) God, No Masters.” Chapter Four further focuses on Simone Weil’s transcendent conceptualization of a rooted society. This step, however, required a series of disturbing compromises. Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 179-180; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 496. It is worth noting that these three sentences are a surrounded by parentheses in the Notebooks, as part of a longer passage on the question of mediation, objects, and metaxu. In Gravity and Grace this is presented as a statement of primacy in a decontextualized collection of fragments under the heading “The Mysticism of Work.” Simone Weil, An Anthology, 185.

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Prologue



Whether it is finding a role for the State so as to speak to the Gaullist audience of the book, or encouraging the maintenance of a system of carceral punishment, Weil finds ways to undermine her own “suggestions” for the reformation of France after the War. The compromises of The Need for Roots are laden within a book that can only be labeled a utopia if the term itself is compromised. But the main thrust of The Need for Roots is that it is meant to serve as a moral compass for politics – not only of the radical sort – as a whole. Simone Weil’s “needs of the soul” are of the moral-political variety paired 102

with a contradictory and complex opposite need: order is paired with freedom, equality with hierarchism. In other words, the dialectic of the needs of the soul is one that is 103

necessarily irresolvable in the same fashion as the contradictions that inhabit revolutionary theory and practice in the contemporary epoch. Overall, Simone Weil brings to the critique of oppression a powerful heterodoxy for an age without orthodoxy. It is my intention to explicate, critique, mobilize, and problematize the mystical, moral, anarchist, communist, and rebellious implications of her thought. It is my hope, and my argument is based on such a foundation, that Simone Weil’s thought is a necessary addendum to the discourses surrounding the critique of oppression in contemporary times. That Weil’s writings offer to us, if we have the energy to attend to them, distinct and powerful roots from which we may grow upwards, like a tree, and break the hold of gravity’s forceful bonds. As a student of Weil, I can only hope to direct the reader to her work, that is, to my primary sources. What I am able to offer, including my arguments for her continued relevance, as the Rabbi Hillel would say, “is commentary.” Now, “go forth and study.”

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Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 7. Ibid., 12. There is a Jewish parable, I imagine that it is written down in many places and is spoken in many homes, perhaps even in Weil’s childhood home, by her parents or grandparents, in which Rabbi Hillel was approached by a member of his congregation. The congregant asked him “Rabbi, can you teach me the entirety of the Torah while I stand on one foot?” Hillel responded “Do not do to your neighbor what you would find hateful to yourself. The rest is commentary. Now, go forth and study.”

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Introduction



Both Hillel and Weil prized love of neighbor above all else. And, so, let us begin our study, without distraction, and with the clarity of the pessimistic attitude.

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Chapter One: On Collective Idolatries



Chapter One: On Collective Idolatries “It is not that I am of a very individualistic temperament. I am afraid for the opposite reason. I am aware of very strong gregarious tendencies in myself. My natural disposition is to be very easily influenced, too much influenced, and above all by anything collective. I know that if at this moment I had before me a group of twenty young Germans singing Nazi songs in chorus, a part of my soul would instantly become Nazi. That is a very great weakness, but that is how I am.”

1

“Wherever there is an intellectual malaise, we find the individual is oppressed by the social factor, which tends to become totalitarian.”

2

Simone Weil’s deep concern about the power of collectivities made it impossible for her to join a party, take baptism, or voice a full-throated patriotism for France even in the face of the impending German conquest – she closely guarded her independently generated heterodoxies against her friends and enemies alike, allowing her contemporaries to achieve influence without indoctrination. For Weil, collectivities act as trees, drawing nourishment from the people they force (metaphorically and materially), below ground. And yet these people from whom they draw nourishment are neither rooted nor roots – they are simply buried. Chapter Four will deal with the question of the shape of the rooted society, this chapter will interrogate Weil’s description of the institutions of the Church, the Party, and the State as they existed in the early twentieth century. Each of these formal collectivities, in Weil’s estimation, proved to be significant threats to the moral and intellectual liberty and health of their members and were the three ideal-typical metaxu in the struggle between the individual and the collectivity. It was no mistake that Simone Weil’s “second magnum opus” carries the title 3

L’Enracinement (The Need for Roots). It is her most pessimistic and most historical manuscript. But it also holds more promise than many of her other works. The Need for Roots is a delicate balance of irreconcilable contradictions – the paradoxical relations of the individual and the collectivity and the related pressures arising from the distinction Simone Weil, “Same Subject [Hesitations Concerning Baptism],” in Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd, 11-15 (New York; Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2009), 11. Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 62. Simone Weil, Seventy Letters, 186.

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Chapter One: On Collective Idolatries



between rootedness and deracination, or uprootedness, the aporia of contingency and ideology, and the dialectic of compromise and utopia. It is important to remember that Weil, herself, throughout her life, was uprooted. She felt the pressures of the collectivity bearing down on her. This chapter will examine Simone Weil’s critique of the institutions that demand orthodoxy. In Weil’s paradox of the collective and the individual, the individual can never properly be a root of the tree that is the collectivity. In her own words: “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul. It is one of the hardest to define. A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations of the future. This participation is a natural one, in the sense that it is automatically brought about by place, conditions of birth, profession and social surroundings. Every human being needs to have multiple roots.” 4

While the collectivity is likely to suck individuals dry; it may also be the roots that blossom a holistic individual who may then contribute to the rootedness of future generations as part of the collectivity. This logic is inconsistent with Weil’s pessimistic understanding of social phenomena, in that it presents as a contradictory coupling of circularity and progressivism. Weil’s logic here, is circular in that it assumes that 5

community and participation in community are natural, but that rootedness engenders more rootedness and uprootedness engenders further deracination. When Weil writes, “every human being needs to have multiple roots,” she 6

implies the necessity of a certain kind of pluralism – one that is reflected, but not 7

confirmed, by her recognition of holiness in non-Christian religions – that Springsted Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 48. Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 48. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 48. “Simone Weil once noted that the slogan-like quality of capitalized value-words creates an effective smoke-screen that keeps us from seeing what is really behind them. Each age has its own set of such words. Ours has introduced ‘Pluralisms’. Far from signifying one thing at all, ‘Pluralism’ has at least four different meanings it can refer: 1) to the fact that people think differently; 2) to the fact that groups differ on what they hold valuable; 3) to the idea that our differences over what is good and valuable is not always a strict matter of right or wrong, but of differing cultural histories; 4) to the liberal notion that what is good and valuable is essentially a matter of individual choice.” Eric O. Springsted, “Rootedness: culture and value,” 161.

4 5 6

7

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unpacks in his essay “Rootedness: culture and value.” The tree that is the metaphorical expression of the “human being” is not entirely dependent on one set of roots, and it becomes capable of producing varied fruits. This opens up a significant problem for any reader of Weil who wants to read her against a politics of liberal progressivism. Taking, for example, the passage quoted from The Need for Roots, two paragraphs above: this passage suggests a utopian progressivism in which the spreading of roots may be understood as a teleological movement toward some form of the good society. Rootedness begets more rootedness – history moves on to the beat of the same drum. However, what this passage does not indicate is that the rooted society or rooted individual is easily dug up and displaced, not to mention easily misrecognized. When the collectivity is the tree instead of the roots, it easily topples and breaks off from the individuals within it. When those roots are intertwined with surrounding trees it may well stand and be fed by its neighbors. There is a need for a form of pluralism that is not simply one of toleration and cohabitation. Consider an intellectual precept: Weil’s understanding of Plato, for example, is improved by her time studying Descartes and Marx; in complimentary fashion, her mystical Christianity is enhanced and informed by her studies of the Ancient Egyptian and Upnishad religious texts. In part because of this pluralism, Weil’s construction the individual is particularly thin. From internal exile in Vichy-controlled Marseilles, Weil wrote, “It is not that I am of a very individualistic temperament. I am afraid for the opposite reason. I am aware of very strong gregarious tendencies in myself. My natural disposition is to be very easily influenced, too much influenced, and above all by anything collective.” This idea that the individual is simply the sum of their total 8

influences, or, worse yet, that the individual is an empty vessel to be filled by the immediate ideological conditions that surround it at any given moment. Weil’s arguments have much more validity for the critique of the totalitarian ideologies of the 1930s than 8

Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 11.

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the pervasive and repressive pluralist neoliberalism of today in which all ideas are, nominally, welcome and easily accessed via the internet. The result of such a thin conception of individual thought in the context of the early 21 Century would be a st

neurotic and incoherent mess. Even in Weil’s early works, especially “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression,” are aimed at the negative power of ossified ideologies and seek to understand what oppression limits rather than the organization of freedom.

9

Recognizing that defects in patriotic ideology had rotted the trees of the European States, Simone Weil was equally concerned with the lackluster quality of those collective trees planted in the soil of the demand for a loyal piety and revolutionary theory that existed in her times. The result was a decomposition based in deracination, defined as uprootedness. To put this more clearly: if the roots rot, the tree dies. Although it may appear ontological, for Weil, deracination is historical, and it is nearly impossible to reverse. In fact, progress, a “de-Christianized” concept “become the bane of the modern 10

world” manifests as deracination in its a-teleological movement. 11

This critique is not limited to Weil’s writings on politics in the small sense. Her “Hesitations Concerning Baptism” and Letter to a Priest are more agnostic than 12

anarchist and more mystical than Marxian, but are of central importance for her critique of formal institutions. The critique of the Church as an organization that is evident from these two epistles, written in two different countries, on two different continents, to two different Dominican priests, is equally as damning as her critiques of the State in her “Reflections on the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression,” or her Jeremiad, 1943, note On the Abolition of All Political Parties, her most [narrowly] political essay. Weil’s integration of these critiques is a radical departure from the liberal separation of Church and State or the pluralist acceptance of multiple truths as valid. Her 9

10

11 12

Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 55-6, 57. Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 48. Ibid. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 3-10.

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critique is not one of choosing one institution, be it the Church, State, or Party, over the others. Instead it is a rejection of the general and specific insufficiency of these three institutions as either a source of a liberation, holy life, education, or justice. Simone Weil’s understanding of the individual and individual freedom provides a deeply problematic and contradictory answer to the problem of the collectivity. In this regard she is trapped, in much the same way as many anarchists and communists before her who seek the realization of the individual through a communal life without the solidified and reifying boundaries of bourgeois legal forms that construct the individual. This trap is, in a sense, laid perfectly for those of Weil’s generation, the one that experienced the rise of fascism in Europe and recognized the failures of the Soviet Union. In other words, the refinement of bourgeois and bureaucratic (this is not necessarily a distinction) forms of government in the early twentieth century, Weil’s generation was confronted by the ossification of what we have now come to know as mass politics. The events of the 1910s and 1920s delimited the political potential of mass politics of the 1930s. As was the purpose of the work of The Frankfurt School philosophers and Walter Benjamin, the critique of mass politics, for Weil, is the critique of those pressures that drive individual to submit to the collectivity. Though this critique is carried out in a different form, the impetus is driven by the same historical crisis, the crisis of European fascism. This is the paradox at play. Some collectivities create individuals and individual freedom; some devour the individual and crush individual freedoms; some create individual freedoms and devour the individual; and some create the individual by devouring individual freedoms. The problem for Weil’s thought is that the collectivity is a metaxic form that has the capacity and inevitable potential to overwhelm the individual. The collectivity, then, surpasses its role as a mediating form and becomes a transcendental totality in its own right. This was Weil’s diagnosis of the conditions of her time. 42



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Yet, this seems too obvious, and too inclined towards some sort of reactionary, 21st Century American-style, libertarianism. Moreover, such a simplistic description of this dialectical pair fails to engage with the complexity of Weil’s own understanding of the individual and the collectivity both of which contain internal contradictions of their own. What distinguishes the collectivity and the individual, and in the end makes the collectivity a more significant factor in her thought is that because both the actualized self and the decreated self are both posed as antagonistic to totalitarianism, the self cannot appear as anything but an immanent material thing. The collectivity, on the other hand is conceived, in its perfection, as metaxu between the immanent self and the transcendent ideas of God, justice, beauty, and the good, with the capacity to become an ersatz representation of these very ideas. In other words, the possibilities for the redemption of the deracinated society are mediated by the same collectivities that have so thoroughly ravaged it. Thusly, before unpacking Weil’s the dialectic of the self, it is necessary to understand Weil’s critique of the collectivity and its social affects and effect. In terms of their coherence: each of the Church, the State, and the Party are forms of metaxu between the immanent individual and the transcendent ideal in Weil’s thought. The history and purpose of these three collectivities is intertwined and full of intrigue. Each, in its own way seeks to surpass its metaxic role to become the universal subject of the present moment in its own right and for its own self. The ideologies of the State, the Party, and the Church have a decidedly transcendent quality. Even the State as described and desired by Machiavelli’s and Hobbes’ political philosophies include a transcendent timelessness antithetical to the 13

interpretations of their work that emphasize the real politik. As Weil’s countryman, Louis Althusser, writes, “What Machiavelli” and Hobbes want “is not a government that passes I agree with Leo Strauss that Hobbes, in his infinite wisdom, constructs the State as the salvation from the summum malum of the state of nature. Leo Strauss, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: Its Basis and Genesis, trans. Elsa M. Sinclair (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952), 16. See also Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 1994),

13

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away, but a [S]tate that endures.” And with a decidedly different goal in mind, Weil 14

“adopts the accents of Machiavelli speaking of Italy,” when she writes of, as will be considered further in Chapter Four, a France in The Need for Roots that experiences: “The same dismemberment, same dispersion, same particularisms, same impotence, same disarray, same political ‘misery’.” Simone Weil’s hope is not for a France that endures 15

out of an originally fragmented nation, but a France that will not be rebuilt along the same lines that made it complicit in the Nazi conquest. The Party, for the Anglo-American audience, does not appear to be anything more than a historical problem of mid-twentieth century Europe when the Nazis and the Bolsheviks were ascendant. In this regard, these parties are often minimized in the popular imagination to be little more than the dress code for the cults of personality of Hitler, Lenin, and Stalin, adhered to by a voracious minority of the people of Germany and Russia, respectively. Such an understanding is an oversimplification. But what more can be expected from the inhabitants of those places “In the Anglo-Saxon world,” where, according to Weil, “political parties have an element of game, of sport, which is only conceivable in an institution of aristocratic origin, whereas in institutions that were plebian from the start,” as on the European continent, “everything must always be serious.”

16

For Simone Weil, however, the most serious possibility inherent in the Party is the idea, from political science, history, and from Weil herself, that “every party is totalitarian – potentially, and by aspiration.” But totalitarianism is not the extent of the 17

problem; it is only its origin and potential. The plebian seriousness of the political party is connected to the problematic that political science calls State capture. This phenomenon 18

Louis Althusser, Machiavelli and Us, trans. Gregory Elliot (New York; Verso, 1999), 40. Ibid. 9. Simone Weil, On the Abolition of All Political Parties, trans. Simon Leys (Collingwood, Victoria, Australia: Black Inc., 2013), 3. Ibid. 11. For a recent study of this phenomenon, see, John Crabtree and Francisco Durand, Peru: Elite Power and Political Capture (Chicago: Zed Books, 2017).

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16

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occurs when any individual or group achieves power in or over the State and then uses the organs of the State in order to enrich themselves (either monetarily or in terms of power) at the expense of both State capacity and the other inhabitants of the State. When State capture is achieved by a party the twin dangers of institutional decay and the fraying of social life, parts and parcels of deracination, are often the results.

19

If the danger of the Party is its collective totalitarianism within certain boundaries , then the danger of the Church’s universality is antagonistic to that very 20

terrestrial limitation. The Church, in Weil’s social philosophy, is the Party in its ur-form.

21

Its claim to universality goes beyond the stakes of the Hebraic conception of a chosen people, singularly contracted with God. And, while proselytizing was not absent from Judaism at the time of Christ, it never achieved the levels of success that Paul’s approach to the gentile populations of Greece and Rome achieved. This, however, led the Church to its alliance with the Rome. Through this alliance the Church became party to the violence of empire and oppression. Weil argues that, as a political form, rather than purely spiritual community, the Church contradicts its own universal claim with “the use of the two little words, anathema sit.”

22

Weil writes, “As a social construct, the Church cannot tolerate too much diversity. It demands orthodoxy – homogeneity. Heterodoxies and heresies are by definition impermissible.” And yet, the Church intends to be “Catholic in fact as it is in name.” 23

For Weil, those “two little words, anathema sit,”

24

25

express that “the logic of

The State as a mechanism for “living from politics” is a phenomenon that Max Weber theorized as part of his genealogy of the State in his 1920 lecture “On the Profession and Vocation of Politics.” Though Weil was proficient in German, it is unknown if she has read the transcript of this speech during her lifetime. So far as I know, Weber’s name does not appear in any of her writings. See Max Weber, “The Profession and Vocation of Politics,” in Political Writings, eds. Peter Lassman and Ronald Speirs, 309-369 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 352. See Weber’s definition of the State as the monopoly of legitimate violence within certain boundaries, in Ibid., 310-311. Simone Weil, On the Abolition of All Political Parties, 26. Simone Weil, “Spiritual Autobiography,” in Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd, 21-38 (New York; Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2009), 33. A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 25. Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 12. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 33.

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23

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excommunication, … contradicts Jesus’ radical wisdom to love one’s neighbors and enemies alike.” This attitude of the mystic turns on its head the arguments of Luther and 26

Calvin, who sought to proclaim that the Church itself is impure – for Weil, the Church is overly pure. Semantic problems aside (purity is an absolute, something is either pure or it is not), Weil’s position on the Church is colored by the existential response to the political crisis of Nazism. Her argument has theological merit: The designation (sit) of someone as a heretic (anathema) by the Church is supported by Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians 1:8. “But should anyone, even myself or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel other than the gospel I preached to you, let him be banned! I warned you in the past and now I warn you again: if anyone preaches a gospel you received, let him be banned!” And it is this 27

power to excommunicate an individual from the universal collectivity (the Church) for heresy, the power to make one exempt from and external to the community of believers that, according to Weil, contradicts the Church’s universality in the first place. The consequences for idolatry, described by God in Deuteronomy 4:25-40, are 28

severe. In this portion of the Torah which is read on the 9 day of the month of Av, God, th

29

through Moses, suggests that there will be a collective failure by the Hebrews against God’s ban on idolatry that will leave them to be dispersed throughout the world and to live under the domination of idolatrous peoples until the return of God and the Messiah to redeem them and return them to their true land and true faith.

30

A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 25. Galatians 1:8-9, (King James Version) in M. Jack Suggs, Katharine Doob, Sakenfeld, and James R. Mueller eds., The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with The Apocrypha, (New York; Oxford University Press, 1989), 1475. Deuteronomy, 4:25-40, (King James Version) in M. Jack Suggs, Katharine Doob, Sakenfeld, and James R. Mueller eds., The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with The Apocrypha, (New York; Oxford University Press, 1989), 186. The 9 of Av is the historical date of the destruction of both the First (423 BCE) and Second (69 CE) Temples, the destruction of the Bar Kochba revolt (133 CE) the exile from England (1290) and the exile from Spain (1492, four months after the expulsion order was signed). Deuteronomy 4:25-40, (King James Version) in The Oxford Study Bible, (New York; Oxford University Press, 1989), 868-870.

26

27

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th

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Via excommunication the Church, as the ur-form of the Party, found alliance with pagan Rome. This move reaffirmed for Christianity an idea of the Chosen People held so closely by the ancient Hebrews. In Weil’s understanding, the Hebrews were more a State than they were a Church to begin with. During her lifetime, the idols of the day were the 31

State, the Party, and the people. In her analysis the ideology of “the people” is an abstraction. It is the completion of Ludwig Feuerbach’s warnings about the alienation of man into the abstract God by alienating man into the abstract quality of “men” that is any given people or nation.

32

While this is not the idolatry in the physical sense that is commonly understood from the archetype of the Golden Calf, the idea of the people, a State, or a Party occupies the same spiritual space as any worldly god. Fealty and admiration is given to these institutions as concrete executors of power just as it was to the statues and statuettes of the pre-Christian Greeks which were not representations of the gods but the gods themselves. Simone Weil writes that the ancient Hebrews worshipped an abstract idol rather than a physical one; they replaced a wooden figurine with a chosen people.

33

If idolatry is, reflexively, as Weil suggests, one of the original sins of the ancient Hebrews, and the idolatry of the people is an Hebraic exaggeration for the purposes of 34

isolationism, then what potential possibilities are there for its abolition from [western] 35

politics and religion? There are practically none. In his preface to the English translation of The Need for Roots, T.S. Eliot points out, that stemming from the allegations of idolatry, Weil “falls into something very like the Marcionite heresy. In denying the divine mission of Israel she is also rejecting the foundations of the Christian Church.” The 36

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 131; Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 14, 16; Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 162; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 575. See Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (New York; Dover Publications, 2008). Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 131; Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 14, 16; Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 160-162. Ibid. Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 27; Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 89. T.S. Eliot, “Preface,” x-xi.

31

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35 36

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problem of the ersatz God is a concrete aspect of the immutable oppression of modernity. Her pessimism leaves no possibility of political or theological escape or sublation. Much like the theologians of the Refomation, Weil denies that the Catholic Church is the manifestation of Christ’s goodness. In this she reduces it to an organization that is essentially of this world, with little potentiality for anything else. This quark of Weil’s mysticism approaches heresy, but the critique of idolatry, that is, of metaxic elements that are fetishized to the point of being raised into an image that usurps the attention owed to the divine, is more Judaic than Eliot is willing or able to appreciate. In other words, Weil’s critique of idolatry is as destructive to Thomas Hobbes’ “artificial God” of the Leviathan as it is to the resurrection of Christ. They both distract from the moral and political togetherness and the attentive intellect of the individual. And still, there is no way out. The use value of the term idolatry, for Weil, lies in both its generality and its specificity. On the one hand, idolatry is comprehended in the sense of the preamble to and the First and Second Commandments of the Mosaic Law: I am YHWH your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt, from a house of [slavery]. You are not to have any other gods before my presence. You are not to make yourself a carved-image or any figure that is in the heavens above that is on the earth beneath, that is in the waters beneath the earth; you are not to bow down to them, you are not to serve them, for I YHWH your God, am a jealous God. (Exodus 20:1-5) 37

The firmness of this description of what it is to bow down to a carved-image eliminates even modern Christianity from the fold of non-idolatrous religions. Making a point of Weil’s philosophical Judaism is only a small fraction of her conceptual substitution of idolatry for ideology. Rozelle-Stone and Stone write of the extent of fetishism in Weil’s thought: “Rather than being transparent symbols that function by allusion, [idolatrous] symbols

37

The Five Books of Moses, trans. Everett Fox (New York: Schocken, 1995), 369.

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are an ersatz of God. … Socially and politically.” What this means is that idolatrous 38

symbols and symbolism function as factual and ossified formulations. In other words, they function as terrestrial weltanschuung. Rozelle-Stone and Stone continue, “[they do] come to function as such because, predictably, Weil contends that idols “please the collective ego, giving people firm ideas and concepts they can latch onto and oftentimes use to explain and appease their suffering.” Moreover, what passes for politics, religion, 39

and ideology, is often “nothing more than hubris.” And what is more hubristic than 40

making abstract, mediating, forms into concrete objects of reverence that then take on a life of their own in a race to become transcendent everythings? In regards to the political ramifications of this, that Rozelle-Stone and Stone do not engage with, it follows that we must ask of Simone Weil if redemption or revolution could be anything more than another manifestation of idolatry? Could they be anything more than another trick played by the gilded and stone gods of the collectivity? Is there any way to conceive of a political framework in which the idolatrous representation of an ideology is even possible? In contrast to studies of Weil published by E. Jane Doering , Eric O. Springsted , 41

42

and Mary G. Dietz , I argue that Weil cannot be included in the pluralist pantheon of 43

liberalist thinkers because of her critique of the Great Beast and the anthema sit. For Weil, the pluralist perspective is a manifestation of what Plato is describing by the metaphor of the Great Beast and the open space for polytheist idolatry of the Roman type that Weil locates as an autoimmune sickness within the Church’s body. The awesome 44

pressures of public opinion and common knowledge are prostrate in front of the repetitions of politicians and priests.

38 39

40 41

42

43 44

A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 16. Ibid. Ibid. E. Jane Doering, Simone Weil and the Specter of Self-Perpetuating Force. Eric O. Springsted, Simone Weil and the Suffering of Love. Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 227, 274, 276.

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Based on Weil’s damning critique of each of these three institutions, I argue that her pessimistic conception of politics cannot be limited to the conception of modern ideology that was birthed and brought to maturity by fascism and totalitarianism in the mid-20 Century. What both protects and prevents Weil from finding a way out of this th

morass is her initial rejection of all three of these formal institutions. Perhaps the optimist would see in each of these institutions the possibility of reigning in the others, but Weil’s pessimistic criticism sees the Church, the Party, and the State as a three-headed monster, in which none counterbalances the other. Weil has equal disregard for religious or secular authority, insurgent organizations, and ossified power bases.

The Church “A collective body is the guardian of dogma; and dogma is an object of contemplation for love, faith, and intelligence, three strictly individual faculties. Hence, almost since the beginning, the individual has been ill at ease in Christianity, and this uneasiness has been notably one of the intelligence. This cannot be denied.” 45

In her famous Letter to a Priest, Simone Weil wrote to the Dominican Friar, Father Édouard Couturier, “I do not see how I can avoid the conclusion that my vocation is to be a Christian outside the Church. The possibility of there being such a vocation would imply that the Church is not Catholic in fact as it is in name, and that it must one day become so, if it is destined to fulfill its mission.” Biographically, Weil’s positioning 46

of herself as a Christian outside of the Church was not a novel step. What is important, however, is that intellectually and politically Weil’s outsider attitudes and status allowed for her to achieve a broader intellectual habitus. This made possible the critical position that was necessary for her analysis of even those groups and institutions she was closest to. As noted in the preface, her fierce independence from influence – an independence that was tempered by her own fears of being influenced – is not simply a matter of her Simone Weil, “Spiritual Autobiography,” in Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd, 21-38 (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2009), 34. Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 11-12.

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psychology, but is of supreme importance for the understanding of her thought and its 47

continued relevance. The particularities of Weil’s critique of the Church do not encapsulate all of her critique and interpretation of Catholic theology, and that is not what is at issue here. It is only a beginning for the mystic to reside at the boundaries of faith just as the radical acts at the boundaries of society. The Church, like the other social-political collectivities, 48

masks truth by its own teachings. Weil writes, “[The mystics] accept the Church’s teaching, not as the truth, but as something behind which the truth is to be found. This is very far from faith as defined by the catechism of the Council of Trent.” This is “the 49

metaphor of the ‘veil’ or the ‘reflection’ applied by the mystics,” and the radicals, Weil 50

included on both accounts, of the ideological constructions of a social life that is both alienating and oppressive. The Catholic Church has a well-organized and ossified hierarchy. The ranks of the baptized are taught by, and answer to, the priests who answer to the bishops who answer to the archbishops who answer to the cardinals who answer to the Pope. The Pope, for himself, answers to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and years of theological canon. Finally, theology itself holds a protected position as a privileged practice that allows a select few the opportunity to know God through the scriptures while drawing red lines around the truth contained therein. It is no new revelation for political thought that the Church is a worldly political institution. Leaving aside the pre-Christians, Marsillius of Padua, Machiavelli, Luther, Calvin, Hobbes, Spinoza, Rousseau, Nietzsche, and many others who came before Weil have criticized the political roots of the Church. Simone Weil’s critique of the Church continues this project, but places a new contradiction at the heart of the problem. The For an in-depth, and skilled, psychoanalytic critique of Weil, see Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine, 3-34. Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 8-9. Ibid. 39. Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 39.

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contradiction here is not that between the human and the divine, as Dietz would have it. Instead it is the aporia of the universal aim of the Church and its parochial practices. In explaining her rationale for refusing baptism, Weil constructs three distinct domains of the will of God. The first domain is that of God’s will that we love the material reality of creation; the second is the domain of the human will to love God and to do God’s works, this can be described as duty; “the third domain is that of the things, which without being under the empire of the will, without being related to natural duties, are yet not entirely independent of us. In this domain we experience the compulsion of God’s pressure, on condition that we deserve to experience it and exactly to the extent that we deserve to do so.” She continues, “I think that only those who are above a certain 51

level of spirituality can participate in the sacraments as such. For as long as those who are below this level have not reached it, whatever they may do, they cannot be strictly said to belong to the Church. As far as I am concerned, I think I am below this level.”

52

Weil felt the overwhelming power of obligation towards God as the only duty worth enacting – the highest duty being the love of neighbor, not for the sake of the self but for the sake of the neighbor – and also felt herself far outside of the Church. What is more startling is the indirect implication in these words that so many who do take the sacraments and think themselves to be members of the Church are not fully so. This, thereby, requires a divergent idea of the Church as an institution and the Church as a community of believers. Of course, considering the list of names above, the idea of the Church as a community of believers is nothing specifically new. But the idea that there should be believers who remain outside of the Church, and perhaps that some of them are even atheists, is something wholly modern, or even postmodern. Simone Weil is no Protestant reformer. She rejects the Catholic Church not for its worldly privileges, but for those that are divine. It is a privileged position to be able to

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Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 3-4. Ibid. 5.

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accept that Jesus is the Christ, and that this acceptance should lead, with baptism into heaven upon death. In an intellectual and vocational move that, for Weil, was predetermined by her earlier adventurous acts in the factories of France, Weil rejects the possibility of separating herself from those who are left outside of the Church’s social contract. In her Letter to a Priest, Weil highlights a great number of reasons that she 53

feels that atheism is as close to God, and even closer to the truth, as Church-bound piety. Weil writes, “Catholics are forever repeating – and rightly – to unbelievers, a religion can only be known from the inside.” But Weil opposes this very assertion with her own 54

living thought and the purification of and through her own atheism. The first of these explanations is that atheism is a form and process of purification. Atheism in this case is a rejection of “collective representations of divinity” 55

which “are in essence idolatrous. It follows that the necessary first step is to bracket inherited presuppositions about God. It would become wildly confusing to maintain fidelity to a theological system and try to root out only the mistaken bits, as it were.”

56

The only way to oppose the Great Beast is to regard it as the truly dangerous animal it is. Thusly, atheism, like anarchism , becomes for Weil a wholly external point of view; 57

these positions are designated by their antagonism to the collectivities they oppose. Not just in the sense that atheism and idolatry or anarchism and bureaucracy, for Weil, have nothing in common, but in the sense that they represent the paths through which a process of purification must travel, and potentially find its end; a historically important process in the development of conceptual antagonisms to the status quo. Because the Church, and church-based religion, in Weil’s time, was the status quo of the social contract of religion, then the choice must be atheism rather than agnosticism or mysticism, let alone Ibid., 11, 12. Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 34. Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 114-115; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 126, 151. A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 27. Weil writes: “The anarchists escape the bureaucratic hold only because they know nothing about action methodically organized. Faced with this situation, the controversial utterances of the oppositional communists, the revolutionary trade unionists, etc., seem at any rate to be singularly lacking in topical interest.” Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 28.

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any sort of ersatz or populist spiritualism that may only serve as a comfort – in the language of the Left, as an opiate – to counteract the pressures of the daily life of labor in a capitalist society. The metaphor of the opiate will return, in Chapter Three, upon investigation of Weil’s critique of the conception of revolution. However, the necessity of its mention at this time is relevant to a major social distinction, at least in the United States and other predominantly Protestant places if not Weil’s Catholic France, and to relevant social shifts in the advent of new age spiritualisms and their proliferation. The lack of a tie between religion, spirituality, and a church, let alone the Church, represents not a new mysticism or a fundamental freeing of religion from its institutional bounds, but instead a consecration of palliative positivisms for the modern subject. For Weil, false religion is even more dangerous than the antipathy to religion itself precisely because of its palliative properties. The image of the Great Beast comforts the worshipper while the Beast in its true ideological forms swallows the same person whole. False religion does not include those faiths within which Weil sees some solidarity or fraternity with the primary tenets of her version of Christianity – especially incarnation and self-sacrifice – because she recognizes truth in the divine command to love one’s neighbor no matter from which god it emanates. The truth of the command to love one’s neighbor is the preeminent form of Christianity that Weil can conceive. Love of neighbor is the highest of the “forms of the implicit love of God.” For Weil, this 58

means that love of neighbor is something of greater significance than a simple religious doctrine or ethical absolute. It is a practice: “The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: ‘What are you going through?’” The anathema 59

sit makes this an impossible question for the Church because, as an institution, it reserved

Simone Weil, “Forms of the Implicit Love of God,” in Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd, 83-142, New York; Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2009. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 64.

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for itself the power to excommunicate rather than to hear the answer to this question. For Weil, the Church cannot be truly just for this precise reason.

60

When a philosopher or a radical speaks of justice, as Weil does when speaking about the love of neighbor, such speech should always be considered a political speech about political acts. In “Forms of the Implicit Love of God,” Weil writes, “Christ does not call his benefactors loving or charitable. He calls them just. The Gospel makes no distinction between the love of our neighbor and justice. In the eyes of the Greeks also a respect for Zeus the suppliant was the first duty of justice.” This is the synthesis of the 61

ancient Greek ethics of the good and the Judaic conception tzedaka. The Weilian 62

interpretation of Christ’s encouragement to be just is the convocation of Greek ethics and Jewish theology into a modern politics of common care. In any case, a just act, a good act, or an act of tzedaka, is an individual act that contributes to a wider collectivity. Weil’s problem with the Church, therefore, comes back to its creation of a false religion. That is, its self-directed idolatry in the traditional, Judaic, sense. The Church developed a temporal God who is full of fire and brimstone, retribution and coercion, one which can be touched and negotiated with, a God of power who directly contradicts the idea of justice Weil has in mind. “The religions which represent divinity as commanding wherever it has the power to do so seem false. Even though they are monotheistic they are idolatrous.” The medieval theologian Marsilius of Padua describes the Church of the 63

13 Century as body with “its individual members directly joined to its head, who would th

not regard it as monstrous and useless for the performance of its proper functions?”

64

“From my earliest childhood I always had also the Christian idea of love for one’s neighbor, to which I gave the name of justice.” Simone Weil, “Spiritual Autobiography,” in Waiting for God, 24. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 85 Tzedaka is commonly translated as “charity” whereas this is only one form of tzedaka. The spirit of the term, however, is aid motivated by divine command. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 89. Marsilius of Padua, Defensor Pacis, trans. Alan Gewirth (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 326.

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Thusly Weil’s Church, is as “deformed” and monstrous a body politic as that of Marsilius. Still, the rationale for their critiques/attacks are distinct: Marsilius is 65

specifically taking aim at the papacy as the controlling part of the Church while Weil takes aim at the Church itself. However, in their descriptions both the twentieth-century social critic and the thirteenth-century theologian make use of a powerful trope that is not only present in Scriptures, but is significant for Plato as well. This formulation is one of a beast, monster, or animal. Plato’s “Great Beast,” however, is a manifestation of the social life and is relevant to the role of the educator: It is just like the case of a man who learns by heart the angers and desires of a great, strong beast he is rearing, how it should be approached and how taken hold of, when – and as a result of what – it becomes most difficult or most gentle, and, particularly, under what conditions it is accustomed to utter its several sounds, and, in turn, what sort of sounds uttered by another make it tame and angry. When he has learned all this from associating and spending time with the beast, he calls it wisdom and, organizing it as an art, turns to teaching. Knowing nothing in truth about which of these convictions and desires is noble, or base, or good, or evil, or just, or unjust, he applies all these names following the great animal’s opinions – calling what delights it good and what vexes it bad. He has no other argument about them but calls the necessary just and noble, neither having seen nor being able to show someone else how much the nature of the necessary and the good really differ. Now in your opinion, wouldn’t such a man, in the name of Zeus, be out of place as an educator? 66

The attack on the sophists for simply repeating the opinions of the masses back to them and calling it wisdom plays an important part in the question of the palliative manifestations of the institutions that make such actions possible Weil’s Church-God is a collective one, which acts on the individual. In Weil’s accounts, the true teaching of Christ is the transcendent and universal message that the Church has to offer. However, this is problematized repeatedly by the denial of the tradition of incarnation in other religions and the acceptance of truth in them and, more importantly, the reflexive denial of universality through “the two little words, anathema sit.”

65

66 67

67

Ibid. 321, 326. Plato, The Republic of Plato, 493a-493b. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 33.

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Through adapting Plato’s concept of the Great Beast, Weil is a participant in the idealization of the body politic. This idea, brought to its fullest conceptualization with the frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, is a [politically] conservative image – it is, for better or worse, an idolatrous image that is more often used to display the interdependence of the various classes of society. For Weil, this is also the case. Simone Weil tattoos the anathema sit onto the skin of the Church’s mystical body and the State’s imaginary one. What Weil’s use of this description alludes to is the impossibility of achieved universality by any organization that conceives of itself as a body or an animal in the first place. The means of anathema sit achieves the opposite ends of the Great Beast, the Great Beast being an end unto itself in the most explicit of Hobbesean conceptions of self-preservation (and this is one of the hallmarks of the work of the Italian philosopher Roberto Esposito ), in that the Great Beast is an animal that feeds off the praise it 68

receives in the form of idolatrous worship while the mechanism of anathema sit expels from that source of food those who would question the animals motives to eat and survive. This contradiction, with its origin in the combination of the Roman State and the Catholic Church, finds its most perfect manifestation in the, autoimmune, modern State itself. And so we turn from atheism to anarchism. With this turn we will see, more explicitly, the political character of the contradiction outlines between the ideological aspirations of these mediating bodies and the theological and Platonic limitations of their realities.



See Roberto Esposito, Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy, trans. Timothy Campbell (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2008); Roberto Esposito, Immunitas: The Protection and Negation of Life, trans. Zakiya Hanafi (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2011); Roberto Esposito, Terms of the Political: Community, Immunity, Biopolitics, trans. Rhiannon Noel Welch (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013).

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The State “It seems fairly clear that contemporary humanity tends pretty well everywhere towards a totalitarian form of social organization – to use the term which the national-socialists have made fashionable – that is to say, towards a system in which the State power comes to exercise sovereign sway in all spheres, even, indeed above all, in that of thought.” 69

The preeminent form of social life in both the interwar period that Simone Weil lived through and the post-Cold War period is the State. Weil’s concept of the State is not only useful for its combination of the irreconcilable contradictions presented by theology and mysticism or statism and anarchy, but also for her own realization that the language of these antagonistic opposites is shared. In the history of philosophy the State is just as much a theologically constructed entity as it is a politically constructed one, while anarchism is a refutation of both of these principles. The confluence of the Great Beast and the anathema sit that is a barrier to just acts, free thought, and rooted collectivities can only be overcome by political means. No matter if it is considered an ideologically empty organ of power (qua Lenin), a subject in its own right with the absolute desire for self-preservation (qua Hobbes), or the political manifestation of a collectivity of people (qua Schmitt), the State commands a loyalty and defines both cultural and political actions to an extent that cannot, and must not, be ignored. In terms of the loyalty of its subjects, and we cannot but remain subjected so long as the State exists, the modern, secular, State commands a loyalty that is best described by Hobbes as that owed to the Mortal God, Leviathan. And that book, like Machiavelli’s 70

The Prince and Discourses on Livy outline the State’s own messianic promise to exist outside of time and history. Weil offers a critique of the messianic narrative of the State; 71

a narrative that is among the lodestones of modern political thought, including

Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 116. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 109. See Louis Althusser, Machiavelli and Us; Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince; and Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, trans. Julia Conaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

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Machiavelli (whom Weil greatly admired ) and Hobbes. Beginning with the narratives 72

etched by these eminent philosophers on the one hand, the State presents itself as salvation from the barbaric violence of the Middle Ages and the chaos of civil war, on the other hand, it is the mechanism of centralization that criminalizes and reduces the opportunities for free thought and free action to a minimum. For Simone Weil, instead of 73

stability and comfort, it is the contingencies of history, chance, what she calls hasard, and resistance that compete with the promise of the State and offer the possibility of real redemption.

74

Though she rejects the messianic view of the State, the premise of the a-temporal Mortal God is neither alien nor contradictory to Simone Weil’s conception of the Great Beast as the modern usurper of the authority of the incarnated Christ. This is not to say that Weil’s critique of the State contains within it a wholesale critique of Hobbes. In fact, she accepts much of his premise, though her works are rife with antagonism towards his Leviathan for she understands it as the synthesis of the Great Beast and the anathema sit in the history of philosophy. Weil’s conception of the State is deeply rooted in Hobbes’ Leviathan. She agrees with Hobbes that, on the one hand, the sovereign is a man made up of all the other men, a pluralist monster whose only goal is its own self-preservation. On the other hand, Hobbes’ sovereign’s prerogative is to cast out anyone who presents a danger to the ideological underpinning of the sovereign’s outward graven image. To recount Hobbes’ conception of the State in Weil’s terms: the State, as an idol, appears as the most explicit manifestation of the type of collectivity that is defined by the Great Beast. In its acts as a metaxic institution the State relies primarily on the construction of the powers of anathema sit. Since Plato, contradiction has been celebrated and exposed in political thought. And since Plato, the theory of the State and the critique of the State have coexisted in Simone Weil, “Three Letters on History,” in Selected Essays, 1934-1943: Historical, Political, and Moral Writings, trans. Richard Rees, 73-88 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015), 73. Simone Weil, Seventy Letters, 8. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 229.

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their historical development. The State, in Simone Weil’s thought, is developed in two different contexts: the State as a concept and the critique of the State. That Weil’s thought contains both a concept of the State and a critique of the State is something that is somewhat rare. Most political thinkers tend to develop one and borrow the other. In other cases any given thinker only presents either a concept or a critique of the State and we are left to rely on another thinker to provide the apposite pair (for example the debates between Carl Schmitt, who provided the concept of the State, and Walter Benjamin, who provided the critique thereof). In any case, Weil’s critique of the State is based in the contradictions she describes in the concept she defined. Simone Weil’s concept of the State and her critique of the State are neither coincidentally interrelated, nor are they parallel, and never to come into contact with each other. Instead of borrowing a theory of the State, wholesale, from a previous thinker, Simone Weil weaves a synthetic conception of the State from the strongest and most malleable fibers from her forebears throughout her various manuscripts. Unlike the Church, as a concrete object, the State, as a concrete object, appears in some of Weil’s earliest writings as a student at the École Normale Supérieure, and in her last writings from England. Weil’s writings about and against the State are a major part of her historically rooted political and philosophical project. Like the Church, the State is a form of collectivity. If, as Weil argues, one’s roots are in the collectivity which gives nourishment to the individual, we must ask what form this collectivity should take, and how her own conception of the State (as one possible form) could be drawn from such canonical forefathers and remain so unfailingly unique? And, furthermore, why, like the Church, the State is an ossified, formal, and idolatrous collectivity. The type of collectivity that is an institution rather than a community, and the type of collectivity that does not nourish, but draws nourishment away from the roots of the individual members.

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Simone Weil’s concept of the State is dispersed throughout her various writings. Though Weil is a lackluster historian, her concept of the State is a historical concept 75

drawn from the fortification and failures of the European Powers, The USSR and France in particular, in the early 20 Century. Simone Weil’s historical form is one that is an tale th

of origin. Her historical account of the centralization of the French State in The Need for Roots, reads more similarly to the methodological styling of Max Weber’s (1905) The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) and On Revolution (1963), and Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals (1887) and The Birth of Tragedy (1872). In other words, her history is interested in the process of deracination, rather than the dates and events of deracination itself in order to try and explain how the event of the Nazi Occupation of France could have come to be. Though she has influences, her concept of the State is drawn as much from French experience as French philosophy. This reality distinguishes her from her forebears only by the contingency of epoch. It is no secret that Plato wrote during a time of troubles for Athens, Hobbes during England’s Civil War, Spinoza during Holland’s religious conflicts, Sieyes and his fellow Revolutionaries during the birth pangs of bourgeois democracy in France, and Marx during its spread around Europe. With the exception of Marx, and Marx foretold of their impending doom, each of these historical writers philosophized about what Weil calls “dead collectivities” – Weil considered France’s Third Republic to be little more. In these cases, and Weil’s own life in the Third Republic, the State, “without devouring souls, [did not] nourish them either. If it is absolutely certain that [the collectivity is] well an truly dead, that it isn’t just a question of a temporary lethargy, then and only then should [it] be destroyed.”

76

It could certainly be said that Weil’s version of French historiography is even more imaginative than Hannah Arendt’s historiography of the American War of Independence. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 9.

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At the time of her writing “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression,” the Third Republic was most certainly dying and by the time of The Need for Roots it was dead. The German Occupiers were squeezing the populace, and Vichy was dependent on German good will and was either a vice or a sieve for refugees in an arbitrary and alternating reality. The Free French Forces in London, under De Gaulle, and the resistance in France itself seemed to be the only possibilities for a rebirth, and a re-rooting of the nation. Simone Weil, however, was not convinced that either one would be successful as a moral agent for the organization of a new and free society. The concept of the State that she develops, as a result of this chaos, is one that is extremely pessimistic, both her description and the possibilities she sees For Weil, there is a problem of metaxu between the idea of the State and the actions required by the State to maintain order and reinforce and provide the avenues for the proper functioning of capitalist social relations. Reminiscent of Plato’s spoken Athens, both in the Republic and in the Laws, Simone Weil’s country-in-writing is a mechanism through which education is developed and disseminated. Her country-in-writing is, in this sense, a nourishing collectivity that provides a future possibility of living together – it is a heuristic State. This is, by far, the 77

most positive of Weil’s reflections on the State, and perhaps this is the ideal of the State that some of her Bolshevist (of both the Stalinist and Trotskyite varieties ) 78

contemporaries had in mind. However, the failure of exacting this very idea is also what placed the French population in the direst of circumstances, according to Weil. By her account, it seems to have been the same as the failure of proper education in Athens that led the sophists to tame the Great Beast and put Socrates to death. This failure of

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 8. “Beside, to call a State a ‘worker’s State’ when you go on to explain that each worker in its is put economically and politically at the complete disposal of a bureaucratic caste, sounds like a bad joke. As for the ‘deformations’, this term, singularly out of place in the case of a State all of whose characteristics are exactly reverse of those theoretically associated with a workers’ State, seems to imply that the Stalin regime is a sort of anomaly or disease of the Russian Revolution.” Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 4.

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collective education is not necessarily a failure in the methods of education. It may well be, and likely is, a failure in the sense that the culture being passed on is defective in the first place. The failure of the collective education – not only that of those who shared Weil’s privilege of the best lycées and the École normale Supérieure – in France caused the French to lose their roots, betray their flawed ideals, and fall victim to German aggression. In The Need for Roots, where the heft of Simone Weil’s theory of the State resides, she writes, A tree whose roots are almost entirely eaten away falls at the first blow. If France offered a spectacle more painful than that of any other European country, it is because modern civilization with all its toxins was in a more advanced stage there than elsewhere, with the exception of Germany. But in Germany, uprootedness had taken on an aggressive form, whereas in France it was characterized by inertia and stupor. 79

When the tree falls, its seeds are not necessarily spread in a life-giving death. Instead it seems to free only the termites that have been eating it from the inside out – these displaced and uprooted people carry their uprootedness into new trees compounding the effects of the process of deracination already in effect. Deracination (uprootedness) can be understood as one side of an internal contradiction of the phenomenon political scientists call social mobilization. By social 80

mobilization political scientists do not mean protest, though it is certainly related. What they are indicating with this term are movements of populations: conquests, urbanization, gentrification, diasporas, mass-migrations, and the like. They see these as inherently good and their narrative is one of teleological progress. In the choice between a narrative of progress and a narrative of the fall from grace, Weil’s understanding of deracination is

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 49. See, for example, Karl W. Deutsch, “Social Mobilization and Political Participation” in Political Development and Social Change, Jason L. Finkle and Richard W. Gable, ed. 384-401 (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1971). 385-6; Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi, “Modernization: Theories and Facts” in World Politics, Vol. 49, No. 2, 155-183(Jan., 1997). 159; and Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1968). 8, 34.

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clearly a narrative of fallenness that goes along with the Roman progress of the French 81

State. She writes of deracination, “The modern superstition of progress … is bound up with the destruction of the spiritual treasures of those countries which were conquered by Rome, … the idea of progress became laicized; it is now the bane of our times.” Because 82

the French, and specifically the French State has, according to Weil, always understood itself as the inheritors of the Romans, this anti-modern sensibility presents an ambiguity 83

that is intensified when we consider some of the basic premises of rootedness itself. On the one hand, Weil seems to offer one the basic premises of Hobbes’ contract, obedience: Obedience is a vital need of the human soul. It is of two kinds: obedience to the established rules and obedience to human beings looked upon as leaders. It presupposes consent, not in regard to every single order received, but the kind of consent that is given once and for all, with the sole reservation, in case of need, that the demands of conscience be satisfied. 84

This understanding of acts of un-coerced obedience is paramount to the tacit consent to the social contract in Hobbes no matter the threat of violence. In Hobbes’ conception, the giant man made up of all contracting men is equally legitimate if each of those individual men is subject rather than sovereign. However, Hobbes quickly rejects such a positive conception of obedience. In its place, he posits a situation of life and death struggle whereby “dominion is then acquired to the victor when the vanquished, to avoid the present stroke of death, covenanteth either in express words, or by other sufficient signs of the will, that so long as his life and the liberty of his body is allowed him, the victor shall have the use thereof, at his pleasure. And after such covenant made, the vanquished is a SERVANT,” who owes fealty to his sovereign. This conception is translated into the 85

first conflict of the dialectic of Lord and Bondsman in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit in which the Lord gains domination over the Bondsman. Hegel’s Lord (a Hobbesean Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 227. Ibid. Simone Weil, “The Great Beast,” in Selected Essays, 1934-1943: Historical, Political, and Moral Writings, trans. Richard Rees, ed. Richard Rees, 89-144 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015), 102. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 14. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 130.

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sovereign in his own right) holds = the Bondsman, as a thing, in subjection to himself as his bounty for victory in the “life-and-death”

86

struggle of the independent

consciousnesses (the bondsman is also subjected to the alien thing-as-tool); it subjects 87

the victim, at the whim of the perpetrator, to an oppression the victim is required to embrace. There is a continuity from Hobbes’, through Hegel, to Weil’s understanding of what it is to be forced into a position of obedience. This claim is based in Weil’s presentation of violence in her “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force.” In this essay, Weil presents violence as the true center of human history and politics. She distinguishes between two types of violence, the violence that kills and the violence that “does not kill just yet” but instead remains a persistent threat of death. Both the violence that kills and 88

the violence that does not yet kill make a human into a thing. The relationship between the user of violence and the human-become-thing is the basic relationship of domination that that coerces obedience in Hobbes, Hegel, and Weil. Her divergence from Hegel’s dialectic is not as clear as she had declared in her methodological statement in her Notebooks, “the famous ‘negation of the negation’, is pure rubbish.”

89

The lord or sovereign, in the case of Hegel and especially Hobbes, when it comes as the man made up of all other men, is a replication of Plato’s Great Beast. Obedience to the Great Beast is what makes its violence possible. Mary G. Dietz has suggested that perhaps this is why “In characterizing the concept,” of the State, Weil “says that the individual cannot touch or see the collectivity, that is the incomprehensible, impervious to weight, and not locatable in space. Its lack of corporeality, in fact, makes the concept seem almost meaningless if it is conceived as a material force or an ’external body.’” It 90

is the place of an entirely separate, long and painstaking project to trace the imagery of G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1977), 114. Ibid. 113-119. Simone Weil, An Anthology, 185. Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks, 17. Mary G. Dietz, Between the Hunan and the Divine, 52.

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the beastly body politic from Plato to Weil. Nevertheless, Simone Weil’s conceptualization of collectivities as a concretely established variant of Plato’s antagonists, the Sophists, is concurrently an inheritance from and contradiction of 91

Hobbes’ great Leviathan. In Weil’s analysis, the ideological imbalances between the State, as the foremost form of oppressive collectivity, and the individuals and collectivities within it are still strong enough for the lure of idolatry to win out, drawing obedience to the State. This presents a gap in Weil’s thinking that plays right into the hands of the politicaltheological problem that she desired to avoid. Unlike the Church, which has a relatively static dogma, the ideology of the State is dynamic and, though it provides transcendental direction, largely of no consequence to the logic of the State itself. When brought together with the material situation in which demands only the guarantee of the logistics of safe travel, qua Hobbes, there is a disjuncture that requires one to question the basic conception of ideology in itself. As this occurs, Weil’s political-theological problem is reopened by the basic materiality of the State itself. That an idol has been made out of the material facets of the State, which we call sovereignty, in contemporary times is something that Weil could not have fully anticipated, nor would it be something she could possibly tolerate. The idol of the collectivity, qua State, has become something wholly antagonistic to the good in Weil’s conceptual framework. This is the strength of Weil’s critique. The society she observes demands flow instead of order, productive disruption instead of stability, and embedded reporters in lieu of embedded populations. In this regard “uprootedness,” presents itself as the existential reality for all inhabitants as the ontological condition of the interwar society. Deracination, then, is both the origin and inevitable destination inside and outside of the bourgeois State. The State cannot be regarded as the centering and steadying force that removes humanity from its ontological condition of instability and war, as it is for 91

Plato, Republic, 493a-493b.

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Hobbes and Spinoza. For Simone Weil, the State has, very much, realized its potential to bring a great deal of instability to society. Weil points not to “the men of 1789,” as the originators of modern France, but to the Cardinal Richelieu – a man more famous outside of France for his fictionalized role in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. It was under Richelieu, according to Weil, that the centralization of France through the pacification of regional distinctions and the displacement of peasant populations to engender the urban working classes. “His devotion to the State uprooted 92

France. His policy was to kill systematically all spontaneous life in the country, so as to prevent anything whatsoever being able to oppose the State.” While Weil takes for 93

granted – because of her own roots in Marxian thought – the process of primitive accumulation, including the urbanization of the working classes, during the 1600s, she focuses on the destabilizing effects of Richelieu’s steering of France as the conqueror of itself. By effecting these changes, Weil accuses “The Cardinal, in postulating something 94

[the State] whose whole reality is confined to this world as an absolute value, committed the sin of idolatry. … The real sin of idolatry is always committed on behalf of something similar to the State. It was this sin which the devil wanted Christ to commit when he offered him the kingdoms of this world. Christ refused. Richelieu accepted.”

95

In one sense, “The Cardinal” is, for Weil, the first modern bureaucrat. But he is a 96

bureaucrat in the sense of the bureaucratic form of governance she uncovers in her analyses of Bolshevism (Stalinism) and Nazism. In her own words, Richelieu’s functions in early-modern French society was the first incarnation of how “present-day society tends to develop the various forms of bureaucratic oppression and to give them a sort of autonomy in regard to capitalism as such.” Even more dangerously, according to Weil, 97

Richelieu is the prototype for Hitler – the first is the man who “invented the State,” the 92

93 94

95

96 97

Simone Weil, Selected Essays, 79, 94. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 115. My emphasis. Plato, The Laws, 627a. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 115. Simone Weil, Selected Essays, 79. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 14.

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second who perfected it. In spite of herself as a student of philosophy, Weil’s own 98

historical analyses as a thinker of politics leads her to the conclusion that Richelieu, rather than Hobbes or Rousseau, is the architect of the modern state precisely because of 99

his building of the centralized bureaucracy through the means of worldly violence. In that it betrays her heterodox understanding of her Marxian roots, Simone Weil’s historical analysis relies on an understanding of history as a series of struggles with each one engendering the next. In The Need for Roots, Weil constructs a genealogy of the Third Republic; a genealogy that is also a history of the oppressed, in the vain of which Walter Benjamin, another who deeply believed in the imperative of tikkun olam, the kabbalistic injunction to repair the world, suggested that we must carry out in his Theses “On the Concept of History.” The project of the critique of the barbaric culture of the victors that Benjamin loads upon “the historical materialist” (Thesis VII) in the “tradition of the oppressed” (Thesis VIII) is taken up by Weil just three years after his death in The Need for Roots. If the culture of the victors, such as Rome and Richelieu, is 100

a hodgepodge of the deracinated cultures of those that they have conquered, then the 101

heightened centralization of most modern European regimes, as far as Weil is concerned, cannot be anything more than that. This would mean, for her, that all cultures are the cultures of empire; that all States all melting pots into which the ingredients have been forced to walk the plank after their ship has been plundered and burned. But all of this requires an understanding of the State that not only has the potential to be totalitarian, but also, in essence, is totalitarian. Weil’s comments on conflict between States are still relevant. She writes, For the clear-sighted, there is no more distressing symptom of this truth than the unreal character of most of the conflicts that are taking place today. They have even less reality than the war between the Greeks and Trojans. At the heart of the Trojan War there was at least a woman and, what is more, a woman of Simone Weil, Selected Essays, 94. Ibid. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Selected Writings, Vol. 4, 1938-1940, eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, 389-400 (Cambridge; The Belknapp Press, 2003), 391-2. Ibid.

98 99

100

101

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perfect beauty. For our contemporaries the role of Helen is played by words with capital letters. If we grasp one of these words, all swollen with blood and tears, and squeeze it, we find it is empty. 102

According to Simone Weil, the antidotes to words with capital letters are words with content. Words with content and meaning are not murderous. If one of them occasionally becomes associated with bloodshed, it is rather by chance than by inevitability, and the resulting action is generally controlled and efficacious. But when empty words are given capital letters, then, on the slightest pretext, men will begin shedding blood for them and piling up ruin in their name, without effectively grasping anything to which they refer, since what they refer to can never have any reality, for the simple reason that they mean nothing. 103

But words with content are drastically outnumbered in a logistical society. Therefore, Weil’s concerns would not be ameliorated in our contemporary “Democracies” in which political parties and their candidates still mobilize these capitalized words in hopes of election, power, and prestige. Their promises are perpetually logistical, ever deferring the once transcendental demands for the Good except in the most empty of their slogans. Slogans like “Hope,” “Change,” “Make America Great Again,” or “Liquidity.”

The Party ‘As a monarchist, as a Socialist, I think that …’ It is so comfortable! It amounts to having no thoughts at all. Nothing is more comfortable than not having to think. 104

To the American or Canadian audience, Simone Weil’s comment that “In the Anglo-Saxon world, political parties have an element of game, of sport, which is only conceivable in an institution of aristocratic origin, whereas in institutions that were plebian from the start, everything must always be serious” may seem a harsh denial of 105

the perceived importance of these countries’ political cultures. It is possible that in the wake of the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump this no longer appears be the Simone Weil, “The Power of Words” in in Simone Weil An Anthology, ed. Siân Miles, 238-258 (New York; Penguin, 2005), 241. Emphasis mine. Ibid. Simone Weil, On the Abolition of All Political Parties, 27. Ibid. 3.

102

103

104 105

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case. (And the origin of this dissection of society had already found root in the years of the Obama administration.) In the rest of the world, the Party has a different history. The genealogy of the modern Party may find its origin in the Florentine struggles between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines or in the bourgeois clubs of the French Ancien Régime. These revolutionary parties are entirely different animals than the sports-clubs of the American political scene. For Weil, such a Party is the ideal-typical Party. And this Party always seeks to fulfill, the Bolshevik, Mikhail “Tomsky’s memorable saying: ‘One party in power and 106

all the others in jail.’ Thus,” according to Weil, “totalitarianism was the original sin of all political parties.” And as the original sin, a Party does not have to be “revolutionary” in 107

order to become totalitarian. To support this theological understanding of the political party’s having original sin, in her note On the Abolition of All Political Parties, Weil outlines three essential characteristics that make up each Party: 1. A political party is a machine to generate collective passions. 2. A political party is an organization designed to exert collective pressure upon the minds of all its individual members. 3. The first objective and also the ultimate goal of any political party is its own growth, without limit. 108

The first two make the third possible. The question related to the third characteristic is the question of the State and its repeated conquest of itself. The first and second characteristics, however, are the remarkable perfection of the movement that led the Church to make itself holier than the words upon which it is based. The transmutation of the metaxu into the transcendent leaves the individuals who ascribe to the ideology of a Mikhail Tomsky was an influential trade unionist, theorist, an politician in the Bolshevik Party. In the years immediately following the 1917 revolution, he held powerful positions, including membership of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Politburo. Tomsky was a part of Stalin’s right-wing. He died by suicide in 1936 after gaining information that the NKVD was coming to arrest him for his support of Bukharin. For more information, see https://www.marxists.org/glossary/people/t/o.htm or http://spartacus-educational.com/RUStomsky.htm One can find English translations of his pamphlet “Trade unions, the party, and the state” at the Marxist Internet Archive, http://www.marxistsfr.org/archive/tomsky/1927/unions_party_state.htm. Simone Weil, On the Abolition of All Political Parties, 4. Ibid. 11.

106

107 108

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Party simply as supplicants or soldiers. Their collective passions are made subservient to the ideological and idolatrous constructions of the Party itself and they serve more as distractions and persuasions than as didactic tools.

109

Because the totalitarian impulse has been mapped onto the logistical control over the flow of capital in society, the impulses of the Party to generate collective passions (like the Church) and exert collective pressures (like the State) implies that with-orwithout a reified conception of sovereignty, the idolatry of the State and the power of the Party to preserve and build that idol is a preeminent factor in the politics of the 1930s. The reduction of the totalitarian impulse of the Party to influence/control the collective passions of the specific population of a specific State and only within those territories is not a new phenomenon, but it is an increasingly exclusive phenomenon. The State, and the preservation of the State as a deified idol beyond its bureaucratic machinations is the relationship with the population that the Party continues to seize upon. In her note On the Abolition of All Political Parties, Weil wrote, “The revolutionary temperament tends to envision a totality. The petit-bourgeois temperament prefers the cozy picture of a slow, uninterrupted and endless progress. In both cases, the material growth of the party becomes the sole criterion by which to measure the good and the bad of all things.”

110

Nonetheless, Weil follows these three sentences with the affirmation that the Party intends to grow, perpetually, both in its membership and its totalitarian aspirations. These transcendent claims may be nothing more than an internal ideological justification or victorious reading of history. Weil writes, “Political parties are a marvelous mechanism which, on the national scale, ensures that not a single mind can attend to the effort of perceiving, in public affairs, what is good, what is just, what is true.” Thusly, 111

absent of the transcendent claims of superiority or uniqueness, the technocratic ideology 109

110 111

Ibid. 16. Ibid. 15. Ibid. 24.

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of the liberal parties of the interwar period is manifested as an idolatry of the material, and is enacted through physical and bureaucratic domination. This affirms Weil’s argument that “One cannot serve God and Mammon. If one’s criterion for goodness is not goodness itself, one loses the very notion of what is good. … It should horrify us, but we are already too much accustomed to it.” This barrier between the idolatry of the 112

material metaxu and the transcendent truth serves as Weil’s evidence that the Church, the State, and the Party are inverted mechanisms in their metaxic function. That they mediate between the transcendent and the material is not changed, but when we are dealing with uprooted collectivities the community that makes up that collectivity can only be the transcendent factor as an end in itself. This stands in contradiction to the immanent character of capital and the bureaucratic State. The consequence of this inversion of Weil’s contradiction does not negate the basic antagonisms between the immanent and the transcendent, but its aporetic character doubles down on oppression. This is Weil’s contribution to Plato’s allegory of the cave. In her telling, the darkness of the cave is manufactured, explicitly, through the mechanism of anathema sit. Living in the cave is, for the philosopher and for the radical, akin to living amongst the idolaters, and under their domination. The revolutionary quality of Weil’s mysticism requires one to go through the path from exile to redemption. For the theologically inclined this is a Cadmean victory, for the revolutionary it is a pyrrhic one – one cannot be certain that this distinction is not better understood as the reverse. Unlike John Stuart Mill’s eccentrics, Weil’s mystics are not placed in society for the purpose of driving it forward (through the endless and brakeless march of progress) as they are subsumed in their roles from divergent geniuses to successful entrepreneurs – always, as already mentioned, for the sake of progress. The heterodox thinker, on the other hand, cannot be reconciled with this conception of progress. She is not a reactionary force, because she is not outside of the cave herself. But, unlike the eccentric, her 112

Ibid. 15-16.

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interactions with the organized civilization around her has become more and more marginalized since Socrates’ death implies that the civilizations’ hostilities to philosophy are increasing and increasingly victorious. The party-form, exacts its own growth and conquest of the State through the antithesis of didactic practice; it preys on the distracted and builds false gods out of its symbols.

Uprootedness: The oppressive implications of deracination in Weil’s thought are heavily mediated by the three collectivities studied in this chapter. The State mediates the actual process of deracination, creating new collectivities of control and violence on the ruins of the old collectivities that provided roots. The Church is built upon the idolatry of an uprooted people, the Hebrews, and holds within its doctrines the power to excommunicate. That is, the anathema sit is the power to uproot. Finally, the Party takes advantage of this uprootedness by drawing the passions of a disparate people into the political realm by offering them ready-made conclusions, and thusly drawing them farther and farther into the idolatrous worship of the Great Beast. Compounded by the thin description that Weil gives for the individual, in which the content of their own person is based simply on the environmental pressures of ideology, thee is nothing left but a pessimistic view of the growing power of institutions to compel the constrictive form of obedience Weil cautions against in The Need for Roots. Uprootedness and deracination are among the dark sides of progress. It comes in a variety of endogenous and exogenous forms: migration, conquest, censorship, and stricture. Whether this comes in the biblical forms of Deuteronomy or Galatians, or the philosophical styling of Plato’s conquest of the self, Hobbes’s sovereign, or Hegel’s Lord and Bondsman, Weil’s anticipation of the consolidation of totalitarianism and the destruction of peoples is a dire warning from her historical epoch.

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For Simone Weil, redemption from idolatry is always what is hoped for. This redemption is never promised for or through the collectivity. The ossification of ideology into idolatry has two implications: 1) it provides the freedom to hold a position without having to consider it, and 2) it filters resistance through the tired pathways of orthodoxy and divorces it from its roots. If the three traditional centers of organized political and ideological power, the Church, the State, and the Party are of no use in the fight against the other two, what does Weil leave us with but a thin description of the oppressed individual? For Weil, each of these institutions stands as an impediment to justice and truth because they only allow for submission to the orthodoxies that have been set down and passed down. Without any sort of collectivity to ground them, individuals are rendered into such a precarious position that they are completely at the whim of the power of another. It is this precarious existence that will be explored in the next chapter. Political deracination is historically compounded by the deracination of the process of both primitive and capitalist accumulation; it is the destructive element in progress. It is the storm pushing the wings of Walter Benjamin’s angel of history. Those who were and are driven into 113

the factories are among those who feel the affective realities of uprootedness at its most powerful. These human beings are not only uprooted, they are afflicted by society with what Simone Weil describes, perhaps exaggeratedly, as a “feeling of slavery.” She 114

115

explains further: “You kill yourself with nothing at all to show for it, either a subjective result (wages) or an objective one (work accomplished), that corresponds to the effort you’ve put out. In that situation you really feel you are a slave, humiliated to the very

Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” 392. Dorothy Tuck McFarland and Wilhelmina Van Ness, “Editors’ Introduction to ‘Factory Journal’” in Simone Weil, Formative Writings, eds. Dorothy Tuck McFarland and Wilhelmina Van Ness, 153-154, (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987), 153. Simone Weil, “Factory Journal,” in Simone Weil, Formative Writings, 160.

113 114

115

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depths of your being.” Affliction and slavery, it seems, take hold of the mind and the 116

soul.

116

Ibid. 194.

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Chapter Two: Real Life: The Training of the Soul “I have power, therefore I am. [Je puis, donc je suis.]”

1

This chapter begins as a study of Simone Weil’s writings on labor. Whereas in the previous chapter we have seen how Weil understood the pressures and ideological power of the collectivity and the limits of its metaxic function, in this chapter her understanding of the individualizing tendencies of labor will be brought to bear. In conjunction with this further peeling back of the onion of Weil’s critique of oppression and Weil’s political thought we turn in part to a different element of her influences. This chapter will further explicate the Marxian elements of her critique of oppression. That is not to say that this is a chapter simply on Weil’s Marxism, as such a study already exists: for a narrow analysis of Weil’s Marxism, the student of her thought can turn to Lawrence A. Blum and Victor Seidler’s 1989 book A Truer Liberty, Simone Weil and Marxism. Blum and Seidler’s purpose is to mobilize Weil’s pre-Christian thought in contrast to “orthodox Marxism,” “western Marxism,” and liberalism (or at least the ascendant liberalism of the 1980s). This book is less a practice of measuring Weil’s work against the Marxian tradition as measuring the Marxian tradition against Weil’s work. The authors do find Weil’s work to be more in line with the general ethos of social criticism developed in western Marxism than the power politics of Lenin and Trotsky. Blum and Seidler are apt to address Weil’s dual critiques of capitalism and totalitarianism, There are many counts on which their reading of Weil and the one presented in this chapter are congruous, including that Weil’s is a heterodox Marxism and that her concern is with property as such, rather than private property. Blum and Seidler write “Marx assumed that private property was somehow the root of work-process oppression, so that if the former were abolished, the latter would disappear with it. For Weil a clearSimone Weil, Formative Writings, 59. The translation provided by McFarland and Van Ness follows the spirit of Weil’s argument, rather than a literal translation of “I can, therefore I am.”

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headed look at the nature of work organization makes it evident that an oppressive form of work organization is entirely compatible with quite different legal forms of property relations, private as well as collective.” Weil understood that the organization of labor 2

would be an oppressive structure in spite of whether or not the state was a capitalist one, a fascist one, or a Communist one. For Weil, so long as there is a structure of 3

4

hierarchical oppression work is not free, the ideological claims of the governmental power are of little account. Blum and Seidler take an account of the revolutionary subject that is reflective of Weil’s pessimism and her hopelessness concerning the possibility of a universal revolutionary proletariat.

5

Lying at the heart of Weil’s dialectical critique of labor are the concepts of affliction and attention. It is the pressures upon the soul by “real life” and the work of the 6

soul that are truly under consideration here. Both affliction and attention are concerns of the soul in that they are holistic concerns for the worker in the workplace and for life. The concern with the soul, in Weil’s thought, cannot be explained away by reference to theology or affective thought. The nuance of her conceptualizations of affliction and attention owe more to her concern with life than her concern with God. It is the soul that carries Weil’s critique of interwar industrial capitalism. The theological and affective qualities of Weil’s critique are neither secondary to her materialist understanding of the organization of labor, nor are they a departure from the Marxian roots of that critique. Instead, these elements of Weil’s thought are best understood when taken as being constitutive of Weil’s heterodox interpretation of Marxism.

Lawrence A. Blum and Victor Seidler, A Truer Liberty, 38. Following Weil’s critique of words with capital letters, to be presented in depth in the following chapter, a distinction will be made between Communism as a state ideology and communism as a liberated form of social organization. Lawrence A. Blum and Victor Seidler, A Truer Liberty, 34, 38, 42. Ibid, 51, 55, 58, 64. The question of revolution in Weil’s works will be discussed at length in Chapter Three. Simone Weil, “To A Pupil,” in Seventy Letters, 10.

2 3

4

5

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This chapter will be taken in two parts: the first section focuses on affliction and the second on attention, though there is necessary overlap. Engaging both of these concepts through Weil’s study of labor and the organization of labor is a political choice as to how to frame these concepts individually and in relation to each other. Individually, the concept of affliction is framed as a practical matter of worldly oppression explained by a Christianized terminology underpinned by the Marxian concepts of alienation and wage-labor. Discipline is the transitive property between the concepts of affliction and attention and it is through this property that the dialectic is organized. The discipline of the afflicted is an externally imposed docility. It is then internalized through the repetition of abuse, arbitrary and otherwise. The discipline of attention is self-imposed at the outset, but can be aided by the will and guidance of teachers and mentors. These forms of discipline more closely resemble Michel Foucault’s paradigm, developed over the course of four books from Discipline & Punish to The Use of Pleasure, rather than Lenin’s 7

demand for strict adherence to the Party line. As Chapter One confirms, the Leninist form of discipline is out of the question for Weil. In the original French, Weil’s affliction is malheur – a state of being that has no literal translation into English but expresses something more wide-ranging and deeply disturbing than affliction’s synonyms “wretchedness,” “hardship,” “misfortune,” See Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1995); Michel Foucualt, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction, trans Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1990); Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, Volume 2 of The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1990); Michel Foucault, The Care of the Self, Volume 3 of The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1988). Much like Weil, Christianity provides Foucault’s pathway – not only through domination – from an affirmative politics of the soul to the biopolitical framework of governmentality. The question that Foucault is seeking to answer is not one of the words on the page but the practice and construction of the organization itself. Thusly, it is not Christianity as such, but the confessional paradigm that he studies in The History of Sexuality, Volume I. The act of confessing deeds and thoughts, bringing the soul into contact with the world, is the interface between the nascent gaze and the preexisting practice of self-construction. What is expressed in the confessional is the soul, and as a result, one’s thoughts are put into discourse. Those thoughts become a self-constructing narrative of desire under the gaze of the priest. The creation of the discourse of the self through the confessional is the lynchpin of Volume I. Without the original formulae for confession in the works of thinkers like Marcus Aurelius (such as Foucault discusses in Volume II, The Use of Pleasure) and its generalization through Catholic practice in combination with the medically rooted gaze, it could not be transmuted into the discourse-making writing of desire.

7

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“suffering,” or “malady.” As such, the use of affliction as the translation for malheur is both one that is inherited from previous studies and translations of Weil’s work.

8

The second section will focus on attention. This term, rather than having an open meaning, has a dual meaning in its translation from the French. Simone Weil’s understanding of attention has one foot in the colloquial English usage of giving one’s thoughts or concerns to something or someone and one foot in its French and Latin etymology of an expectation or preparedness for some event or the cause of another. This dualism has a great affect on Weil’s ability to make use of the concept of attention in the workplace and in consideration of her fellows and of God. In other words, in relation to affliction, attention can have both active and passive meanings providing the reader a view into both the promise and the pessimism of a Weillienne politics. The contradiction between the active and passive parts of attention is indicative of one of the key problematics of Weil’s thought in the first place. The political problematic that resides in the space between these two poles of action in general between active attention to a cause or to study and the patient expectation of something (or someone) to come. This is the difficulty of the dialectic of affliction and attention. It is important to note that Weil’s philosophical studies and practical experiences of labor include all four of intellectual labor (as a teacher and philosopher), factory labor, agricultural labor, and bureaucratic work (in that order) at different times in her life. As will be discussed in the following pages, her considerations of each of these frameworks is colored by the experience and consideration of the others. These divergent forms of labor are placed at odds with one another but not in the sense of intellectual versus physical or agrarian verses industrial platitudes. (Weil does privilege physical labor, especially in the closing words of The Need for Roots where she declares that “it should

This decision is less debated than, for example, the twin options of alienation and estrangement in translations of Marx’s 1844 Manscripts.

8

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be [the] spiritual core” of post-war France. ) Instead Weil hopes for a form of labor that 9

engages with the natural rhythms of the world, requires application of the mind, and leaves one physically tired at the end of the day. We will see that this free form of labor appears in The Need for Roots as both the mystical experience of agrarian rhythms and cooperative workshops. The free laborer would, to paraphrase Marx, (and to repeat myself ) work in the morning, kibitz in the afternoon, critique in the evening, and pray at 10

night all the while sharing knowledge of the project at hand and a comradely feeling amongst their peers. The plan and progression of Simone Weil’s study of the labor question begins, just as Marx’s critique began, with considerations of the philosophical and affective underpinnings of the organization of labor. Marx needed to work through the critiques of bourgeois politics in his response to Bruno Bauer in “On ‘The Jewish Question’” and the elaboration of workers’ alienation in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. For Marx, these studies provided the philosophical foundations for the materialist, evidence-based, study found in the Grundrisse and Capital. Simone Weil’s study of capitalist social organization also begins with the study of philosophy, and of bourgeois thought and politics. In place of Democritus, Epicurus, and Bruno Bauer there was Descartes. In the place of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 setting the tone for Capital, Weil’s pre-factory work writings of 1932-34 set her philosophical foundations for her ethnographic work in the factories around Paris. This includes a 11

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 298. See above, page 8. See Michael Burawoy, “The Anthropology of Industrial Work,” in Annual Review of Anthopology, 8: 231-266. It is not clear if Weil’s purpose of joining the factory work force was one of study, of solidarity, or of adventurism, it is likely all three and I do not intend to psychoanalyze her as Mary G. Dietz has already undertaken to do (See, Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine, 3-36.). While the terms of her engagement with factory work are deeply problematic (she entered into it by choice, and could have either returned to teaching or to the support of her parents at any time). In spite of this, if considered as an academic act, her “Factory Journal” does fit the description of a participant observation project.

9

10 11

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methodical study of the Taylorist model of organization and a critique of the prevailing Stalinist and Trotskyist political positions of the organized left.

12

Affliction: “It means exerting effort whose sole end is to secure no more than what one already has, while failure to exert such effort results in losing it.” 13

Before her year of factory work, in 1934, Simone Weil discerned that the most powerful threat in factory organization is not physical. In her account it is moral, affective, and intellectual oppression that maintains the quiescence of the working classes. What began as an ethnographic study to find a way to improve the lot of the working class and conceive of a free and a rational organization of labor became instead a detailed study of the mechanisms by which the capitalist form of social organization is governed and maintained. Like Marx, Weil’s critique of labor is dialectical; and like her 14

forebear Weil’s dialectic is multivalent, operating on the interrelated levels of the material and the ideological organization of society. The factory dominated the organization of production in the capitalism of Weil’s day: thus it is factory labor and the organization of the factory floor, which stands as her primary object of study and critique in her early writings. In Weil’s later [war-time] writings the comparison of factory organization with agricultural labor offers her a reentry into the same problematic allowing her a revamped dialectical framework to build upon her personal experiences in the Paris factories (1934) and at the Vichy harvests (1941).

Simone Weil, “On the Contradictions in Marxism,” in Oppression and Liberty, trans. Arthur Wills & John Petrie, 147-156 (Amherst, MA; The University of Massachusetts Press, 1958), 152. Simone Weil, “Prerequisite to Dignity of Labour” in in Simone Weil An Anthology, ed. Siân Miles, 264276 (New York; Penguin, 2005), 265. Simone Petrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 216.

12

13

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In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx lays out four forms of alienation: Workers, and in today’s capitalism we are nearly all workers, experience alienation from the products of our labor, alienation from our work itself, alienation from our species-being – that is, alienation from one’s own self –, and alienation from other workers. These forms of alienation have no explicit hierarchy in Marx’s analysis. They 15

each exist as complimentary and compounding interactions that result from the regimes of property and the division of labor both in the factory and in society at large. From her notebooks and the lack of direct citation, it can only be presumed whether or not Simone Weil was familiar with Marx’s notebooks. Simone Weil’s theologically tinged concept 16

of affliction draws heavily on these four forms of alienation, but goes beyond them by probing deeper into the affective qualities and pressures of wage labor. The constituent elements of affliction, in Weil’s philosophical accounting, are hierarchical. And while each element must be present to move from alienation to affliction, the true distinction lies in the lived reality of the worker. One of Weil’s primary departures from Marx in the understanding of the capitalist organization of labor lies in the question of the wage. Whereas for Marx wage-labor is the mark of the alienation of the worker from the product of her labor, for Weil the wage itself has become an alienated phenomenon as well. “Generally speaking,” she writes, “the relation between work done and money earned is so hard to grasp that it appears as almost accidental, so that labor takes on the aspect of servitude, money that of a favor.”

17

This magnified abstraction of the relation between the product, the worker, and the wage makes it possible for Weil to move from a Marxian concept of wage-slavery to an

See Karl Marx, "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844," in Marx-Engels Collected Works 1843-1844, trans. Martin Milligan and Dirk J. Struik, 229-348 (New York: International Publishers, 1975). The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts were first publicly available, in German, in 1932. Weil both spoke German and traveled to Germany during that year, so it is possible that she had read them. This possibility, however, is unconfirmed by any direct reference in her works, notebooks, letters, or biographical accounts. Blum and Seidler contend that Weil had not read the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts at the time of her writing “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression.” See Lawrence A. Blum and Victor Seidler, A Truer Liberty: Simone Weil and Marxism, 48. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 118.

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unqualified, Christianized, idea of slavery that is integral to the move from alienation to affliction. In her Notebooks, Weil writes, “Slavery is work without any light from eternity, without poetry, without religion. May the eternal light give, not a reason for living and working, but a sense of completeness which makes the search for any such reason unnecessary.”

18

In her essay “The Love of God and Affliction,” Simone Weil defines affliction as such: “In the realm of suffering, affliction is something apart, specific, and irreducible. It is quite a different thing from simple suffering. It takes possession of the soul and marks it through and through with its own particular mark, the mark of slavery.” Though this 19

concept of slavery (fully formed by the time of the above quoted essay) was in its nascent form in her “Factory Journal,” it is already a complex, double apparatus. On the one hand, it is the workers’ enslavement to the owners and managers, as will be discussed in depth below. On the other hand, it is the workers’ enslavement to the means of production – that is, the tools and machines which had been dislodged from their proper metaxic, Weil’s term for mediating, role – itself. In Weil’s considerations the technique of the domination of labor is rooted in the division of labor and knowledge. She writes, succinctly, “Thus the worker’s complete subordination to the undertaking and to those who run it is founded on the factory organization and not on the system of property.” Just like Kafka, Walter Benjamin, and 20

the first generation of the Frankfurt School, Weil recognized the changing form of oppression in the 1930s. As the management of firms and factories shifted from direct control by ownership to professionalized and bureaucratic management, the effect was the diffusion of responsibility and the centralization of knowledge in an intermediate class within the factory. This distinctly twentieth century understanding of the diffusion Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 181; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 79. Simone Weil, “The Love of God and Affliction,” in Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd, 57-66 (New York; Harper Collins, 2001), 57. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 41. See also, Alexander Irwin, Saints of the Impossible: Bataille, Weil, and the Politics of the Sacred (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2002) 48.

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of knowledge as being the primary form of control of the means of production is distinguished, but does not depart, from Marx’s position in that both the ownership of knowledge and the ownership of property are different performances of the control over the means of production, be they material or intellectual. For Weil the control over the intellectual means of production is decidedly material. The organization of labor in the workplace and in society as a whole is designed so that each class of person has access to only the information that they need to do their specific job. And in some cases, not even enough to fix even the most minor problems that may arise. There is a permanent barrier to the understanding of the project as a 21

whole. Weil’s critique is a synthesis of Plato’s understanding of the purpose of the thing, which he describes in the Republic as its [the thing’s] use , and Marx’s critique of the 22

division of labor. In it’s essence the problem arises when the purpose of any given project as a whole is masked through the division of the tasks that will build it. In The Need for Roots and “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression” Weil describes the division of knowledge that maintains the class structure of any given society or workplace. In the factory, the scientists and engineers have an abstract and otherwise unattainable knowledge of how each part of the project fits together as a whole; the foremen then understand the larger part of how each of the individual parts are meant to be constructed; the machinists know only how to fix the machines that produce each individual piece; and the workers know only how to use the machine, but not how to fix it or how it works. In another sense, only the user of the final product truly understands it.

23

Weil’s understanding of the division of labor in society, which makes the suppression of thought and spontaneity possible and desirable for those who sit at the top, Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 64. From the mouth of Socrates: “Then doesn’t the painter understand how the reins and the bit must be? Or does even the maker not understand – the smith and the leather-cutter – but only he who knows how to use them, the horseman? … Aren’t the virtue, beauty, and righteousness of each implement, animal, and action related to nothing but the use for which each was made, or grew naturally? … For example, about flutes, a flute player surely reports to the flute-maker which ones would serve him in playing, and he will prescribe how they must be made, and the other will serve him.” Plato, The Republic, 601c-e. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 64; Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 56-57.

21 22

23

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can be understood as an antagonistic opposition to Plato’s understanding of artistic creation as described in the Timaeus. If, for Plato, the idea of the thing is the first step 24

toward its production, then for Weil, in capitalist organization of production the first step 25

is the displacement of the idea from production itself. The workers are given no opportunity to know or understand the labor that has gone into the machine upon which they work, the dead labor that has already been expended on the product as it reaches them, or the use of their own product. Weil’s theory of the use of the thing is indicative of the tendency in capitalism to dissociate physical and intellectual labor. However, Weil argues that the modern scientist is in the same position vis-à-vis their experiments as the piece-worker at the machine. In 26

the 1932 essay, “Prospects,” Weil suggests that even science has been reduced to this state of affairs: “One could count on one’s fingers the number of scientists throughout the world with a general idea of the history and development of their particular science: there is none who is really competent as regard sciences other than his own. As science forms an indivisible whole, one may say that there are no longer, strictly speaking, scientists, but only unskilled hands doing scientific work, cogs in a whole their minds are quite incapable of embracing.” The idea of the cog in the machine will be repeated, again, in 27

consideration of the manual laborer in “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression” two years later. Capitalism, it seems for Weil, has eliminated the 28

need to understand what it is we are doing in the larger sense. Philosophy and ideology fulfill this same role in politics in the narrowest sense. Now, production, science, and the

Timaeus, himself, is given the speech in which the creation of the cosmos from the pre-existing logos by divine entities is compared favorably to the work of a craftsman with an idea in mind. See Plato, Timaeus, in Timaeus and Critias, ed. Andrew Gregory, trans. Robin Waterfield, 1-100 (New York, NY: Oxford Univeristy Press, 2008), 28a-b. 29a. For an account of beauty that draws heavily on Weil’s thinking and the Platonic ideal of the good, see also Elaine Scarry, On Beuaty and Being Just (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001). Plato, Timaeus, 29a. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 31, 64, 111. Ibid, 13. Ibid, 41.

24

25

26

27 28

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management of workplaces and polities are shown to share an oppressive regime in the epoch of the capitalist division of labor and knowledge. In this way, Weil is a Platonic and a Marixan thinker through and through. Though she cautions the reader on her particular understanding of Marx when she writes: “The materialistic method – that instrument which Marx bequeathed us – is an untried instrument; no Marxist has ever really used it, beginning with Marx himself.” This 29

sentence is a purposeful and polemical one. By setting herself apart from Orthodox Marxism and Trotskyism, from the Second and Third Internationals, Weil is reminding the reader that neither her own analysis of capitalism nor the analysis of the dominant ideological factions is entirely materialist. Moreover, Weil reminds the reader that she is from Marx, but not of Marx. In this particular case, because Weil is interested in the ideological and moral qualities of affliction, as much as she is the material, she is also from Plato, Descartes and Kant. In “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression” Weil writes: The inversion of the relation between means and ends – an inversion which is to a certain extent the law of every oppressive society – here becomes total or nearly so, and extends to nearly everything. The scientist does not use science in order to manage to see more clearly into his own thinking, but aims at discovering results that will go to swell the present volume of scientific knowledge. Machines do not run in order to enable men to live, but we resign ourselves to feeding men in order that they may serve the machines. Money does not provide a convenient method for exchanging products; it is the sale of goods which is a means for keeping money in circulation. Lastly, organization is not a means for exercising collective activity, but the activity of a group, whatever it may be, is a means for strengthening organization. 30

Weil, thusly, takes up from Marx the analysis of capitalism’s reversal of Kant’s thesis on the rational order of means and ends. Her understanding of the relationship of the laborer with the means of production is not one of a person using the tool, but the tool putting the person to work for it. The mystified structure of knowledge is combined with the

29 30

Ibid, 46. Ibid. 111.

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subjection to the tool in a pessimistic understanding of a totality of oppression. In the same essay, Weil quotes from Capital, Volume 1, when she writes: “Pungent dicta abound in Marx’s writings on this subject of living labor being enslaved to dead labor, ‘the reversal of the relationship between subject and object’, ‘the subordination of the worker to the material conditions of work’. ‘In the factory’, he writes in Capital, ‘there exists a mechanism independent of the workers, which incorporates them as living cogs.’” In Weil’s estimation, the machine is what does the work. The human, then is the 31

thing through which the machine performs its own functions. Weil’s pre-factory writings on labor, Marxian as they are, also relate directly back to her work on Descartes as a young student. In “Science and Perception in Descartes,” Weil adopts a Cartesian attitude toward Descartes himself. Though she traces Descartes’ method through a great deal of his thought, what is of interest in regards to considerations on labor is her study of the power of thought in Descartes’ philosophy of mind. “In short, not only does Descartes regard every mind, as soon as it makes a serious effort to think properly, as equal to the greatest genius, but he finds the human mind even in the most ordinary thinking.” What this means for Weil is that each worker has the capability to 32

understand the specificities and generalities of the project they are involved in. In other words, even though the worker has been made a tool of the machine, they have the capability to not only make the tool serve them, but also to comprehend more than just their role in the process. Weil alters Descartes famous aphorism into “I have power, therefore I am.” In 33

this way, she assigns the capability of understanding a specific course of action and the carrying out of said course. That course is that of Marx’s generalist in terms of breaking

Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 41: Simone Weil, Lectures on Philosophy, trans. Hugh Price (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 147. In Lectures on Philosophy a footnote is provided for the Grundrisse as a source for this quote. However, because these lectures were delivered in 1933 and 1934, a direct reference to the Grundrisse by Weil would have been impossible – in spite of her knowledge of German – because said book was not available in publication until 1939. Simone Weil, Formative Writings, 53. Ibid. 59.

31

32 33

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down the division of labor under capitalism. The reader of The Need For Roots is presented with the idea of the generalized laborer who works in common with those around him. But first they need to be trained: “It would involve organizing for the [young people] something resembling the Tour de France.” The “Tour” Weil is referencing is not the famous bicycle race: “The institution of the Tour de France served … to circulate skilled labor between France’s cities and towns” and provide training at different 34

mechanical skills before The Revolution of 1789. The suggestion for the reinstitution of the Tour in The Need for Roots follows from Weil’s analysis of the inability of capitalism as it was organized in her time to train both skilled and unskilled labor. In Weil’s 35

utopian ideal all labor is to skilled workshop labor. After spending two years teaching and writing in 1932 and 1933, Weil came to the conclusion that the factory floor was where she could “escape […] from a world of abstractions, to find [herself] among real men – some good and some bad, but with a real goodness or badness.” It is in her “Factory Journal,” written during her year of “real life” 36

in 1934, that Weil experienced the material and affective realities of the theoretical analysis she had already prepared. This affective experience is reflected in her reconsideration and radicalization of the Marxian concept of alienation. It was the year of factory work that first introduced the idea that she later recalled as the totally overpowering experience of affliction. According to Eric O. Springsted, this affliction relies on three fundamental criteria: (1) physical pain, (2) a social nature that compounds the humiliation of the afflicted and denies her or his agency, and (3) self-hatred: “the afflicted are forced to believe that their treatment is just. Since their hatred of affliction finds its immediate object in themselves, the afflicted turn this hatred inwards and think themselves despicable, evil, and unclean.”

37

Leslie Choquette, Frenchmen into Peasants: Modernity and Tradition in the Peopling of French Canada (Cambridge, MA; Harvard University Press, 1997), 193. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 85. Simone Weil, Seventy Letters, 11. Eric O. Springsted, Simone Weil & The Suffering of Love, 29.

34

35

36 37

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The linguistic dissonance between the Lutheran theologian Springsted’s perspective and a Marxian understanding of Weil is indicative of her own change in language during the year of factory work. Though she entered the factories looking for solidarity, working class organization and resistance, and real experience, she left with the first two hopes dashed by the realities of the work. And though she had not yet come into contact with the mystical Christianity that would shape her later thought, the development of those ideas was already underway in her materialist and ideological critique of labor. The pain described in Weil’s “Factory Journal” is not only the pain she felt at the machines and in front of the furnaces. It includes other environmental factors, both specific to Weil and the other women she worked with and generalizable to the workforce as a whole. Weil’s personal physical frailty may well have made it more extreme, but the reality of the pain of exhaustion is not limited to her experience, or even to the experience of physical labor. The exhaustion that Weil describes is not simply physical, as it is as much related to the regimented quality of the day, including the way in which the day is measured, as it is to the exertion required in the act of production. In this ethnographic study reside hints of Weil’s own disciplinary aporia. This irresolvable contradiction between the workers’ oppression by the machine in the material world and, the pathway to the decentering of the self through the natural rhythms of physical work, is mystical, intellectual, and physical. In the “Factory Journal” Weil expresses reinforced concern about the reversal of the means and ends of production in which, the intellectual processes of production have been removed from the workers by technological advancements – the machine thinks and works, the person simply acts as a mediator at the machine’s necessity. The alienation from one’s own thinking is a lodestone in Weil’s tracing of the de-personalizing, and rapidly individuating experience of the working classes. The separation of thought and 89



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action is the clearest example, for Weil, of the reversal of means and ends that Kant and 38

the entire critical tradition that follows him is concerned with. Her monadic version of Descartes’ thinking being has power and ability due to thought and doubt. The purity of this relationship, the elimination of the metaxu between thought and action makes the thought as action relationship different from the enlightenment notions of the theorypraxis relation in a very distinct way. The negation of the metaxu of production itself provides a radicalized form of acting when rational thought is conceived as action itself and as the end goal instead of a pre-existing assumption. Thusly, for Weil, the ability and freedom to think rationally is repressed in the capitalist organization of labor. For Weil, not only rational thinking qua Kant, but thinking itself has become, at least in the factory, unnecessary. Because one does not want to think of the brutal work being done, thinking, in the factory, actually makes the job more dangerous. One must turn oneself into an automaton except for those rare moments when concentration is necessary beyond subjection to the feared bosses. To daydream, or to strain against the constraints by which one is tied to 39

the work is to “work in an irritated state of mind” which is “to work badly, and therefore to starve.”

40

When the workers themselves reach this point of actively alienating themselves from their own species being, in a secondary fashion to the alienation from the product of their labor to assume only the quality of the tool of the tool, their affliction appears as if it is inescapably soul crushing. Instead, according to Weil, this movement from alienation to affliction takes place not in the immanent body by the transcendent soul. By acknowledging one’s own submission as a monadic metaxu between two active things in

Immauel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals: On a Supposed Right to Lit because of Philanthropic Concerns, trans. James W. Ellington (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1981), 34-37 (paragraphs 427-429). Simone Weil, Formative Writings, 217. Ibid., 171.

38

39 40

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dialogue with one another, the “light from eternity” is taken out of the labor process 41

entirely. At each level, the individual workers are increasingly removed from their possible solidarities with each other. In a system where the women Weil worked with were placed under the direction and oversight of men, the physical threat of the patriarchal order redoubles the humiliating nature of these circumstances to which we will now turn. “Not 42

one word of sympathy from the women, even though they know the disgust you feel facing an exhausting job, knowing you will earn 2 [francs] or less and be bawled out for not having made the rate … if one woman is spared a ‘bad’ job, it is done by another…”

43

Weil’s inadvertent feminism, in this case, is generalizable to the working classes as a whole and is only made more visible by the experience of Weil and her fellow women. The reader can extrapolate from Weil’s “Factory Journal”, though she does not come to this conclusion on her own, that the fear of exchanging less desirable work and the affective and intellectual loss that goes along with that was as much an ideological weapon of capitalism in her time as it is more obviously in our own era of neoliberal zero-sum thinking. Weil closes her “Factory Journal” with these candid remarks: “The main fact isn’t the suffering, but the humiliation.” Though it builds throughout the “Factory Journal,” at 44

this last moment, Weil explicitly turns the relationship of the physical weariness and the social humiliation on its head – it is not the pain that is the root of the humiliation, but the humiliation that makes the pain unbearable. This comment prefigures the present state of the labor force in the west, where the working classes are humiliated through the pervasive destabilization of, and dependency on, work that one has no opportunity to control or pathway to control over. Obviously, necessity of work is nothing new; however, the removal of the physical degradation from many aspects of labor has not, as 41

42

43 44

Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 179. Simone Weil, Formative Writings, 159. Ibid,, 158. Ibid., 225.

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Weil already begins to describe, removed the humiliating reality of the work and the organization of work itself. For Simone Weil, humiliation is the backbone of affliction – it makes action against or in the face of affliction both impossible and undesirable. Weil recognizes the individuating tendency of slavery not only in the inability to think – the alienation from our species being – but also the inability to find comradeship – the alienation from others. This alienation from others, another element of the utter humiliation of affliction is rooted in

two

simultaneous

phenomena.

The

first

is

the

subjection

to

the

master/foreman/boss/machine and the second is the inability to find solace and sympathy from the fellow workers/slaves. The first element has already taken away the worker’s worth as a person by judging the rightless laborer (the slave) “capriciously” by the laborer’s “worth as a worker.” This imperiled figure is the reality of the over-worked 45

and under-nourished (both physically and intellectually) nothing that the worker becomes, which is in Weil’s estimation, a simple “beast of burden, docile and resigned,” beholden by the terror of dependency. Affliction is felt in the mind, body, and soul. 46

Affliction is neither a binary (where one is either afflicted or not afflicted), nor is it a static phenomenon. Affliction is actualized through circular reinforcement. What this means is that the imposition of affliction prepares the disciplined subject for the continued imposition of affliction, and so on. Both the oppressor and the target of oppression at the same time enact affliction’s imposition. In other words, affliction is the result of forcible training, and the training is continued by the afflicted. If humiliation and docility are what set affliction apart from alienation, then the determination to reach a significant point of giving attention is the goal of escaping affliction by passing through it. Other than the mystical language, the depth of the distinction between alienation and affliction is lies in the aporia of the training of the

45 46

Simone Weil, Formative Writings, 159. Ibid, 171.

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soul. This training takes a certain quality of discipline. However, discipline is no certain path toward enlightenment. In Simone Weil’s philosophy of labor, discipline is the dialectical link between affliction and attention. Whereas the first part of this chapter attempted to offer a “what” of affliction, this section will attempt to offer a “how” first of affliction, then of the way of labor that is not afflicted. Forty-one years before Michel Foucault published Discipline & Punish (1975), and even longer before his three volumes on The History of Sexuality (1976, 1984, 1984), in her ethnographic study of the organization of capitalist production, Simone 47

Weil constructs an unresolvable contradiction at the heart of her very own disciplinary dialectic. The fulcrum upon which this dialectic hinges is attention. The “Factory Journal” is concerned with the methods, efficiencies, and inefficiencies of the disciplined and docile workforce and workplace. Though her conceptualization of attention comes in her later “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” the essay-length definition she constructs therein is based on the practical experiences of the factory intermixed with her understanding of the discipline of prayer. Before we explore her mystical conclusions, 48

the materialist methods of training the soul need to be explicated and understood. What we are initially presented with is attention as distraction. In the “Factory Journal” Weil recounts the process of the construction of the soul against the will of the soul that is being produced. The production of the soul through the imposition of affliction is a manifestation of the modern structures of identity that can only be ignored by the bourgeoisie for their own interests. Thusly, the myth of the self-created soul of which Foucault wrote an eloquent philosophical history in The Use of Pleasure and The Care of the Self is undermined by her description of the labor process. See Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1995); Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction, trans Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1990); Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, Volume 2 of The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1990); Michel Foucault, The Care of the Self, Volume 3 of The History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage Books, 1988). Ibid.

47

48

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Weil’s observations about the regime of factory organization designed to perfect the oppression of the workers by a bureaucratic managerial class through whom the affective qualities of “ownership” are exponentially removed from the capitalist as much as the worker. This real quality of the barrier to knowledge that is comprised of this coordinating class is the isolation that is more concrete, in the intellectual sense, than the panoptic prisoner’s physical isolation. What makes this, perhaps, more terrifying is that already in the early 1930s Weil’s critique of the dissociation of intellectual and physical labor takes place in a manufacturing society in which the surveillance of the worker is both ideologically predetermined and then reinforced by the actuality of the more knowledgeable foreman and machinists. Weil’s worker is at her most isolated in a crowded room from the very start. The reader of Weil’s “Factory Journal” is brought face to face with the concrete realities of the factory system in 1930s France. In this text the workings of this disciplinary system push Weil and her comrades to the point at which humiliation becomes affliction. The sheer affective violence that she submitted herself (and it cannot be forgotten that Weil could have opted out at any moment) to is startling and her physical exhaustion was made all the more pronounced by it. The physical element of factory labor is also a duality: one submission is to the machine, the other to the demands of the rate of production, which is man made. She writes, “Very hard work. … Physically however, I’m not feeling as well. After lunch (ate for 5.50 F in the hope of fortifying myself) it’s much worse/ my head swims – I work mechanically fortunately these pieces don’t jump like the C 4 X 8s.” The key word in 49

this passage is “mechanically”. For the workers Weil shared the factory floors with the only way to avoid becoming an automaton is to be stuck with “a bad saw” or some other failure of the machine. In such a situation, the difficulty of the interruption becomes the 50

49 50

Simone Weil, Formative Writings, 219. Ibid, 217.

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salvation of the intellect, allowing for a momentary respite from automatic physicality. Weil’s factory is a totality, and factory discipline – physically at least – is the only way to survive it. Nearly 10 years later, in The Need for Roots, Weil reaffirms this idea, writing “As for the workmen who will be spending their energies on this machine, nobody thinks twice about them. Nobody even thinks it possible to think about them. The most that ever happens is that from time to time some vague security apparatus is provided, although, in fact, severed fingers and factory stairs daily splashed with fresh human blood are such a common feature.”

51

Physical discipline (recall Springsted’s first criterion of suffering) mirrors the physicality of labor itself. In this sense the disciplinary context is dialectically imposed in the work environment. In the factory, the machine demands the perfection of certain movements. Weil offers the tool as the subject in the subject-object relationship. In other words, the tool produces not only the product but also the worker: “the tool makes you lose one mode of feeling, replaces it by another mode. You do not feel your fatigue, your suffering; you feel the fraise pressing down on the piece of metal.” This abstraction of 52

suffering takes the form of a naturalization of the body as the extension of the tool. The 53

work of the tool is the quiet discipline of the physical body alongside the creation of the product it is designed to make. In this regard, the disciplining of the worker by the tool could potentially offer an abstract respite from affliction, but it does not rise to the level of attention. Such an instantiation of discipline could be considered a cognate of Marxian false consciousness because it serves as both a bulwark against affliction and a simultaneous retrenchment of that very same status. For Simone Weil, discipline is equally present in the self-organization of freedom as it is the reality of the demands of capitalist specialization. Weil had already seized upon the contradiction of the selfperfection of oppression through self-identification with the tool. 51

52 53

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 56. Simone Weil, Notebooks, 21. Ibid, 10, 21.

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On a more ominous note, the compounding effects of the physical dispossession and the solitary nature of work in front of any given machine creates each subject as a tabula rasa for disciplinary imposition by the intermediaries of order and control. As a survival mechanism, discipline is simplified to being the humiliating ability to receive the harshness of arbitrary power, even in its most banal forms. What may appear to the reader as noteworthy abuses of power in Weil’s “Factory Journal” are described without superlative. The “abuse” of the foremen is expected and noted only for its repetitious occurrence and lack of extraordinary characteristics.

It is little wonder that Weil

describes the affect of her factory days as a form of slavery – one of the hallmarks of slavery being the inability to escape the arbitrary will not only of the slave-owner, but also of the overseer, and for that arbitrary will to be fully normalized and fully humiliating.

54

According to Weil, “the terror that takes hold of me when I realized how dependent I am on external circumstances,” that she could be forced to work without rest: “I would become a beast of burden, docile and resigned (at least for me).” In its 55

extremis, Weil’s metaphor of the beast of burden is far beyond Michel Foucault’s selfsurveiling subject or Marx’s wage-slave. Whereas in Marx and Foucault we are not necessarily aware of our docility or our participation in its continuance, and when we are aware of it, we tend towards resistance, which may bring about unexpected events, for Weil it is those who are most aware of their docility that are most afflicted. Secondly, the metaphor of the beast of burden calls to attention the fact that, as much in the 1930s and at present, the proximity to the threat of real, physical, violence is of great relevance to the demarcation and maintenance of a class of souls trained in and by affliction. This is revidenced by Alexander Irwin’s reading of Weil in his Saints of the Impossible (a study of the thought of Georges Bataille and Weil) when he suggests that Hobbes’ state of

54 55

Simone Weil, Formative Writings, 160. Simone Weil, Formative Writings, 171; Simone Weil, Seventy Letters, 21-22.

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nature never dissipates for the working class for both of these thinkers, but Weil especially.

56

For Weil it is of the greatest importance that the demarcation and maintenance of this class of malheureuses does not slide into the extinction of this very class. In this way, twentieth century discipline appears as a virtuous self-creation/imposition that maintains the social order. This reality must be repetitive by both design and function. The threatened, isolated, and humiliated worker goes to the factory each day – Weil recounts a story of being prevented from entering the factory while the foremen and managers shuffled past the workers and out of the rain – to be subjected to more threats, isolation, 57

and humiliation. With each reminder the humiliation becomes deeper and deeper, and for Weil it was almost too much. “The effect of exhaustion is to make me forget my real reasons for spending time in the factory, and to make it almost impossible for me to overcome the strongest temptation that this life entails: that of not thinking anymore, which is the one and only way of not suffering from it.”

58

By all accounts the disciplined and humiliated are Weil’s class of malheureuses. Spirngsted reminds us “the afflicted are forced to believe that their treatment is just. Since their hatred of affliction finds its immediate object in themselves, the afflicted turn this hatred inwards and think themselves despicable, evil, and unclean.” We can surmise 59

from Weil that physical isolation and exhaustion are the breeding grounds of disciplinary practice. By Weil’s accounting, humiliation is also a necessary condition for the external imputation of the trained soul. The self-productive work involved in the training of the soul is one of protracted struggle up until the point of absolute docile victory/defeat of the self. The training, thereby, of a non-self or a docile soul that is over-determined by the forces that surround it is the hallmark of industrial capitalism’s configuration of oppression. 56

57

58 59

Alexander Irwin, Saints of the Impossible, 50. Simone Weil, Seventy Letters, 33. Simone Weil, Formative Writings, 171. Eric O. Spingsted, Simone Weil and the Suffering of Love, 29.

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In being trained and becoming afflicted the individual’s social ties are severed to the point that they can only act as docile or afflicted bodies. The transformation of the working and unemployed classes is achieved only when training is so ingrained into daily life that there is the appearance of a total impossibility of respite, let alone escape or liberation. The transformation of the person into the worker into the slave, in descending order, corresponds to the advancement of the techniques of training of the soul and the growth of affliction therein. And because the soul, rather than the body, is the true target of training, the paradigm persists. Weil describes the reality of the humiliation of the worker through a pessimistic metaphor of the imagination in her Notebooks, ‘Not to think of the polar bear.’ The 60

vision she describes from Dostoyevsky’s Winter Notes on Summer Impressions in which the thing that is feared, the polar bear, becomes the central focus of one’s imagination and consciousness. For Dostoyevsky not thinking of the polar bear is the situation one finds onseelf in when fiving one’s self wholly to society, and yet still unconsciously expecting something in return. For Weil, the polar bear is also a crushing metaphor of 61

the powers of the collectivity on the individual, albeit not from a humanitarian perspective but from the perspective of the oppressed: ‘Not to think of the polar bear.’ Any thought whatsoever which imposes itself, which returns again and again … can serve as polar bear – if it is a thought of such a kind that one wants to set it aside, and not on the contrary to ponder it more deeply. Thus pain, humiliation, blows to self-esteem, wounded feelings – all vain sufferings can, by their very vanity, serve as polar bear, which represents a manner of using them. 62

Though Weil includes “vanity” and “vain sufferings” as indications of the polar bear these personal instantiations of the phenomenon reinforce the inability to ignore the See Lea Winerman, "Suppressing the 'white bears'" apa.org. American Psychological Association. Retrieved 18 February 2016. See also, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, trans. David Patterson (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1997). Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, trans. Kyril FitzLyon (Richmond, UK; Alma Classics, 2008), 75-76. Simone Weil, Notebooks, 59.

60

61

62

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humiliation that one experiences during and in the aftermath of work. In her “Factory Journal” Weil describes her own experience with the polar bear. How is it that I, a slave, can get on this bus and ride on it for my 12 sous just like anyone else? What an extraordinary favor! If someone brutally ordered me to get off, telling me that such comfortable forms of transportation are not for me, that I have got to go on foot, I think that would seem completely natural to me. Slavery has made me entirely lose the feeling of having any rights. It appears to me to be a favor when I have a few moments in which I have nothing to bear in the way of human brutality. These moments are like smiles from heaven, a gift of chance. Let’s hope that I will stay in this state of mind, which is so reasonable. 63

Weil’s worker, trained in and by humiliation, is made docile to the point of not thinking herself as an equal member of society – it is a form of simultaneous disenchantment, disempowerment, and disenfranchisement. In this passage, it appears that humiliation is the polar bear. If we look closer, however, it is not the humiliation that is Weil’s polar bear. It is slavery itself. The soul of the slave cannot help but reflect on her own slavery. The trained soul cannot but think of its own training. The polar bear is not the humiliation; it is the inability to think of anything else than what is humiliating. Thinking of the polar bear is the hatred of the self and the consistent return to that thought is counter to the ability to give attention to the needs of the soul. At the risk of being repetitive, the external oppression by the managerial and political classes only enhances and reinforces the realm of material need at the cost of the needs of the soul. This is inclusive of the needs for order, obedience, hierarchy, and punishment. While these needs are not necessarily free of arbitrary will, they are expected to be rational. While they are not necessarily changeable, they are expected to have a certain fluidity to them. The most significant difference, however, is that order, obedience, hierarchy, and punishment must have an educational purpose.

64

63 64

Simone Weil, Formative Writings, 211. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 10, 14, 19, 21.

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Attention: “Something in our soul has far more violent repugnance for true attention than the flesh has for bodily fatigue. This something is much more closely connected with evil than is the flesh. That is why every time that we really concentrate our attention, we destroy the evil in ourselves.” 65

The needs of the soul require a certain form of attention that is highlighted by Weil’s concept of discipline in a way that does not exist in Foucault’s thought because it is not a “technology” of the self. Yet it is a prequel to the final functioning of Foucualdian discipline. Just as true discipline is to the point of unconscious action, “attention is often unconscious: when one gives all one’s attention to something one is not aware that one is doing it. … Complete attention is like unconsciousness.” Attention, 66

as a discipline, begins with great effort. And as a discipline it is both a goal of training and a form of training in itself. The distinction is that there is no analogous force, either social or corporeal, that produces attention in the same way that the prison or the factory produces discipline. Teachers cannot infuse their students with attention, only discipline. In this regard, Weil uses the example of the Church as an educator: “The jurisdiction of the Church in matters of faith is good in so far as it imposes on the intelligence a certain discipline of the attention; also in so far as it prevents it from entering the domain of the Mysteries, which is foreign to it, and from straying about therein.” And in Foucauldian 67

fashion this is a redoubling effect that is in conjunction with our own internal resistance to attention. Weil writes in “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God,” “Something in our soul has far more violent repugnance for true attention than the flesh has for bodily fatigue. This something is much more closely connected with evil than is the flesh.”

65

66

67 68

68

Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 61-62. Simone Weil, Lectures on Philosophy, 95. Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 61. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 61-62.

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Attention lies at the heart of Simone Weil’s disciplinary dialectic. It both opposes the pressure to become and automaton and to surrender to the constraints of the powerful. “The worst outrage […] is violation of the workers’ attention. This is perhaps an example of a sin against the spirit which is unforgivable if committed deliberately. It destroys that faculty of the soul which is the source of all spiritual action.” Meanwhile, attention 69

simultaneously refuses to be disorganized. It is creative in its obligation to the truth. This obligation is chief among the needs of the soul and the purpose towards which each of the other needs moves.

70

Attention as the disciplined act of obligation is directed in three ways – towards the less fortunate or the comrade , towards study (particularly of geometry and 71

72

philosophy), and towards God. Not a single one of these forms of true attention, rather 73

than simple concentration which remains only an intellectual practice, come without significant effort of the soul. And in order to expend this effort the soul must be trained to be sufficiently open to the results and returns of such an orientation. As Weil describes it, “Attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty, and ready to be penetrated by the object; it means holding in our minds, within reach of this thought, but on a lower level and not in contact with it, the diverse knowledge we have acquired which we are forced to make use of.” In bringing intellectual training into contact with a 74

mysticism of true openness, Weil constructs a dialectic in which the negation of the negation (in spite of her own protestations ) of the negation is, in the end, an affirmative 75

negation: “That is why every time that we really concentrate our attention, we destroy the evil in ourselves.”

76

Simone Weil, “Prerequisite to Dignity of Labour” in An Anthology, ed. Siân Miles, 264-276 (New York: Penguin, 2005), 275. Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 60. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 64. Ibid., 57. Ibid. Ibid. 62. Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks, 17. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 62.

69

70 71

72 73

74

75 76

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And though true attention “does not involve tiredness,” its fullest capacities can 77

be achieved through more than one means. On the one hand is the mystical-political love of neighbor. On the other hand is the mysticism of work, which is political in an entirely different way. Attention, as the form and direction of the training of the soul towards the love of neighbor, is one of conscious training to reach the level of the unthinking moment of care and solidarity that is required for a truly compassionate politics, and by extension a truly revolutionary politics without which liberty is impossible. Attention in regards to the mysticism of work is contradictorily a form of liberated labor and simultaneously requires a certain liberty in order to be reached in the first place. This is not meant to imply that Weil considers the form of labor she interrogates to be free in any way. However, there are two forms of free labor that Weil does see as being possible. In her utopian vision of post-war France small workshops dominate production. Each worker is an educated artisan with expert focus on their own part of the process and a clear understanding of the project as a whole: the wheel-maker for trains would not be subject to the tyranny of the engineer. All work together in the communal workshop where there are free discussions of the best way to build the final product, including those who will be making use of it. This is her answer to an earlier analysis of the purposelessness of the life of the worker in the organization of labor in capitalism.

78

The second form of free labor in modernity, according to Weil, is spiritual labor. Spiritual labor is not the labor of the clergy. Spiritual labor is not, necessarily, the work of the mystics or the creative class. Instead it is labor that is in touch with the rhythms of the world. One of the primary distinctions between this form of free labor and the dominated, docile, disciplined existence of Foucault’s disciplined subject (whether prisoner, soldier, or monk) is the measurement of the workday in general.

77 78

Ibid. 61. Simone Weil, An Anthology, 267.

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Simone Weil’s “Factory Journal” may be read as an addendum to the chapter on “The Working Day” in Marx’s Capital. While the narrative of each is different, the primary context of these historical writings is the means by which the worker is controlled and struggles against her domination. The day itself is what is at stake for these writers as a foundational point. Whether it is Marx’s description of the struggles for a humane length of the working day, Foucault’s description of the scheduling of the day itself, or Weil’s concessions to making the rate for the piece-work she took up during her year in the factories around Paris, each of these writers is concerned with that thing that “makes [the workers’] servitude apparent, … the time clock.”

79

Weil continues, “The succession of [the workers’] movements is not designated in factory parlance by the word ‘rhythm’ but by ‘cadence.’ This is only right, for that succession is the contrary of rhythm.” The distinction between cadence and rhythm is 80

two-fold. Materially it is a distinction between the actual conditions of the work being done. Affectively the distinction is one of dignity, “any series of movements that participates of the beautiful and is accomplished with no loss of dignity, implies movements of rhythm and give the beholder, even across extremes of rapidity, the impression of leisureliness.”

81

The impression of leisureliness in rhythmic work, because it is only an impression, does not exclude hard work. For Weil, “the peasant’s toil is necessarily obedient to the world’s rhythm” and therefore stands in direct contradiction to the 82

cadence of mechanical labor. The implication here is that the work of the peasant, the agricultural worker that is, contains within its movements a tellurically rooted spiritualism. In this way, Weil approaches a fetishism of those who are low and close to nature. This movement brings her surprisingly close to her intellectual opponent, Georges Simone Weil, “Factory Work” in The Simone Weil Reader: A Legendary Spiritual Odyssey of Our Time, ed. George A. Panichas, 53-72 (New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1977), 55. Ibid. 55. Ibid. 61. Ibid. 69.

79

80

81 82

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Bataille , and yet she does not fall into his trap of fetishizing filth and the filthy. Weil 83

writes, critically, “All oppressive societies give birth to a false conception of the relationship between man and nature, from the mere fact that it is only the downtrodden who are in direct contact with nature, that is to say those who are excluded from theoretical culture, deprived of the right of and opportunity for self-expression; and conversely, the false conception so formed tends to prolong the duration of the oppression, in so far as it causes this separation between thought and work to seem legitimate.” Instead, Simone Weil valorizes the attention to the world that is required to 84

do such work – she attempts to glean an understanding of the theoretical, intellectual, and spiritual elements of work in the dirt. Unlike the workshop form of labor she proposes in The Need for Roots, which is political, and, alongside her mystical morality, the mystic labor of the land is moral and alongside of her communist politics. The workshop is about community with others, the land is about community with nature. Communal life with nature – in Weil’s thought and elsewhere – is not apolitical. It is communal, after all. In its essence, the distinction between the mystical work of the land and the material work of the factory is, through nature, the relationship to time and space: “He who has to labor everyday feels in his body that time is inexorable. To work. To undergo time and space. … ‘Work as a spiritual exercise.’ ‘Work as a mystical experience.’ ‘Work as poetry.’” These fragmentary statements from Weil’s Notebooks could apply to 85

either situation, but when taken alongside the considerations on the distinction between the natural rhythms of agrarian labor and the cadence of factory work, it is clear that in her thinking the spiritual exercise was only available in one form and not the other. These are contraries of conscious and unconscious attention, contraries of attention to the

See Georges Bataille, “Base Materialism and Gnosticism,” in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 19271939, ed. Allan Stoekl, 45-52 (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1985). Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 30. Simone Weil, Notebooks, 79.

83

84 85

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machine and attention to the world, contraries of the oppression of the bosses and the obligation to God. This decidedly anti-modern movement in Weil’s thought does not offer the ability to escape from cadence, but it does offer freedom from conscious attention and the oppression of the bosses. Attention to the machine can become unconscious, and even spiritual in her utopian picture of workshop labor. Discipline, in that instance, is generated by social and moral obligation to the other workshop members (in the immediate sense) and society as a whole (mediated by the product of labor). This trained soul is as far from the Foucauldian version of the disciplined individual as the agrarian mystic moving in time with the sun and God’s will is from the factory worker on the graveyard shift. Attention as a form of training, in preparation for its true form in prayer, follows 86

the pattern set forth in Baruch Spinoza’s Treatise On the Emendation of the Intellect.

87

Simone Weil suggests that the process of opening oneself to knowledge, and particularly 88

allowing that knowledge that exists to penetrate the mind without forcing oneself to attain the highest form of attention before one has passed through the other forms of attention will make the knowledge sought unattainable. Just as Spinoza, in his utmost Jewishness, suggests, we can only have attention to God (or highest knowledge) rather than knowing God (or highest knowledge).

89

Unlike Spinoza who assumes that knowledge is desirable for the sake of knowledge, Weil’s attention is not simply for the sake of attention. Attention is predisposed towards the acts of the love of God, in both their implicit and explicit forms. From a materialist perspective this is certainly problematic. Attention, as the training of Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 57. This dissertation is very far from the first to imply, argue, suggest, or otherwise explain that Weil takes a great deal from Spinoza. To go through a list of citations would be to list nearly every book-length study of Weil’s thought as well as many articles. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 62. See Baruch Spinoza, Treatise “On the Emendation of the Intellect” in Complete Works, trans. Samuel Shirley, 1-30 (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2002). For Weil’s method see also, Simone Weil, Lectures in Philosophy.

86 87

88

89

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the soul, comes from a materialist grounding in work and/or intellectual study philosophy and the sciences. However, Weil’s end, similar to Spinoza’s but different in its exacting, is attention to the spiritual capacities of the soul that are not only found in work and in the history of intellectual knowledge. The end of the attention to God is the opening of the soul to the possibility of God’s presence, as Weil did herself when reciting the Our Father in Solesmes. This is not the same as attaining the desirable knowledge, qua Spinoza, that 90

she argues is impetus for attention in the first place. In the School Studies essay, Weil 91

writes, “The intelligence can only be led by desire. For there to be desire, there must be pleasure and joy in the work. The intelligence only grows and bears fruit in joy. The joy of learning is as indispensable in study as breathing is in running. Where it is lacking there are no real students, but only poor caricatures of apprentices…”

92

This contradiction in Simone Weil’s idea of attention between her conception of conscious concentration and the openness of true attention is relevant to the complicated nature of her mysticism in general. The mystical work of the soul is always carried out in the material realm. In such a fashion, attention to natural rhythms, spiritual labor, and intellectual vocation (for lack of a less Protestant word) all pale in comparison to the inherently Christian idea of attention to affliction and the Greek idea of attention to beauty. This move begins with the command to love the material reality of the creation. 93

94

The beauty of the world, in Weil’s estimation, is not only embodied in the rhythmic nature of agricultural labor but is also held in the sublime and natural. This is meant to be the beauty of the entirety of the world, “We have to be catholic, that is to say, not bound by so much as a thread to any created thing, unless it be to creation in its totality.” That is to say, to know that this world is a totality, rife with contradiction, and 95

Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 329-331. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 59, 61. Ibid. 61. For Weilienne musings on beauty as a concept in itself, see Elaine Scarry’s fantastic book On Beauty and Being Just. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 3. Ibid. 50.

90 91

92 93

94 95

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to be attentive to the contradictions that exist within this totality of both the created world of God and the world that humanity has created for itself as a reflection of its own image. “The sea is not less beautiful in our eyes because we know that sometimes ships are wrecked by it. On the contrary, this adds to its beauty. If it altered the movement of its waves to spare a boat, it would be a creature gifted with discernment and choice and not this fluid, perfectly obedient to every external pressure. It is this perfect obedience that constitutes the sea’s beauty.” Attention to beauty is attention to those things that can 96

draw us out of the suffering of the world and bring joy to our souls. And yet, for Weil the joy of the soul can only get us part of the way there: “Through joy, the beauty of the world penetrates our soul. Through [affliction] it penetrates our body. We could no more become friends of God through joy alone than one becomes a ship’s captain by studying books on navigation. The body plays a part in all apprenticeships. On the plane of physical sensibility, suffering alone gives us contact with that necessity which constitutes the order of the world, for pleasure does not involve an impression of necessity.”

97

Attention to affliction is the truest form of attention. It is felt in the body and the soul is trained through that penetration. In fact, for Simone Weil, attention to God and the love of God is impossible without attention to affliction. In her essay on “Forms of the Implicit Love of God” Weil lays out the formulae for the organization of attention towards affliction. “The implicit love of God can have only three immediate objects, the only three things here below in which God is really through secretly present. There are religious ceremonies, the beauty of the world, and our neighbor. Accordingly there are three loves” and three forms of attention. We have already covered the beauty of the 98

world in which beauty is constituted as contradiction and the religious ceremonies in which true attention is constituted as prayer. The love of neighbor, on the other hand, has

96

97 98

Ibid. 76. Ibid. 79. Ibid. 83.

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only been suggested up until now and can be understood as the analog to the idea of attention to affliction. This combination of the attention to affliction and the love of neighbor is of great interest for any reader of Weil who seeks a form of solidarity emanating from her pessimistic and lonely writings. Ironically, this is where Weil is at her most Christian. “The Gospel,” she teaches, “makes no distinction between the love of our neighbor and justice.” This comes with its own troubling secondary thought, “The supernatural virtue 99

of justice consists of behaving exactly as though there were equality when one is stronger in an unequal relationship.” Such a contradiction can be understood in two ways: firstly 100

that justice is only an option for those who hold power, or secondly, that justice is only available where injustice already exists. Both of these moves require a form of denunciation of the self. This attention to affliction becomes, then a move toward the form of self-abolition which Weil calls “decreation.” “To wish for the existence of this free consent in another, deprived of it by affliction, is to transport oneself into him; it is to consent to affliction oneself, that is to say to the destruction of oneself. It is to deny oneself. In denying oneself, one becomes capable under God of establishing someone else by a creative affirmation. One gives oneself in ransom for the other. It is a redemptive act.”

101

This redemption is two-fold, for Weil. Firstly, it is the redemption of the afflicted neighbor through the just acts of the attentive party. Secondly, it is the redemption of the attentive party through the act of justice in which they open themself to the affliction of their neighbor. A whole transcendental process takes place through a simple question: “The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: ‘What are you going through?’ It is a recognition that the sufferer exists, not only as a unit in a collection, or a specimen from the social category labeled ‘unfortunate,’ but as a man, 99

100 101

Ibid. 85. Ibid. 87. Ibid. 91.

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exactly like us, who was one day stamped with a special mark by affliction.” As a basis 102

for solidarity, the openness to the affliction of another cannot be underestimated.

102

Ibid. 64.

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Chapter Three: Above Sin: A Pessimistic Morality of Violence and Revolution “Human mechanics. Whoever is suffering seeks to communicate his suffering – either by ill-treating another or by provoking pity – so as to lessen it, and really does lessen it this way.”

1

The affective and moral qualities of the oppression of the afflicted, a phenomenon that manifests in the idolatry of formal institutions and the strategic humiliation of workers at the hands of their bosses (and customers), permeate the soul. The weight of affliction causes the afflicted to identify with their humiliation. According to Simone Weil, this has the effect of a reconstruction of their understanding of themselves and their predilection for submission to harsher and harsher oppression. Through the metaxu (the mediation) of violence and “the power of words” – and the word “revolution” in particular – this chapter will explore the ramifications of this pessimistic view of moral suffering on the prospects of revolt. The following pages will, first, explicate Weil’s critique of and conditions for violence; second, it will explore Weil’s hesitancies concerning the prospects of revolution. The previous two chapters of this dissertation have been a discussion of the form and content of oppression as understood by Simone Weil. This chapter will discuss the imposition and resistance to that same oppression. It is through Weil’s writings on violence and revolution that the student of her work may find the basis of her image of the slave that was brought to the forefront of Chapter Two. It is also through her writings on violence and revolution that the deracination of populations and the underpinnings of her Platonic understanding of the State as the conqueror of itself can be further explored. 2

Simone Weil, Notebooks, 122. The Athenian, in Plato’s The Laws, makes his case that each individual is at war with themself, he then expands this argument to each “household, village, and state….” This premise is indebted to Plato’s connection of the city and man in The Republic. Cleinias then responds to The Athenian, “Wherever the better people subdue their inferiors, the state may rightly be said to be ‘conqueror of’ itself, and we should

1 2

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Weil’s ancient and modern influences intersect in her thinking on violence, highlighting the influences of Homer, the Upanishads, Hobbes, and Hegel. Weil’s philosophy of language, or at least the political implications thereof, will also be further explored in this chapter through Weil’s concerns about the vagary of the term “revolution.” This chapter will also engage directly with Simone Weil’s critique of fascism. Upon turning to Weil’s thoughts on revolution, it will draw on the context the political situations in Germany, France, and Spain in the 1930s and 1940s and the political debates of the time. Both her critique of violence and her hesitancies concerning the prospects for revolution are clear examples of her underlying politics of moral pessimism. The French anarcho-syndicalist Georges Sorel, in his 1904 Reflections on Violence, draws an often useful distinction between “force” and “violence”: “Sometimes the terms ‘force’ and ‘violence’ are used in speaking of acts of authority, sometimes in speaking of acts of revolt. It is obvious that the two cases give rise to very different consequences. I think that it would be better to adopt a terminology which would give rise to no ambiguity, and that the term ‘violence’ should be employed only for the second sense.” What Sorel is accomplishing here is significant. By distinguishing between 3

“force” which is repressive, and “violence” which is liberatory, he gives violence a normative substance that moves it into the camp of the proletarian revolutionary. This gives the word a definitive meaning, which is significant in and of itself, and also hints at a definition of resistance that can be associated with the act of violence. Sorel’s violence is not necessarily a physical act of harming another human being. The strike is a form of violence in its disruption of the quotidian even if it goes off without a single physical injury.

be entirely justified in praising it for its victory. Where the opposite happens, we must give the opposite verdict.” Plato, The Laws, trans. Trevor J. Saunders (NewYork: Penguin, 1970), 626d-627a. Georges Sorel, Reflections on Violence, trans. Jeremy Jennings, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999),165.

3

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While Weil does not subscribe to this linguistic distinction she does learn from 4

Sorel, as well as Marx, that violence is a central historical phenomenon, bordering on the ontological, that is the persistent driver of epochs. Its uses and purposes, especially in the pursuit of political change, troubled her greatly and drove Weil to adopt internally contradictory political positions. The case of violence is the best possible example of what Maurice Blanchot meant by his comment that “She does not give the outward impression of having been capable of the immobility that she recommends to thought.”

5

Her experiences with violence and the revolutionary cause in the streets of Paris and the hills Aragon and Catalonia, built on the foundations of her experience with affliction in 6

the factories to pave the way to her full embrace of mystical Christianity in the aftermath of the Nazi invasion and the capitulation of Vichy. She would intermix this supernatural embrace with her materialist politics in her utopian vision for post-war France, The Need for Roots. Further piecing together the layers of Weil’s critique of oppression requires comprehending violence and revolution as foundational phenomena both in the imposition of deracination, uprootedness, and in affliction, its manifestation in the individual. Deracination is a social condition of a people who have had history inflicted upon them; Weil defines its occurrence through violence as such: [Deracination] occurs whenever there is military conquest, and in this sense conquest is nearly always evil. There is the minimum of uprootedness when the conquerors are migrants who settle down in the conquered country, intermarry with the inhabitants and take root themselves. Such was the case with the Hellenes in Greece, the Celts in Gaul and the Moors in Spain. … Even without Weil’s translators also conflate “might” and “force.” The translation of “L'Iliade, ou le poème de la force” found in Simone Weil, An Anthology and translated by Mary McCarthy (this is the original 1945 English translation that appeared in Dwight Macdonald’s journal, politics, is “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force.” The Translation that appears in Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks, a volume that is anonymously edited and translated, is titled “The Iliad, or the Poem of Might.” The implications of this miscalculated alteration are significant. “Might” in the English implies a characteristic of a person or nation. One who is “mighty” has an awesome power. “Force,” on the other hand, is a more neutral and impalpable, even natural, phenomenon. This, as will be described in this chapter, is most certainly what Simone Weil has in mind. Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, 122. Weil crossed into Spain to join the Durruti Column in 1936 at Port-Bou, the same border crossing at which Walter Benjamin took his own life four years later fleeing the Race Laws of Vichy France. See Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 269.

4

5

6

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military conquest, money-power and economic domination can so impose a foreign influence as actually to provoke this disease of [deracination]. 7

And the same can be said under the name of revolution: Under the same name of revolution, and often using identical slogans and subjects for propaganda, lie concealed two conceptions entirely opposed to one another. One consists in transforming society in such a way that the working-class may be given roots in it; while the other consists in spreading to the whole of society the disease of uprootedness which has been inflicted on the working-class. 8

There is a great deal to unpack in these two quotations from The Need for Roots. The very real phenomena of military conquest, economic domination, and revolution are raised as forms of violence that must be contended with. Violence, for Weil, is not simply a means, and so the student of her thought and the student of violence must go deeper to avoid the mistake Walter Benjamin cautioned against in his “Critique of Violence,” when he wrote “For if violence is a means, a criterion for criticizing it might seem immediately available. It imposes itself in the question whether violence, in a given case, is a means to a just or an unjust ends.” Like 9

Benjamin, Weil had come up against the rise of fascism in France and Germany and was searching for the justice that would be its undoing. Unlike liberalism, which attempts to hide its underlying violence, or socialism and communism, which often accept violence 10

as a tactic of revolution, fascism, per Benito Mussolini’s conceptualization, came to be 11

and existed in a perpetual state of mobilized violence. Facing this existential and explicit 12

threat of totalizing violence, intellectuals on the far left, especially those who were influenced by a mysticism of any persuasion like Weil and Benjamin, would seek to critique a neutralized understanding of violence and its effects on social organization.

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 44. Ibid. 48. Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 236. Walter Benjamin conceives of two kinds of violence, “mythical” or “law-preserving” and “lawmaking” and “divine” or “law destroying.” Ibid., 241, 243, 248, 249. The list of communist and socialist thinkers who have excused violence for the purpose of revolution while disparaging it for any other purpose is too long to recreate here. See Federico Finchelstein, "On Fascist Ideology," in Constellations (Blackwell Publishing) 15, No.3 (2008): 320-331.

7

8 9

10

11

12

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This chapter is divided into four sections: the first three sections will present Weil’s critique of violence; the fourth will focus on her understanding of revolution. The three sections on violence focus first on Simone Weil’s reflections on war as the archetypical form of violence in the 1930s and 1940s. This is followed by close readings of her reflections on her own experience in the Spanish Civil War in her “Letter to Georges Bernanos,” a fellow French intellectual who had lived in Majorca during the war, and of her essay “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force” alongside her reflections on permutations in her notebooks on the Bhagavad-Gita. Finally, the fourth section of this chapter engages with Weil’s concept of revolution and the mystical-political implications of how she intends for it to be carried out.

On War: “In antiquity, there were slaves, but it was only the citizens who fought wars. Today we have invented something better; we first of all reduce whole populations to slavery, and then we use them as cannon fodder.” 13

The steel girding of Simone Weil’s skyscraping critique of violence is her understanding of the use and disuse of war in an era capped by wars in which her native France played a central role. Comprehension of her views on pacifism, conquest, and when and how to make moral war, are the first step to understanding the moral paradox of violence in her thought. In the years immediately preceding the Second World War, it seemed to Weil and her contemporaries that France was surrounded by the advance of fascism in Italy, Germany, and Spain; many French citizens fought for or against 14

fascism in Paris (1934), in Spain (1936), and as collaborators with the Nazi Occupation and Vichy regime or as members of the Resistance (1940-44). Weil’s generation, especially those “children of [the] first generation [of] assimilated Jews found themselves

Simone Weil, “Who is Guilty of Anti-French Plots?” in Simone Weil On Colonialism, An Ethic of the Other, trans. J.P. Little, 45-50 (New York; Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 49. Franco’s government did not subscribe to the same fascist necessity of constant mobilization to the point of its own destruction in the same way as Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany. Catholic Conservatism was the ideology of the Franco regime once in power.

13

14

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in an even more difficult situation” due to the aggressive anti-Semitism of the French and German variants of fascism. Mary Dietz explains that Weil saw the fascist idea as “an 15

example of the worship of ersatz greatness” that subsumed the uprooted individual into a predatory collectivity and through the alienated “ideology of self.”

16

Simone Weil’s writings on violence are, no matter how influenced by Homer, the Upanishads, Hobbes, and Marx, always written with fascism in mind. “Furthermore,” Weil writes, “to recognize the kinship between war and fascism, all one has to do is turn to the fascist texts that conjure up the ‘martial spirit’ and ‘socialism of the front.’ Both war and fascism essentially involve a kind of aggravated fanaticism that leads to the total effacement of the individual before the state bureaucracy. … The absurdity of adopting war as a means of antifascist struggle is thus quite apparent.” Fascism, at its variants in 17

Germany and Japan drew the world into war in Weil’s lifetime, but its military defeat in World War II came after her death. she came to see her ideas about nonintervention in support of an independent Czechoslovakia (in 1939) to be foolish. However, she did not 18

live to see her idea of confronting fascism with compassion disproved by history with the military victories of 1944 and 1945. Nevertheless, her fear was not completely unfounded, as even in The Need for Roots and her note On the Abolition of all Political Parties in 1942 she warned against the dangers of the totalitarian impulses that she saw in the Soviet Union and in the tendencies of the Gaullist government in exile. Simone Weil’s two most well-known writings on violence come from exactly the political space of anti-fascism and a resistance to totalitarianism. The pacifism for which Simone Wiel is know is largely drawn from the 1938 letter “To [Georges] Bernanos” and the 1939 essay on the Iliad are testaments to both Weil’s discomfort with violence and the intellectual process by which she often attempts to convince herself of its necessity. Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine, 11. Ibid. 170. Simone Weil, “War and Peace,” in Formative Writings, 1929-1941, trans. Dorothy Tuck McFarland and Wilhemina Van Ness, 227-278 (Amherst, MA; The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987), 246. See also, Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 281. Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 281.

15 16

17

18

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Before the Letter “To Georges Bernanos” and the essay on the Iliad, is a collection of writings published in English under the title, “War and Peace.” Just as we live under the constant threat of terrorism, real and imagined, in our contemporary era, beginning in 1933 Simone Weil wrote that “[war] seems to dominate our era and be its most characteristic feature” three years before the war in Spain had begun. 19

In one of these collected essays, “Reflections on War,” published in La Critique sociale, in 1933, Weil sides with Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg in their analysis of the First World War, writing “in every war, with the exception of wars of national defense or revolutionary wars according to Lenin, and with the exception of revolutionary wars alone according to Rosa Luxemburg, the proletariat must wish for the defeat of its own country and sabotage the war effort in it.” Though she still finds fault with this idea, because “[i]t seems to destroy the international proletariat’s unity of action, obliging the workers in each country, who must work for their country’s defeat, to thereby favor the victory of the enemy imperialism, a victory that other workers must try to prevent.” The 20

reader can see the problem that Simone Weil opens from the perspective of the working class struggle against capitalism – war inevitably divides the potential revolutionaries. As such, it contributes to oppression and must be opposed. To give in to this inevitable contest of nationalized working classes would be, for Weil, to invite catastrophe and the advancement of deracination.

21

This tragedy, in Weil’s understanding, follows from her own reorganization of Carl von Clausewitz’s famous dictum that “War is the extension of politics by other means”—that war is, in its essence, the extension of capitalism by its own means. What 22

does this mean? “On the one hand,” Weil writes, “modern war is only an extension of Ibid., 240-241. Ibid., 238. Simone Weil, “War and Peace,” in Formative Writings: 1929-41, ed. Dorothy Tuck McFarland and Wilhelmina Van Ness, trans. Dorothy Tuck McFarland and Wilhelmina Van Ness, 227-278 (Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1987), 241. Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 241; E. Jane Doering, Simone Weil and the Specter of SelfPerpetuating Force, 65.

19

20

21

22

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that other war known as competition, which makes production itself into a simple form of the struggle for power; on the other hand, every aspect of economic life is presently oriented toward a coming war.” By a transitive property, the preparation for war by way 23

of capitalism submits the workers to the means of production, and those same workers’ becoming soldiers submits them “to the instruments of combat, and the armaments, the real heroes of modern wars, are, just like the men dedicated to their service, controlled by those who do not fight.”

24

Weil’s anti-war position is directly drawn from the understanding that war “constitutes a fact of domestic policy, and the most atrocious one of all.” War — as well 25

as the creation of the soldier and the sacrifice for the nation — is an integral element in Weil’s understanding of the State drawn from Plato’s claim, in The Laws, that the State is the conqueror of itself. The critique of this Platonic modality of the State is supported by her criticism of the Hobbes’ argument that one is always free to pursue self-preservation. Weil counters this, writing that “every soldier is constrained to sacrifice his very life to the demands of the military machine, and he is forced to do so by … the power of the state.” Thus, Weil writes powerfully, “Since this controlling apparatus has no other 26

means of defeating the enemy except by forcing its own soldiers to go to their deaths, the war of one state against another is immediately transformed into a war of the state and military apparatus against its own army.” War is then a use of violence abroad for the 27

sake of the continuation of the oppression at home. It is an almost perfect Platonic and Hobbesean mechanism that reinforces the social contract, replicating it or imposing it in the newly conquered or pacified land, as is supported by the argument in Chapter 20 of Leviathan, “Of Dominion Paternal and Despotical,” which immediately follows (and undermines) Hobbes’ acclimation-based social contract laid out in his previous three

23 24

25

26 27

Simone Weil, Formative Writings, 241. Ibid. Ibid., 242. Ibid. Ibid., 241.

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chapters. Weil accepts that the dominion of conquest is a fact of history, but rejects its 28

legitimacy by her fierce anti-colonial and anti-war positions. The State, it seems, is not just the conqueror of itself, but also the perennial and perpetual conqueror of others at the same time and “one’s native land never seems so beautiful as when under the heel of a conqueror.” In both cases, the State and its wars are mechanisms and manners of 29

deracination.

30

The State’s conquest of itself through the process of modernization and centralization exemplified, in The Need for Roots, by Richelieu, created a centralized France and an idolatrous sense of Frenchness by the extermination of its regional intricacies and identities. This is the first form of deracination Weil believes to be the product of the war-making state. The second of these phenomena is the conscription of the afflicted classes into a national military in which they will be trained for murder and for docility. For Weil, the organization of society for the purpose of violence is the most abhorrent of all social forms. She criticizes the imposition of society on soldiers and those who work in war industries. In fact, when a State has entered this modality of organization, she argues, all industries are war industries. The State, finally, becomes an agent of deracination when it makes war against another State. Occupation, destruction, Hobbes’ explication of the acclimation of the sovereign through the social contract comes in two parts and assumes a generally democratic character. In the social contract each negotiator contracts with the other individuals involved in the negotiation to join together and put aside their perpetual state of war. There is then the acclimation of a sovereign who remains outside of the contract as its guarantor and executor. The sovereign then takes on the power over life and death while simultaneously shielding the contractors from the impunity of death and removing from them the power to take life except in the name of the sovereign. These individual contractors may remove themselves from the contract if their life is imperiled either by another contractor or by the sovereign. The sovereign may also remove an individual contractor from the contract by taking the life of that individual or by making a claim on that life that the individual is unwilling to give. Thusly, the rational conclusion is that one can run from battle if one rationally fears for one’s life. Chapter 20, which follows the construction of this contract, renders it obsolete by describing the same end point of the social contract, but without the protections for self-preservation. In this second version of dominion, the social contract is imposed by a sovereign upon the individual contractors through the paternal domination of the household or the despotical domination of acquired territories through conquest. An anarchist fellow traveller would understand the development of the modern state as a series of acts of despotically imposed domination, as Weil so clearly describes in The Need for Roots. See Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapter 20. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 101. See Simone Weil, The Need for Roots. To list a series of pages for this citation would, on the one hand, require an extensive list of numbers, on the other hand I would most certainly omit a number of possible references. Suffice it to say that this problematic of the State, generally, and the modern State, specifically, is a theme of the book as a whole.

28

29 30

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depopulation, the killing and imprisonment of enemy soldiers, and other forms of uprooting of peoples are both the intended and unintended results of making war. These three examples of how the State is metaxu between idolatrous intentions and the deracination of the people involved. In the first example the State is acting as the conqueror of itself, in the second the State is both the conqueror of itself and in preparation to extend that conquest, and in the third the State is the conqueror of external lands and peoples. In any case, the perpetuation of the State’s conquest of itself, for Weil as for Hobbes, must necessarily extend and expand. The only way to avoid this problem, according to Weil, was to follow something like Clausewitz’s elusive idea that war should always be proportional. Jane Doering, in her Simone Weil and the Specter of Self-Perpetuating Force (2010), is concerned with finding this balance in Weil’s thought. Doering attempts to answer the following: How did Weil deal with the question of violence in regard to the Nazi threat? And: How could her pacifism and her desire to combat Nazism come together while both agreeing to the need for force and simultaneously hoping for an ends through violence that would constitute a peaceful peace? Weil hoped that the disarming of the enemy would not be 31

immediately followed by the removal of dignity from the vanquished. Doering’s understanding of this formulation in Weil comes startlingly close to kinship with Richard Nixon’s declaration of his desire for a ‘peace with honor” in the Vietnam War. In this moment – and the close reader of Doering’s book cannot deny that this is a result of Doering’s own theological and political motivations for reading Weil –, Weil appears at her most conservative in spite of Doering’s hope to make her into a liberal Catholic in [Doering’s] own image. Doering is not entirely off-base in her understanding of Weil’s critique of violence. What Doering observes Weil searching for is not foreign to the republican streak in liberalism. Weil seeks to engage with the political question of what she calls, in 31

E. Jane Doering, Simone Weil and the Specter of Self-Perpetuating Force, 93.

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The Need for Roots, “obligation.” When it comes to war, however, obligation is 32

complicated by the destructive nature of the violence involved: “Man has no power whatever, and yet he does have a responsibility.” Weil muses in her Notebooks, “The future corresponds to responsibility, the past to powerlessness. And all that which is to come will become the past.” If the responsible Party is obligated but retroactively 33

powerless to act on said obligation, Weil’s conception of a dignified peace cannot be held as much other than an ethical quandary. The logic of a proportional self-defense, which Weil both advocates for and condemns in alternate breaths, is also not far from the logic of Hobbes’ sovereign and the justifiable resistance Hobbes offers in the face of death for the purpose of selfpreservation. This Clausewitzian paradox is born from the idea that the purpose of each war is to avoid the next war. The paradox is limitless: this logic comprehends each concurrent enemy as a potentially perennial enemy, one that may have to be ritually disarmed. This contradictory logic, however, seems more nihilistic than pessimistic. Doering’s Weil seems to argue for a violence that participates in a sort of tit-for-tat of justification. This logic, in practice, is closer to the fascist logic of perpetual mobilization such as we have seen in the post-Cold War “War on Terror,” itself both defensive and impossible to win. Such a logic, it seems to me, is anathema to Weil’s pessimistic moralism in regards to violence. There is another possible lesson to draw from Weil’s reflections on war that conforms to Doering’s argument for the self-perpetuation of force and violence. In such a reading, the violence of domestic deracination that takes place as the State works to be the conqueror of itself is projected outward when it runs up against resistance within. Instead of the re-conquest of the self, the conquest of external enemies and the uprooting of foreign populations is the immanent manifestation of the transcendent desire

32 33

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 3. Simone Weil, Notebooks, 97. Weil’s emphasis.

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for an idolatry of national unity within. The State as the social body that organizes and perpetuates war serves the metaxic function between these two purposes. Thus the selfperpetuation of force through the means of war and the mechanism of the State can be understood as the material grounding for Weil’s pessimistic moral critique of violence. In spite of all her hesitations, Simone Weil headed to Spain to join the anarchist Durruti Column in 1936. This was neither a controlled war, nor was it a war of proportional violence. It was a war of conquest and absolute violence prosecuted by all sides, and her participation in the Spanish Civil War placed her in a situation in which she was taking a direct part in the perpetuation of deracination and felt its effects on herself as well. By the end of this experience, which Weil eventually understood as a proxy war between Moscow, on one side, and Berlin and Rome, on the other, she had a much more nuanced take not only on war, but also on violence itself.

34

Letter to Bernanos “I have had an experience which corresponds to yours, … although it was apparently – but only apparently – embraced in a different spirit.” 35

Simone Weil’s time in Spain was largely spent with her comrades in arms’ attempting to avoid taking her on missions with them. Her nearsightedness – optomologically, rather than philosophically, speaking – made her a potential danger to them whenever she fired her rifle. Her exit was thus hastened when she stepped into a cook-pot in camp and 36

injured her foot. Her foot was not all that was injured in this experience. Weil left Spain 37

38

after the incident, and after some reflection began to see the betrayal of her ideas and the ideas of her fellow travellers in their actions in the conflict. In line with her modus Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 278. Simone Weil, Seventy Letters, 105. Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 272. Ibid., 274. Ibid. ,276. Pétrement writes of her parents’ worries about Simone Weil while she was in Spain, and that they went to Spain to find her: “At the end of five or six days they received a postcard signed “Aunt Louise,” which said: ‘I have seen Simone, I’ve tweaked her ears because she has done some foolish things; she is wounded, but you will see her soon.’” Her father was a physician and proceeded to treat and rebandage her wound.

34

35 36 37

38

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operandi of not ignoring those voices that opposed her politics, she found common cause with some of those on the right who shared her horror at the acts being carried out in the name of their opposing political goals. Georges Bernanos was a monarchist who wrote for various right-wing publications and published a number of novels, was well known among French intellectuals of Weil’s time. His 1938 novel, A Diary of My Times, looked back on his expatriated life on the Spanish island of Majorca after the Falange took control of the island at the outset of the war. His condemnation of the Falange’s atrocities in Majorca touched Weil to the point that she felt compelled to write to him of her experiences with the Durruti Column. Weil begins her letter by explaining to Bernanos why she chose to join the fight in Spain in the first place: I do not love war; but what has always seemed to me most horrible in war is the position of those in the rear. When I realized that, try as I would, I could not prevent myself from participating morally in that war – in other words, from hoping all day and every day for the victory of one side and the defeat of the other – I decided that, for me, Paris was the rear… 39

In the first case, Simone Weil is implicating herself in the moral quandary of the ideological battles that were so palpable in the political situation of the 1930s – a quandary anticipated by her critique of the formalization of passions by organized political parties. Weil’s unaffiliated status both prevented her from being able to remain in the rear and cleared her way to join the fight, as there was no one in a position to convince her not to. In writing to Bernanos, Weil was attempting to take account of a different phenomenon of the Spanish Civil War than the mass terror he described in his novel. But what she sought to instill in him was a shared horror that arose from the realities of the prosecution of war. What she describes in her letter is the spiral of violent acts, taken by the anarchists and communists with whom she had allied herself, that diverged from 39

Simone Weil, Seventy Letters, 106.

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battlefield heroism into vicious acts of reprisal taken against noncombatants thought to be sympathetic to their enemies.

40

roots of Agamben’s thanopolitics are never clearer than after reading Weil’s words. There can be no mistaking that already in 1938 Weil is putting words to an idea that has become part of the standard refrain in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, viz-a-vis, that the first step toward exterminating an enemy is the use of dehumanizing language. The reader may learn from Weil that the desacralization of the person is sufficient for extermination. It is, to put in in terms that Weil had not yet begun to use, the anathema sit that allows for murder. The victim remains human, in the most limited sense, but is relegated to the position of the anathema – everything that is sacred in them, everything that is valued in them, is anathema to social life. For Weil, the anathema sit is as much an act against the victim of violence as it is an act of violence against the potential violators in that it provides for them a nihilistic entrance into violent acts that do not need to be forgiven. She finds such an act to be both difficult to resist and morally unforgiveable. If the broadly social power of war is to pit the proletarian classes of different countries against each other in a bid to maintain the capitalist status quo, then the way in which this is reinforced on the battlefield itself is by turning these same people who have the potential for worldwide solidarity into nihilistic killers without remorse.

41

Weil’s philosophy presents the limitation of the struggle between combatants residing in a simple, and absolute, antagonism: kill or be killed. “The very purpose of the whole struggle [in Spain] is soon lost in an atmosphere of this sort. For the purpose can only be defined in terms of the public good, of the welfare of men – and men have become valueless. … But the will to humiliate the enemy which reveled itself so loathsomely everywhere at that time (and in the following years) was enough to cure me

40 41

Ibid., 106-109. Ibid.

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once and for all,” or so she believed at that time. According to Doering, for Weil “[t]he 42

illusionary power that came with arms was the power of destruction, which always met its limit and ricocheted back, bringing the havoc full circle. What had a hypnotizing effect that plunged one into a dreamlike state that hazy thinking could mistake for lucidity.”

43

To summarize before moving forward: Simone Weil’s critique of violence begins with a pacifist analysis of the use-value of war in broadly social swaths. The purpose of war from the perspective of those who instigate it is to maintain the status quo or deepen the oppression of those classes who work for the machines and fight for the guns. All of society comes under the totalitarian framework of war – the workers are subsumed by the material needs of war production, and the weapons and mechanisms of movement that are produced then demand discipline from the soldiers who make use of them. These soldiers, under the power of the guns, are then turned from conscious fighters for a cause (especially in the case of a revolutionary war) into nihilistic killers no matter what side they are on. This, of course, does not deny that there are fighters who maintain a political and moral position while in the throes of war, but Weil makes clear that the pressures of war make the nihilist, rather than the nihilist making the war. Violence in the fog of war becomes all encompassing for those on the front and those in the rear.

The Poems of Force “Nearly all the Iliad takes place far from hot baths. Nearly all of human life, then and now, takes place far from hot baths.” 44

For Simone Weil, war is the organization of force that has a deracinating effect on whole populations. This section will take aim at the affect of force and violence on the individual.

42

43

44

Ibid., 108-109. E. Jane Doering, Simone Weil and the Specter of Self-Perpetuating Force, 64. Simone Weil, An Anthology, 184.

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To fully understand Simone Weil’s considerations on war and violence one must consider her turn to the ancients of two distinct philosophical traditions: the Greeks and the Upanishads. On the one hand, the first of Simone Weil’s essays to be translated into English was her “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force,” published in Dwight Macdonald’s journal, Politics, in 1945 is her most well-known published work on violence. On the other hand, Weil’s musings on another poem of force, the Bhagavad Gita, make up a great deal of her writings in her notebooks, which were only published posthumously in any language. The heroes of these poems, Achilles and Arjuna, are startlingly different figures both in the original texts and in Weil’s readings thereof. The use of violence and the justification of violence in Weil’s thought is always a dialogue between Achilles’ hubris and Arjuna’s hesitation. The hubris of violence experienced by Achilles and the other heroes of Homer’s epic is reflected in the concern that Weil reads in Arjuna’s hesitant dialogue with Krishna: namely, the reflexive affect of force. This is one of the primary themes of “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force.” This essay is the pinnacle of Weil’s critique of violence and the development of her critique of oppression. The violence she considers in this essay is a demanding violence that shows not only the depth of her study of the Iliad and her search for the ancient Greek idea of justice, but also her understanding of the force necessary for domination and the way in which oppression relies on violence. For Simone Weil, in dialectical fashion, the struggle between the force that oppresses and the force that emancipates is what drives history forward. “For [those] whose powers of recognition are more acute and who perceive force, today as yesterday, at the very center of human history, the Iliad is the purest and loveliest of mirrors.” This 45

is true for Weil because, by her account, “the true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man’s

45

Ibid., 183.

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flesh shrinks away.” And so, it is not Achilles, Agamemnon, Paris, or Hector with whom 46

her reading is concerned, but the naked force which takes hold of each of them. For Weil, like Sorel, force is not monadic. Though she does not make her distinction linguistically as Sorel does in distinguishing oppressive force from liberatory violence, the distinction cannot be of more importance to her thought. The difference between morally considered violence and nihilistic violence is not only the lynchpin of her critique of violence but also the basis for the understanding of her concept of affliction. There are two kinds of violence in Weil’s essay on the Iliad, the force that kills and the force that does not kill just yet. This is a “force that does not kill, i.e., that does 47

not kill just yet. It will surely kill, it will possibly kill, or perhaps it merely hangs, poised and ready, over the head of the creature it can kill, at any moment, which is to say at every moment.” The one who is perpetually threatened by this violence that can kill at 48

every moment has been turned “into a thing” as much as the dead man has been turned into a thing by the violence that kills right away. This thing is then the means towards 49

the ends of violence or oppression. Weil’s argument here is reminiscent of the relationship between the master and the slave in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. In the Phenomenology, Hegel posits the necessity of a life and death struggle between two spirits in which the winner is the master and the loser is allowed to live and therefore becomes a slave. The position of the slave is both the position that offers the possibility of emancipation, as Marx’s update from master-slave to bourgeois-proletarian, and the position that bears the reality of oppression.

50

This “thing” is afflicted because it “is alive; he has a soul and yet – he is a thing. 51

An extraordinary entity this – a thing that has a soul. And as for the soul what an

46

47 48

49

50 51

Ibid. Ibid., 185. Ibid. Weil’s Emphasis. Ibid., 183. G.F.W. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 111-119, especially 114. It is of note that Hegel also references the “thinghood” of the slave. Ibid., 115.

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extraordinary house it finds itself in!” Its death is “strung out over a whole lifetime.” 52

53

That is, the afflicted is regarded as outside of the realm of the living because he has had his power over his soul removed. This life and death struggle “that turns anybody who is subjected into a thing”

54

finds its final resolution in the realization of this thinghood under the title of slavery. How one moves from the initial struggle to the futile moment of slavery in modernity is now found in the hidden physical violence of Weil’s factories and in the abstract psychological violence of the post-industrial organization of labor. The political philosophical ramifications of this, however, are not abstract at all. Simone Weil’s construction of a thing with a soul, that is, allows for a new sort of dualism in which one is neither Agamben’s homo sacer nor a full human being. Weil’s thing with a soul has all of the outward and inward properties of a person. And, in modernity, this character has all of the legal and human rights of that same human personality. This “human personality” is a necessary part of the thing that has been subjected by violence. In her essay known in French by the title “La personne et le sacré” and in English as “Human Personality,” Weil presents the problem of the thing 55

with a soul when seen from the perspective of the “personality” that is left when its soul has been afflicted by might or by right. She opens with this violent example: If it were the human personality in him that was sacred to me, I could easily put out his eyes. As a blind man he would be exactly as much as human personality as before. I should not have touched the person in him at all. I should have destroyed nothing but his eyes. … What would stay it is the knowledge that if someone were to put out his eyes, his soul would be lacerated by the thought that harm was being done to him. 56

Simone Weil, An Anthology, 185. Ibid., 188. Ibid., 183. A more recent translation by Eric O. Springsted renders it “What Is Sacred in Every Human Being?” See Simone Weil, Late Philosophical Writings, trans. Eric O. Springsted and Lawrence E. Schmidt (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015). Simone Weil, “Human Personality,” in An Anthology, ed. Siân Miles, 69-98 (New York; Penguin, 2005), 71.

52 53 54

55

56

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The act of making someone physically blind is so very violent that it will not only take the victim’s sight, but it touches the victim’s soul. This act, however, does not destroy the victim to the point that they are no longer a person or a personality. This distinction remains even in those who have had all of their physical and emotional power removed from them: the personality can continue to be subjected even when the soul has been destroyed. The person remains; the human being is vacated. The subjects of physical oppression feels the violence in three distinct yet interconnected places: in their body, in their soul, and in their humanity; crucially, for Weil, the destruction of the soul or of the body does not destroy the social casing of the “personality” which is the place in which rights are held. But rights were of no use to the soul in the face of fascism and other violent collectivities, “It is true, of course, that [Nazi Germany] allows only one right to her victims: obedience. Ancient Rome did the same.”

57

This obedience, then, provides the person/thing with little to stand on. In this moment the aporia of the afflicted in society comes into full view. If the reader will allow the recitation here of two long passages from “Human Personality” that express the plight of the afflicted in society. Because the afflicted are reduced to the killable thing with a soul they cannot speak: Affliction is by its nature inarticulate. The afflicted silently beseech to be given the words to express themselves. There are times when they are given none; but there are also times when they are given words, but ill-chosen ones, because those who choose them know nothing of the affliction they would interpret. 58

Even if the afflicted could speak, those of us who escape this condition cannot hear them as human beings because they have been reduced to being a thing with a soul: That is all the more inevitable because those who most often have occasion to feel that evil is being done to them are those who are least trained in the art of speech. Nothing, for example, is more frightful than to see some poor wretch in the police court stammering before a magistrate who keeps up an elegant flow of witticisms. 59

57

58 59

Ibid., 82. Ibid., 85. Ibid., 73.

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Thus it is entirely unclear as to which of these two situations is Weil’s preferred formulation. But she does not ignore the cries of the afflicted or the afflicting in both “Human Personality” and “The Iliad, or in the Poem of Force.” Instead, in the latter she draws very close attention to the expressed anguish of both the personal and the warriors 60

who have lost their comrades-in-arms. But these appeals are of a personal nature; they 61

are not true appeals to justice because they have not been infected with the beauty of the impersonal which can hold a moral position.

62

For impersonal cries for justice, Simone Weil sets a higher standard: “Only by the supernatural working of grace can a soul pass through its own annihilation to the place where alone it can get the sort of attention which can attend to truth and to affliction. It is the same attention which listens to both of them. The name of this intense, pure, disinterested, gratuitous, generous attention is love.” This, in itself, is an aporia. The 63

passing through of affliction in order to reach the capacity for the kind of attention that is kin to love of those who are afflicted. The love of the afflicted which allows for attention to their affliction also appears as the mystical redemption of one’s own affliction. Up to this point, the idea of affliction has been presented in this project as something that is directly or indirectly imposed by another human. On the one hand, affliction as the basis of oppression is the specific manifestation of the collectivity’s Hobbesean and Hegelian impulses of domination through the social contract and the life and death struggle between the master and the slave. On the other hand, affliction as the basis of oppression is similar to the Platonic conquest of the self through a premonition of the discipline through the training of the soul. And yet, there is a third hand, so to speak. Or rather, it is a foot by which the body and the hands are supported. Because she understands force as being at the center of human history, as it is at the center of the Iliad, Simone Weil is compelled to delve as 60

61

62 63

Ibid., 74, 84. Ibid., 207, 208. Ibid., 82. Ibid., 91-2.

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deeply into the effects and affects of force as Marx is to delve into the economical-social organization of capitalism. Thusly, the “self-perpetuating” part of force, as Doering’s title suggests, functions in a parallel fashion to the self-perpetuation of capital in Marx’s readings: it spreads its influence in every direction. It is nihilistic in its effects, and morally destructive to both the user and the abused at the collective and individual levels. In the same way that one can possess capital but cannot possess capitalism, one can possess a weapon, but one cannot possess the violence of the weapon. “The truth is, 64

nobody really possesses [force],” writes Weil. And because of that it cannot be expected 65

that force will spare those who make use of it. The use of force consumes us: “Violence 66

obliterates anybody who feels its touch. It comes to seem just as external to its employer as to its victim.” This paradigmatic function of violence is the utmost example of the 67

reversal of means and ends because it does not rely on one form of social organization or another. From the time of Homer’s poem to the era of the War on Terror and militarized police, the fundamental fact remains the same: violence is everywhere and is always, already, a threat to us, especially when we think that we control it. For Simone Weil, “no one in the Iliad is spared by it, as no one on earth is.” But 68

this should lead us not to be contemptuous of those of who are victimized. Rather, “whoever, within his own soul and in human relations, escapes the domination of force is loved but loved sorrowfully because of the threat of destruction that constantly hangs over him.” In other words, Weil follows Hobbes in his understanding that the threat of 69

violence is violence in and of itself. Thought she does not subscribe to an idea of the state of nature, Simone Weil effectively transmits the war of all against all into a basic fact of all forms of social organization that had existed up until the time of her writing “The Iliad, or the Poem of Force” in 1939. 64

65 66

67

68 69

Ibid.,191. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid., 199. Simone Weil, An Anthology, 211. Ibid.

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Humanity is as trapped by Weil’s logic as she is herself. Morally a pacifist, she sees herself surrounded by a world in which pacifism is not an option. Pessimistically, she argues that in order to free oneself and to have compassion for others, one must undergo some form of violence and be subjected to it. Force is uniformly destructive, which gives it both its power and its revolutionary promise; but it is precisely its externality “to its employer and to its victim” that gives the appearance that it is a neutral 70

experience as well as a controllable one. Force in Weil’s writings, however, is a totality of human social relations. Such an understanding of its role in society dispenses with the idea of a neutrality and replaces it with a dialectical violence that is always at work to maintain or to remake the social order as is historically necessary. For Weil, violence is the steam engine of history as was revolution for Marx. And so the aporia, the irresolvability of the problem that lies at the heart of force, is the question of control. “A moderate use of force,” Weil writes in the essay on the Iliad, “which alone would enable man to escape being enmeshed in its machinery, would require superhuman virtue, which is as rare as dignity in weakness.” In her notebooks, and other writings, 71

Simone Weil implicates two historical-religious figures who were capable of this feat: Jesus Christ in his death on the cross, and the Prince Arjuna, who is the protagonist of the Bhagavad Gita. In order to understand the combination of Weil’s moral objections to violence and her pessimistic vision of self-perpetuating force we must turn, with her, from the traditions of ancient Greece to those of ancient India. Weil’s understanding of the “Gita,” as she often refers to it, is highly heterodox. Weil’s reading is deeply tied to her critique of the dogma of the Catholic Church (as was discussed in Chapter One) and to her mystical pluralism, which will be discussed further in the next chapter. In her “Spiritual Autobiography,” a letter written to her friend and confessor, Father Perrin, while she was living in Vichy Marseilles, she writes, “In the

70 71

Ibid. 199. Ibid.

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spring of 1940 I read the Bhagavad Gita. Strange to say it was in reading those marvelous words, words with such Christian sound, put into the mouth of an incarnation of God, that I came to feel strongly that we owe an allegiance to religious truth which is quite different from the admiration we accord to a beautiful poem; it is something far more categorical.” The importance of this poem for her thinking cannot be ignored. 72

Doering argues that the Bhagavad Gita offered Weil a philosophical and religious respite from the total antagonism between the totality of violence she read in the Iliad and the exhortation of Christ from Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called God’s children.” Doering offers that Weil found a kindred spirit in Arjuna, the 73

hesitant warrior who converses with Krishna. Both found themselves surrounded by wars for justice but struggled with their desire to be peaceful in violent times when truth and justice were obscured.

74

Whereas the Iliad is almost nihilistic in Homer’s determination that neither side in the war between the Acheans and the Trojans holds a moral, as well as that none of the warriors is true in their virtue, the Bhagavad Gita offered something explicitly different to Weil. When the Acheans paused in the Iliad, it is either to grieve for a fallen comrade or for strategic reasons like siege or deception. The discussion between Arjuna and Krishna, however, takes place entirely during a pause commenced by Arjuna for reasons of moral discomfort. Unlike the reader of the Iliad, the reader of the Gita does not see the battle itself. But Weil cautions us that it is not absent from the poem; in fact, the entirety of the poem is under the shadow of battle. What makes Arjuna different from the heroes of the Iliad is his discomfort with war, his preemptory moral goodness. Weil sees herself in Arjuna, 75

because it was only for her inability to stand “in the rear” that she had to participate in the Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 28. E. Jane Doering, Simone Weil and the Specter of Self-Perpetuating Force, 155; Matthew 5:9, The Oxford Study Bible, 1271. E. Jane Doering, Simone Weil and the Specter of Self-Perpetuating Force, 157, 158, 159. Simone Weil, Notebooks, 324.

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Spanish Civil War. She thought that she was compelled to participate is something she abhorred for the sake of a cause she felt was just. Arjuna does not want to fight, but must fight in order to restore his dharma to equilibrium. “Krishna offering a choice between 76

[Arjuna’s] self and his army. It represents an ordeal. The choice indicates infallibility the lawful side and the unlawful side. God gives himself to Man under the aspect of power or under that of perfection: the choice is left to Man.” And, just like in the Iliad, the gods 77

can only give so much to those who are in the position to act. Krishna can only give council, but in the end, the question of the use of force will fall to Arjuna. In Weil’s reading, Arjuna wants to reject violence fully, which is what makes him morally capable of carrying it out without being overcome by it. Arjuna becomes the exemplar of the kind of moral being Weil puts forward in the essay on the Iliad: “A moderate use of force, which alone would enable man to escape being enmeshed in its machinery, would require superhuman virtue, which is as rare as dignity in weakness.”

78

Thusly, Arjuna’s moderate and hesitant participation in violence – the polar opposite of the Greek heroes – is capable of being virtuous because it is only in the service of justice. Arjuna’s actions are forgiven because not acting (as an act in itself) would be worse. On the one hand, to undergo force is to be opened to the ability to learn morality even as violence strips away the human being’s life. The thing with a soul is a deconsecrated figure that at once is a clean slate for morality and also a soul that is afflicted with the constant threat of death. On the other hand, violence denigrates the soul of the user, stripping them of their morality with each act. Finally, in order to use violence without submitting completely to such a denigration, one must already be of superhuman virtue, like Arjuna. In other words, to be able to use force one must hate force, because it is against one’s morals and therefore may be done in the service of justice. This is pessimistic construction seems to provide such a bulwark against force as 76

77 78

Ibid., 316, 324, 418. Ibid., 304. Simone Weil, An Anthology, 199.

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a morally possible phenomenon that it reinforces the nihilism that Weil accuses Homer’s heroes of submitting to. And, there is yet another example of such moral ineptitude that Weil could not forgive. There is a third poem of force if we follow Simone Weil’s usage of the term, the Hebrew Bible. Emmanuel Levinas, in his “Simone Weil Against the Bible”, offers a compassionate critique of her work. Levinas analyses Weil’s reading of the Bible and her relationship with the Hebrews in a way that finds common cause with Weil’s implication of ancient Hebrew totalitarianism. He writes, “The extermination of the Canaanite peoples during the conquest of the Promised Land is the most indigestible passage of all the indigestible passages in the Bible. … Simone Weil is revolted by such cruelty. The extraordinary this is that we [the vague and indefinable collective Jewish people] are with her on this.” Weil sees the worldly power of force complicating not only the Hebrews’ 79

relationship with God and with themselves, but also the Christians’ relationship with God when their universalist beliefs came to be allied with the cause of the Roman Empire, the most powerful uprooting force of the ancient Mediterranean world. Levinas’ ashamedness at the violence of the Bible is the same intellectual motivation that drove Weil to embrace the victimized Cathars and their pacifist belief in Christ. It is a logical conclusion for Weil, in this light, to choose what she understood as an egalitarian anarchy in the Cathar heresy against the original idolatry of the Hebrews, as well as against that of Rome and its modern version, the State. It is unfortunate for Weil that, in her analysis, the political situation in which she lived and the radical political traditions that she inherited belonged more to the tradition of Achilles, Joshua, and Caesar, than to that of Arjuna. She saw the professional revolutionaries of her time who believed that they held violence as a simple means to the ends of the seizure of the State discover that violence already exerts, and will continue to

Emmanuel Levinas, “Simone Weil Against the Bible,” in Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism, trans. Seán Hand, 133-141 (Baltimore; The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 138.

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exert, its ideological and physical power over all of its practitioners. Because of this she distanced herself from both the Marxists of her day and Marx himself. A few years before she wrote on the Iliad or read the Gita, she wrote in “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression” about the mentality of the revolutionary: “It matters little what means [the revolutionary] employs to this end; they are good, provided they are effective. Thus Marx, exactly in the same way as the business men of his time” or Weil’s version of the Hebrews, “arrived at a morality which placed the social category to which he belonged – that of professional revolutionaries – above sin.”

80

The Opium of the Masses: “Whoever accepts Lenin’s formula, ‘Without a revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary movement’, is compelled to accept also the fact that there is practically no revolutionary movement at the present time.” 81

Any politics of the left is concerned with the prospects and promotion of social 82

revolution along with the question of violence in its offing and its attempted repression. Weil’s considerations of these prospects and the means and ends of revolution are a weighty reminder for our own times of the promises and pitfalls of revolutionary politics. In 1932, when she wrote the sentence quoted in the epigraph to this section, revolutionary theory and Marxism looked very different from how it looks today. Horkheimer was just beginning to reorganize the Institute for Social Research in his own image, the 1844 Manuscripts had just become available in German, the Grundrisse would not be published for another seven years, and Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks would not be published in Italian for almost 20 years. Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Bukharin, and Lukács, were, arguably, the most influential Orthodox Marxist theorists of the time – Lenin was already dead, and the other four were party leaders of various sorts; even Trotsky was the Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 158. Ibid., 26. This is in direct opposition to the idea of the “progressive left” which carries no clout with a thinker like Simone Weil who was wise enough to see the ideological violence of the idea of progress as a means of violent oppression.

80 81

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leader of his own segment of the international Party. Lukács’ Hegelian tendencies were tamped down in the hopes of not being purged from the Stalin-led International, and within five years, Bukharin would become the face of the second round of Purges in Moscow. Between these five Orthodox Marxists, there can be at least four distinct ideas and purposes of revolution counted. Leaving aside Bukharin (who was largely in agreement with both Lenin and Stalin), there was Lenin’s conception of the seizure of the State by a Revolutionary Vanguard Party, Lukács’ self-abolition of the proletariat and the Party through the act of revolution, Trotsky’s internationalist, permanent revolution (also led by the Vanguard Party), and Stalin’s State-imposed collectivism. These myraid disagreements existed within the realm of Orthodox Marxism. If one takes into account anarchism, syndicalism, and even the ideas of such “left-wing” radicals as Rosa Luxemburg, who advocated for the spontaneous uprising of the proletariat, and Anton Pannekoek, the council communist who sought a revolution through workers selforganization, there are many more theories and programs or non-programs in a [ironically] competing marketplace of ideas. Simone Weil, like many others of her time, felt these disagreements to be impediments to revolutionary action, but not for reasons of a lack of discipline, something the Bolshevik leaders demanded. Revolution is one of the great political and philosophical conundrums for Simone Weil. On the one hand, she aches for a revolution that will liberate society from the 83

oppression of capitalist social organization. On the other hand, she was so disgruntled and discouraged by the totalitarian revolutionary organizations and her fellow travellers in the 1920s, 30s, and early 40s that she was intensely pessimistic about the prospects of any significant social action — even in those moments in which it revolutionary action seemed to be taking place. One can surmise, in the same vain as those who participated in the long debates about whether or not to make demands in the various occupations in the See Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, specifically, “Prospects” and “On the Contradictions of Marxism”; Simone Weil, Formative Writings, 258; Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 132, 320; David McLellan, Utopian Pessimist, 55, 157.

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various squares around the world in 2010, 2011, and 2012, that Weil and her contemporaries debated and discussed the causes, meanings, and purposes of revolution in the era of the strong centralized Party. These two divergent historical moments, likely, were pregnant with the same questions: do we need a revolution, do we want a revolution, what will the revolution look like, and will we be content with the results? The other question on the minds of radicals in Weil’s times and in the, post-Occupy, world of 2016 and 2017 is whether or not it will take a revolution to defeat the forces of fascism and authoritarianism. Biographically, Weil consistently participated in pro-revolutionary agitation and strikes – including the general strikes in France in 1934 and 1936 – and she joined up with the revolutionary anarchists in the Spanish Civil War. Despite this, Weil’s critique of revolution is often brandished by her liberal interpreters as justification for their own critique of Marxism, though in their readings the essence of Weil’s work and the nuance of her hesitations are lost. Such readings of Weil are predicated on her oft-disillusioned 84

tone; they miss the underlying cry for root and branch social change. In some cases these readings of Weil’s hesitations concerning revolution are also related to her support for anti-authoritarianism in a more blanket manner, including her proposals of half-measures in regard to the dismantling of France’s colonial empire, proposals that were for her an undesirable political solution – the only way to avoid a colonial war. Her pessimistic 85

understanding of the reflexive affect of violence and her unimpeachably anti-colonial stance seemed to have the effect of tempering one another. She writes in her essay, “New Facts about the Colonial Problem in the French Empire,” “[T]he uneasy truce between colonizer and colonized is different from a state of war only in that one side is deprived See, for example, Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine; E. Jane Doering, Simone Weil and the Specter of Self-Perpetuating Force; Desmond Avery, Beyond Power: Simone Weil and the Notion of Authority (New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008), Christopher Frost & Rebecca Bell-Mertereau, Simone Weil On Politics, Religion and Society (London: Sage Publications, 1998); Henry Leroy Finch, Simone Weil and the Intellect of Grace (New York: Continuum, 2001); and Peter Winch, Simone Weil "The Just Balance" (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). See, for example, Simone Weil, “New Facts about the Colonial Problem in the French Empire,” in Simone Weil On Colonialism: An Ethic of the Other, 65-71.

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of arms.” The entirety of the colony and all of the colonized are a thing that has not been 86

killed just yet. Weil’s critique of revolution should not be mistaken for a turn toward liberalism with its belief in slow change without struggle or toward conservatism with its antagonism to any change at all. Even before her soul-crushing year of factory work, Weil declared “progress” a bankrupt concept and proclaimed that her times were “a 87

period bereft of a future. Waiting for that [future] which is to come is no longer a matter of hope, but of anguish.” Again, Weil’s grappling with the revolution leaves us with an 88

aporia – the revolution must come, cannot come, will not come, and when it does come, because it must come, it will not be what Weil wants it to be. So what, besides a confusing collection of comma splices, does she leave for her reader? From her claims against the working class organizers in France for ignoring the colonial problem, to her debates with Trotsky and with Bataille, Weil’s assertive 89

independence further alienated her from the ranks of the revolutionary vanguard. The vanguard was one of her many problems with the idea of revolution. As a vanguard, the leaders of the revolutionary cause, by their own election, became an organized Party nationally and internationally – for Weil the formation of a Party, to recall the first chapter of this study, sets the tone for a totalitarian path. This mistake is compounded by two ideological dilemmas that Weil finds in the literature of the Marxist parties of her time. This problem concerns the meaning of the word revolution in the first place. In “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression,” Weil writes of “revolution”: On its ruins interminable arguments are held which can only be smoothed over by the most ambiguous formulas; for among all those who still persist in talking about revolution, there are perhaps not two who attach the same content to the term. And that is not in the least surprising. The word ‘revolution is a word for 86

87 88 89

Ibid., 65. Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 48. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 38. Simone Weil, On Colonialism, 30, 41, 43, 46, 48, 51.

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which you kill, for which you die, for which you send the laboring masses to their death, but which does not possess any content. 90

The ambiguity falls in the formulas for success while the wide range of the purposes of these formulas degrades “revolution” until it becomes a signifier without content. For 91

herself, Weil seeks to clarify the goals and means of the term “revolution” negatively. By “negatively” what is meant is that Weil sought to construct her own idea of revolution in response to the gaps that she saw in the theories and practices that surrounded her. In the first place, Weil sought for the revolution to be a work of reason. This is most clearly stated in her letter to the Democratic Communist Circle (Cercle communiste démocratique) explaining why she could not become a permanent member of the group. In this letter she noted that her idea of revolution and that of [member] Bataille were drastically different. There are two primary distinctions through which 92

Weil distances herself from Bataille, “Now the revolution is for him, the triumph of the irrational – for me, of the rational: for him, a catastrophe – for me, a methodical action in which one must endeavor to limit the harm done; for him, the liberation of the instincts, and above all those that are currently considered pathological – for me, a superior morality. What do we have in common?”

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Weil, therefore, agrees with the Marxian doxa that a true revolution in social organization will overturn the irrational systematicity of capitalist social oppression and liberate reason, therefore rationalizing liberty. As Weil sees it, for liberty to be possible and rational requires both justice and dignity. These two hallmarks of her revolutionary theory are also the comparative deficits of oppressive social relations.

Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 55. Again we see contemporary examples of Bernie Sanders’ “Political Revolution” that involved only a return to past policies by the already institutionalized act of voting for a political candidate in party-based primary elections. Quoted in Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 207-209. Ibid., 208.

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Weil’s distinct theory of revolution is directed by her analysis of oppression : 94

“The worker’s complete subordination to the undertaking and to those who run it is founded on the factory organization and not on the system of property.” This position, as 95

a departure not only from Marxism, but also from Marx, leads her down something more akin to an anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist path where she distinguishes herself from those who assert that “[t]he essential task of revolutions consists in the emancipation not of men but of productive forces.” For Weil, the panacea of the emancipation of 96

productive forces ignores how the forces already in play are already [in her time] liberated to the greatest extent that they had reached to that point. But the liberation of 97

the forces of production cannot be guaranteed to provide a great deal of what Weil wants from revolution. In fact, it seems as if the emancipation of the productive forces at that time in history, in Weil’s analysis, had degraded the proletarian to the extent that neither dignity nor freedom were possible; the workers had been “reduced to a parasitic frame of 98

mind” whence they had to “consider the work that they do, no longer as an activity indispensible to production, but as a favor granted to them by the undertaking.” It would 99

be unsurprising for the pessimist (rather than the revolutionist) if the steady march of automation in contemporary production further entrenches this reality rather than intervening in it. Weil’s deliberate antagonism toward the militant and organized left of her time is fully on display as she pokes holes in the position of Orthodox Marxism as determined by Moscow:

Weil gives credit to Marx for his method of analysis, and the idea of analysis as being imperative for undertaking of an analysis of the present situation, but not sufficient for a revolutionary theory of society. Weil insisted, especially in her early work, that a sufficient analysis of the real causes of oppression must precede methodical revolutionary action. Without this any movement that could entice revolutionary fervor would lead either to superficial changes or outright catastrophe. Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 123; Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 25, 46, 100, 147, 164. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 41. Ibid., 42. Ibid., 70. Ibid., 19. Ibid., 21.

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No workers’ State has ever yet existed on the earth’s surface, except for a few weeks in Paris in 1871, and perhaps for a few months in Russia in 1917 and 1918. On the other hand, for nearly fifteen years now, over one-sixth of the globe, there has reigned a State as oppressive as any other which is neither a capitalist nor a workers’ State. Certainly, Marx never foresaw anything of this kind. But not even Marx is more precious to us than the truth. 100

But what is the answer to this? The Bolsheviks achieved their only possibility, the totalitarian Party became the totalitarian State. Even the Trotskyite formula of the workers’ state that deformed into a bureaucratic one is insufficient for an actual analysis of the situation. The attempt to create communism from a revolutionary Party had failed in Weil’s eyes. She determined that both Stalinism and Hitlerism could not be found “in the traditional picture of class struggle.” In fact, Weil paints the Soviet form of social 101

organization with the moniker of “State capitalism” as early as 1934.

102

And so, Weil’s picture of revolution is beginning to come together in the same way as a negative theology – that which describes God by what God is not. For Weil, revolution is not the emancipation of productive forces, but the emancipation of humanity; revolution is not the advent of the workers’ state; revolution is not the emancipation of excessive passion; revolution is against the irrational form of social organization of capitalism and in favor of a rational form of social organization. Positively speaking, Simone Weil’s idea of revolution subscribes to the Marxian formula of class struggle and is drawn from her understanding of Machiavelli’s telling of the Ciompi rebellion in his Florentine Histories. Her endorsement of it, however, is 103

qualified in her essay “The Power of Words,” “Of all the conflicts which set groups of men against one another the most legitimate and serious – one could perhaps say, the only serious one – is what is called today the class struggle (an expression that needs

Ibid., 6. Ibid., 8. Ibid., 55. Simone Weil, “A Proletarian Uprising in Florence,” in Selected Essays, 1934-1943: Historical, Political, and Moral Writings, ed. Richard Rees, trans. Richard Rees, 55-72 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015); Niccolo Machiavelli, Florentine Histories, trans. Laura F. Banfield and Harvey C. Mansfield (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), Book III.

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clarifying).” In this way, she is much more in line with the ideas of Lukács, Luxemburg, 104

and Pannekoek than she is with those of Lenin or Trotsky. Because Weil does away 105

with the vanguard Party, she perforce understands class struggle both as a persistent feature of capitalism and as the cooperative actions of the proletarians as the form of mass revolt that is necessary. In “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression,” she writes: “What is nowadays called, by a term which seems to invite a good deal of explanation, the class struggle is, of all the conflicts that set human groups at variance, the one with the most serious objective before it.”

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This

understanding of the class struggle, however, does not imply that the advantage and power of those who are in the more advantageous position. Weil continues, The struggle of those who obey against those who command, when the mode of commanding entails destroying the human dignity of those underneath, is the most legitimate, most motivated, most genuine action that exists. There has always been this struggle, because those who command always tend, whether they realize it or not, to trample underfoot the human dignity of those below them; the function of commanding, in so far as it is exercised, cannot, save in exceptional circumstances, respect human qualities in the person of executive agents. 107

This simplification of the fight between the oppressed and the oppressor, which can be generalized beyond just the capitalist antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, rests again on the imposition of affliction and indignity; further, it proposes that the resistance to this social organization is already in place. It is in The Need for Roots that she describes the manifestation of the revolutionary spirit of the strikes of 1936 as something like the revolutionary moment with the same reminiscent fondness with which Marx writes of the Paris Commune.

108

We may add another negatively defined aspect to what we already have: “What we should ask of the revolution is the abolition of social oppression; but for this notion to

Simone Weil, An Anthology, 248. Weil specifically writes of “soviets” as the greatest achievement of the Ciompi uprising. Simone Weil, Selected Essays, 60. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 128. Ibid. See Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, in Karl Marx & V.I. Lenin The Civil War In France: The Paris Commune, 23-87 (New York: International Publishers, 1985).

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have at least a chance of possessing some meaning, we must be careful to distinguish between oppression and subordination of personal whims to a social order.” In other 109

words, Weil is arguing here that emancipation from social oppression cannot also be the emancipation from morality. Thusly, we must find a rational morality upon which society can be recreated. This moral position is of extreme importance precisely because Weil’s reading of history gives ample justification of her pessimism. She participates in the writing of what Walter Benjamin, in his 8 Thesis “On the Concept of History” called the “tradition of the th

oppressed.” In this fashion, Weil writes: 110

As for the oppressed, their permanent revolt, which is always simmering, though it only breaks out now and then, can operate in such a way as to aggravate the evil as well as to restrict it; and on the whole it rather constitutes an aggravating factor in that it forces the masters to make their power weigh ever more heavily for fear of losing it. From time to time the oppressed manage to drive out one team of oppressors and to replace it by another, and sometimes even to change the form of oppression; but as for abolishing oppression itself, that would first mean abolishing the sources of it, abolishing all the monopolies, the magical and technical secrets that give a hold over nature, armaments, money, co-ordination of labor. 111

This permanent revolt, for the first time in Weil’s explication of the revolutionary cause, has some positive goals. The abolition of oppression will be possible when the precursory steps of the abolition of capital and the state – typified by the list Weil offers – are achieved. Moreover, there is the point of the liberation of the coordination of labor, which can only be an early nod towards the cooperative workshops she describes in The Need for Roots. Is it possible, then, that Simone Weil’s conceptualization of revolution, or, rather, her disillusionment with revolution, brings her closer to the hated Bataille after all? The idea of a perpetual offensive resistance with no definable victory and no expressible Ibid., 55-56. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” and “Paralipomena to ‘On the Concept of History’” in Selected Writings: Volume 4, 1938-1940, ed. Howard Eiland & Michael W. Jennings, 389-411 (Cambridge, MA: The Belknapp Press of Harvard University Press, 2006), 392. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 69-70.

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demand except for the liberation from each subsequent layer of oppression without hope that the final freedom will be achieved sits like an omnipotent rain cloud over both thinkers’ work.

112

But what does Weil’s disillusionment do for her own theoretical framework? Some of Weil’s earliest debates, with such historical figures as Trotsky and Bataille (separately), hinge on their distinctions of how to make revolution and what the purposes of revolution are. Weil lost her faith in revolution long before her achievement of faith in Christ. For radical students of social thought and for students of radical social thought, 113

there are many thinkers for whom the move from left to right, from revolutionary to conservative, can be traced either in a moment (like Adorno’s calling the police in 1969) or over a period of time (like many of the New York Intellectuals who were socialists and Trotskyists in the youth only to join the ranks of the intellectual leaders of the Neocons in their later years). Weil’s position is more complex than an about-face. In the face of fascism, Weil’s desire was for someone of true superhuman virtue, like Arjuna, rather than someone who simply put oneself above sin, as she accused Marx and Engels, or someone determined to wallow in it like Bataille and the surrealists. The 114

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only way to this state of being is through affliction to decreation and grace. The difficult reality of Simone Weil’s anti-fascist resistance and social revolution is through the mystical-political love of neighbor. The subtitle of Richard Bell’s 1998 work on Weil’s thought The Way of Justice as Compassion, is a hint through which we may understand the political mysticism that Weil puts forward in lieu of social revolution. Bell calls attention to Weil’s essay on “Human Alexander Irwin, Saints of the Impossible, 20, 85-87. Her critique of revolution is already present in 1932’s “Prospects” and 1934’s “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression”, though Georges Bataille, in his novel The Blue of Noon, suggests that Weil’s Christianity was already present before her post-Spain mystical experiences when he characterizes her as “Lazare” in his novel written from 1936 through 1945, but not published until 1956. Georges Bataille, The Blue of Noon, trans. Harry Matthews (London: Marion Boyars, 1988). Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 158. Simone Weil, “The Responsibilities of Literature,” in Late Philosophical Writings, trans. Eric O. Springsted and Lawrence E. Schmidt, 151-154 (Notre Dame, IN: The University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), 153.

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Personality,” in which she puts forward the desire for the good and the expectation of compassion from and for the afflicted. This is enacted through the preeminence of obligation between individuals – as the foundation of a nourishing collectivity – instead of through the competing rights claims of the liberal order. But the foundation of all of 116

this is that, as Bell makes clear, “compassion is the way of God’s love in the world.”

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The achievement of this compassion requires exactly the superhuman virtue that is only achievable through decreation. But decreation is both a revolutionary impulse and a turn away from revolution toward a more pessimistic and exactable resistance. Neither gravity nor revolution are catastrophic events, but rather are predicated on the overturning of everyday practices in the way of the messiahs of Weil’s, rejected, Jewish heritage. When the messiah comes everything will be the same only slightly different. Both the individual and the collectivity will still exist, but the relationship between the two will be altered.

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For Simone Weil, the move from the individual overcome by the collectivity to the individual rooted in a nourishing community is the decreative move outside of the self. It is, in short, the divine love of the neighbor that allows us to not only recognize the suffering of the afflicted, but to sympathize and empathize with their plight, by reaching outside of ourselves. This mystical anti-ipseity is the root of the solidarity that Weil 119

found so elusive in the revolutionary organizations of her time. Beyond the recognition of the other, solidarity, for Weil, is the absence of the self. This absence of self allows for the obedience towards God that Weil holds up as the hallmark of compassion and the moral basis for her vision of the slightly different world to come. This pessimistic view of the only slightly different is all that is possible in Weil’s thought because the historical uprootedness of the oppressed cannot be reversed through Simone Weil, An Anthology, 83, 86. Richard Bell, Simone Weil, The Way of Justice as Compassion (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998), 78. See Roberto Esposito, Communitas, 3, 9, 147. The putting aside of one’s self qua self. See Jean-Luc Nancy, Corpus, trans. Richard A. Rand (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 81.

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modern political means, if it can be reversed at all. I say that it cannot be reversed, because the prospect of return to the old forms of oppressed rootedness is not a better 120

option than any wholesale attempt to re-root society within the altered conditions of capitalist social relations or those social relations that follow the revolutionary offthrowing of capitalism.

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Weil wrote, “At bottom, one thinks nowadays of the revolution, not as a solution to the problems raised at the present time, but as a miracle dispensing one from solving problems.” With little faith in the miracle, Weil instead relies on what Walter Benjamin 122

would describe as the weak messianic power of each generation in his Theses “On the 123

Concept of History,” in 1940. Six years before Benjamin scribbled those notes, Weil wrote “Since then, each generation of revolutionaries has, in its youth, believed itself to be destined to bring about the real revolution, has then gradually grown old and finally died transferring its hopes to succeeding generations; it runs no risk of being proved wrong since it is dead.” Her pessimism is emphatic in her distancing herself from the 124

potential completability of the revolution.

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The difference in her pessimistic anti-messianism and Benjamin’s messianic hope is profound. For Weil, each generation has the power to overthrow, but dies without success, their power transferred in a weaker form to the next generation. Their impact cannot be called progress, because it is not always a stripping away of oppression, either. It is better to see each generation as a creator of a new heterodoxy that eventually ossifies into a new orthodoxy as its romantic impulses wither. The system, which “is very sick As Leo Strauss suggests with the title of one of his later (1952) essays return is always a prospect, especially for those who inherit the religion and tradition of the Jews. See Leo Strauss, “Progress or Return? The Contemporary Crisis in Western Civilization,” in Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, ed. Kenneth Hart Green, 87-136 (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997). “It is the idea that cultural and social activity, while certainly the outsorking of nauter and necessity, is actually the historical response to whatever value a culture holds as ultimate: ultimate not simply in conception, but in act.” Eric O. Springsted, “Rootedness: culture and value,” 183. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 136. Then like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak messianic power, a power on which the past has a claim. Such a claim cannot be settled cheaply. The historical materialist is aware of this.” Walter Benjamin, Theses “On the Concept of History,” 390. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 134. Peter Winch, Simone Weil “The Just Balance”, 88.

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indeed” will only finally give way when there is societal decreation – the self-abolition 126

of the afflicted through their own passage through affliction. It is more akin to Benjamin’s other exhortation to write history from the standpoint of the oppressed than it is to join with his hopes for the weak messianic power of each generation. J.P. Little, in a 1993 study of “Simone Weil’s concept of decreation,” suggests that Weil’s concern is even slighter than the redemption of a generation. Little’s argument is that Weil actually simply seeks the redemptive decreation of just one person in a generation. The prerequisites in which everything is the same are already completed 127

and historically the revolution will appear only as the final overturning of one system into another, which is “in reality the crowning point of a transformation that is already more than half accomplished.” Until that time, which Weil neither promises nor predicts, the 128

only resistance to the violent oppression of society is the selflessness that comes from the self-abolition that is decreation. In Weil’s dialectic of gravity which forces us down, and grace which allows for upward vertical movement – a distinction from the horizontal movement of worldly revolution –, afflicted oppression is the entrance point and decreation is the means by which one becomes open to the state of grace, which cannot be achieved, but can only be welcomed. This mystical, and yes, pessimistic, movement that takes the power to act out of the hands of both the individual and the society is not an apolitical concept that focuses solely on personal behavior. Decreative self-abolition instead mirrors what Lukács desires when he writes “The proletariat only perfects itself by annihilating and transcending itself, by creating the classless society through the successful conclusion of its own class struggle… not just a battle waged against an external enemy, the

Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 135; See also Alexander Irwin, Saints of the Impossible, 86. J.P. Little, “Simone Weil’s concept of decreation,” in Richard H. Bell ed. Simone Weil’s Philosophy of Culture: Readings toward a divine humanity, 25-51 (New York; Cambridge University Press, 1993), 36. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 139.

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bourgeoisie. It is equally the struggle of the proletariat against itself.” It is through the 129

struggle against affliction that the human personality is altered through the conflict with material needs and that the possibility of the new collectivity that is nurturing to the soul takes root. None-the-less, the hesistations concerning revolution in Weil’s works are linked emphatically to her writings on violence and war. On the one hand, violence alters and afflicts even the morally good who enter into contract with it. On the other hand, the moral goals of revolution require not those who would put themselves above sin (and therefore forgive themselves) but instead requires of revolutionaries to be of equal moral standing to one who could resist the temptations of violence. It is because of this that Weil’s exhortation that “the word ‘revolution is a word for which you kill, for which you die, for which you send the laboring masses to their death, but which does not possess any content” has so much power. Because of the inherent link between the violence of 130

oppression and the potential violence of revolution the moral position of those who seek to undertake it is of paramount concern. As such, Weil’s pessimistic answer to violence leads to her pessimistic-mystical replacement of revolution with decreative resistance. The moral position of the actor then becomes the conceptual center of her thought. Up until this point this dissertation has attempted to reconstruct the internal and external pressures that are brought to bear on the soul and society in Simone Weil’s pessimistic understanding of the world. In Chapter One, the discussion of oppression through language and through institutions provides a definition of deracination (uprootedness) as a social condition in which peoples are separated from those interrelational bonds that provide education and moral direction. In Chapter Two the focus on Weil’s writings on labor bring light to the material pressures on already uprooted peoples that targets the individual soul through a campaign of ritual humiliation Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Boston: The MIT Press, 1971), 80. (Lukács’ emphasis.) Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 55.

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to the point of an absolutely crushing affliction. In Chapter Three this dissertation has discussed Weil’s diagnosis of an underlying violence in society that makes, so easily, the transition of a human into a thing that can be repeatedly threatened and killed without concern. She limits the possibilities of revolution against this social order because the deracination not of whole peoples but of each individual soul leaves the possible actors morally questionable. Each of these elements of Weil’s critique of oppression participates is part of her negative critique. In other words, Chapters One through Three represent a study of Weil’s diagnosis of the fault lines of the oppressive organization of society in her time. We now turn the page, as Chapter Four will attempt to outline the positive element of her critique. An answer to all of this hardship is suggested, though it remains a pessimistic answer indeed.

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Chapter Four: A Mystical, Compromised, Utopia “Christians who are not an affront to the powers-that-be, so [Jesus] suggests, are not being faithful to his mission.”

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This chapter presents Simone Weil’s positive responses to the social pressures of deracination and affliction through political and mystical phenomena. Though the concepts discussed in the following pages make up the positive element of Weil’s social thought, they do not depart from the pessimistic heterodoxy that encapsulates the rest of her work. Instead, her visions of decreation and the rooted, heuristic, collectivity are perhaps the most pessimistic elements of her work. They represent significant compromises in her thought generated by her already difficult positions on the relationship of the individual and the collectivity and violence. This chapter will look deeper into the roots of Weil’s mystical frameworks, many of which have already appeared in this dissertation. This task will be taken up alongside a clear explication and critique of the possibilities for post-war France she suggests in The Need for Roots. Her “second magnum opus” conjures the tradition of utopian writing 2

even if it is without Plato or Thomas More’s geographical description of the “place of no place.”

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The first section of this chapter explicates the concepts of gravity, grace, and decreation in order to discuss the relationship between these three mystical-political concepts in Weil’s pessimistic construction of resistance to oppression. The second section offers a close reading of the idea of roots, and present the affirmative negation of the idolatry inherent in the collectivities of Church, State, and party, critiqued in Chapter One. The third part will seek out the tension between compromise and contradiction in

Terry Eagleton, “Introduction,” in Giles Fraser ed., The Gospels, vii-xxxi (New York: Verso, 2007), xviii. Simone Weil, Seventy Letters, 186. I am endlessly indebted to Peter J. Galambos, my dear friend and colleague, for the many conversations on utopia as literature and critique that he has developed into a dissertation of his own. Many of the ideas I will present on “utopia” below are influenced directly by these conversations.

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The Need for Roots, Weil’s longest single work, her most pessimistic, and her most hopeful. Each of these three concepts has made an appearance, already, in this dissertation, but require the context of Weil’s positive idea of liberty in order to be fully understood. Gravity, as a force of nature, is the theological metaphor that Weil mobilizes in order to explicate the general situation of oppression based in the material organization of society. In other words, gravity is a conception of materialism expressed through a scientific natural law imbued with a mystical tinge. Grace, as gravity’s dialectical opposite, is simultaneously Weil’s renunciation of materialist solutions to her historical juncture, and simultaneously a moral-political position in regards to the idea of resistance. Finally, decreation presents as a procedure, it is the path through which the transcendence of grace may be achieved. In Hegelian language, it can be conceived of as the sublation of the self through the abolition thereof. It is not a purely negative concept, but rather the negation of the negation of the negation in that it requires previous steps in the sublation of the personality through affliction, affliction through attention, and finally the affirmative negation of decreation. I argue, below, that this constellation in Weil’s thought offers a materialist response to the crisis of fascism and the Nazi Occupation of France, but that it stops short of fulfilling any sort of revolutionary demand. Moreover, that though these terms are given a theological framework and come into relation as opposing conceptions of immanence and transcendence, presenting supreme political importance for Weil’s thought. Not only do decreation and grace resist gravity, but they are the pessimistic praxeology of resistance itself. Without these, the possibilities for Weil’s compromised utopia would be nil. This compromised utopia is constructed by Weil as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The return of the contradictory relationship of the individual and the collectivity is tempered when the collectivity is comprised of moral and compassionate human beings. The State, in The Need for Roots, takes on a secondary possibility as a 151





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heuristic collectivity with the capacity to become the nourishing roots that Weil wishes for. Though she remains cautious about the totalitarian threat of the Church and the Party, Weil offers a slight opening when it comes to the State because of the opportunity that her vision of a post-war re-foundation for France. This argument for the heuristic quality of the State in The Need for Roots is premised on my agreement with Eric O. Springsted, Mary G. Dietz, and Miklós Vetö arguments that the book offers a preponderance of evidence against any possible argument for a break between the early (materialist) and late (Christian) Weil. I will 4

argue that the The Need for Roots is not so much the maturation of those ideas she 5

proposes in “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression,” “The Iliad, or The Poem of Force,” and others, but instead it is the complete rendering of the disparate parts of her project, which can also be seen in those essays that she completed around the same time as The Need for Roots, namely “Human Personality” and the Note On the Abolition of All Political Parties. In other words, Weil’s late writings, including The Need for Roots are not so much the culmination of her life project, but instead a holistic statement and argument for the moral, mystical, and political community she had advocated for since her time as a student. In the third part of this chapter I will argue for a distinct method of reading The Need for Roots that draws inspiration and distinction from those of Dietz and E. Jane Doering. Doering sees in The Need for Roots the genealogy of deracination counterpoised with yet another figure of great military and moral centrality, that of Joan of Arc. For her, Weil’s purpose is the recovery of the moral, mythical-historical, France of Joan of Arc against the literary, mythical-historical, France of Corneille, the difference being the acceptance of God’s grace (in Joan of Arc) contrary to the idolatry of the people (Corneille). This reading conforms to Weil’s insistence on a Catholic France that Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine, 31; Eric O. Springsted, Simone Weil and the Suffering of Love, 129; Miklós Vetö, The Religious Metaphysics of Simone Weil, 7. Eric O. Springsted, “Rootedness: culture and value,” 168.

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embraces the mystical version of Christianity rather than the Republic dressed in the clothing of the Roman Empire. In the end, Doering’s reading is colored by the intention of her book, the question of self-perpetuating force the role of violence in the creation of France (especially the destruction of the Cathars) becomes the central concept to her reading. She declines to pass judgment on Weil’s utopian framework. Mary G. Dietz reads The Need for Roots as a three-fold text. On the one hand it is a Marxian (I would argue it is rather Benjaminian) reading of French history – one that recounts a history of the oppressed. From this perspective, Dietz argues that Weil makes 6

two claims upon her readers. The first of these is the reconstruction of French patriotism and culture through the excising of writers such as Corneille and the reintroduction of rather more compassionate authors. Like Doering, Dietz identifies this compassionate patriotism with Weil’s figure of Joan of Arc. She takes this character however, as one of 7

the emblematic of what she sees as an authentic conservatism in The Need for Roots. The 8

second element of the reading that Dietz offers is that The Need for Roots offers a utopian construction with a “limited ‘politicalness’ [which] stems from two theoretical problems: first, from her reliance upon a metaphor that diminishes the meaning of ‘belonging to country,’ and second, more importantly, from a patriotic ethic that is informed by a private, spiritual, morality rather than a public, political one.”

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While I agree with both of these critics that Weil’s mystical writings and her political writings are a singular preoccupation. I will draw distinction in my reading of The Need for Roots in that I argue that the contradictions in Weil’s second magnum opus are not only intentional, but are indicative of a specific political purpose rather than some confusion between her different impulses in regards to her understanding of the political purposes of the Free French Forces under De Gaulle and her own political project.

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Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine, 173. Ibid., 178. Ibid., 174. Ibid. 184.

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Taking Weil’s work as a totality, and as commenting on society as a totality, including ideology and the spiritual realm, allows for the resuscitation of the radicality of her politics. When I say that Springsted and Dietz seek to make Weil into something she is not, I mean that she is none of a mystic, a secular-liberal, a conservative, or a theologian. In this I follow Weil’s own cautioning in the Note On the Abolition of Political Parties where she writes: “In advertisements for public meetings, one frequently reads things like this: ‘Mr X will present the Communist point of view (on the issue which the meeting shall address). Mr Y will present the Socialist point of view. Mr Z will present the Liberal point of view.’ How do these wretches manage to know the various points of view they are supposed to present? Who can have instructed them? Which oracle? A collectivity has no tongue and no pen. All the organs of expression are individual. The Socialist collectivity is not embodied in any person, and neither is the Liberal one. Stalin embodies the Communist collectivity, but he lives far away and it is not possible to reach him by telephone before the meeting.” It is little surprise that a thinker who denigrated such labels would defy them at the same time.

Decreative Resistance – Grace Contra Gravity:

“This final mystical experience is the culmination – not the contradiction – of all Weil’s philosophical thinking. Mysticism is not the opposite of philosophy, but the consequence of philosophical investigation.” 10

Simone Weil’s critique of oppression, from her insistence on intellectual freedom through her attention to affliction and positing of the negative work of decreation as a form of permanent resistance, is filled with the romantic attitude of heterodoxy and mysticism. Each of the previous chapters has presented a negation through dialectical 11

opposition: in Chapter One, we saw the ideology of the uprooted collectivity, which 12

A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 34. Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, 9. Along with Occupied France, uprooted to the point at which The Need for Roots needed to be presented to it, Weil offers the Romans, the Hebrews, the Germans, and the French as the exemplary uprooted nations. She explains, “The Romans were a handful of fugitives [qua the Aeneid] who banded themselves together artificially to form a city, and deprived the Mediterranean peoples of their individual manner of life, their country, traditions, past history to such an extent that posterity has taken them, at their own valuation, for

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becomes an idolatrous belief and finds its most powerful expression in the anathema sit is negated by the rejection of the power of the institution that wields the power. In Chapter Two, we saw how the dispossessed and afflicted by material necessity may find a true form of work through the true power of attention expressed in a free and loving fashion. In Chapter Three we see the violence that underlies both the institutions of Church, State, and party, in Chapter One and the organization of labor of Chapter Two reifies both the victor and the vanquished. However the path of revolution is blocked by the necessity for actors of great moral character who do not adopt the idolatrous position of feigning to be above sin. Thus we have seen that Weil adopts a pessimistic attitude toward violence and revolution and offers in their place the possibility only of seemingly limited form of resistance attainable by those who have emptied themselves through affliction, attention, and the rejection of collective idolatry in decreation. It is this affirmation that exists within decreation that is the locus of this section. Decreation is affirmative in two ways. First in its opposition to destruction: “Decreation: to make something created pass into the uncreated. Destruction: to make something created pass into nothingness. A blameworthy substitute for decreation.” Thusly, 13

destruction is “an ersatz form” of decreation because it does not take seriously the 14

recreation of the collectivity as a rooted entity in spite of the paradox that such a move presents for Weil. Second, decreation is affirmative in its actualization through the practice of the capacity of attention. In this way one must affirm the life-giving

the founders of civilization in these conquered territories. The Hebrews were escaped slaves, and they either exterminated or reduced to servitude all the peoples of Palestine [Weil, here, is speaking Biblically, though this could be understood as true for modern Israel as well]. The Germans, at the time Hitler assumed command over them, were really – as he was never tired of repeating – a nation of proletarians, that is to say, uprooted individuals.” Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 47; Simone Weil, Selected Essays, 79. Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 32; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 247. The translations and syntax of these two sections differ significantly; however, this is the closest the two texts come to each other. The version of the quote in Gravity and Grace is supplied above. In the Notebooks it is rendered as “Destruction. God has created the world and desires perpetually that it should exist; to destroy is therefore evil, unless it be by causing something created to pass into the uncreated. Destruction is a bad imitation (an ersatz form) of such an operation.” This fragment is surrounded by considerations on Plato’s Timaeus. Ibid.

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phenomena of beauty, justice, and the love of neighbor most clearly demonstrated in the emphasis Weil places on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The context of the this 15

Let us linger on decreation for a moment. As an act it is a preparatory one. It opens up the possibility of grace. Decreation moves the individual from a rationality of willing action for the benefit of the self to a rationality of desire for the good, such that the reality of the natural world, especially in its contradictions and beauties, can be experienced as metaxu, linking to the supernatural. Emmanuel Gabellieri finds the roots of Weil’s mystical metaxu in her essay on “God in Plato.” Weil delineates her “metaxology” in this essay by arguing, in Gabellieri’s words, “we need to consider the world as a series of metaxu, or bridges, between us and God. For Plato, the two main metaxu are knowledge and love.” Considered in the context of Weil’s critique of 16

oppression, decreation can be understood as a process through which the metaxu of knowledge as attained by the extreme, negative effort of attention comes into contact with the metaxu of love that is inspired by the supernatural love of neighbor (for which the attentive question of “what are you going through” is required) to form a unity of 17

decreation in which the practitioner offers themself as at once an educator, confidant, and rebel all at the same time. Decreation is the pathway to justice. This takes place by way of the dialectical conflict between the self and the metaxu (the mediator). In this dialectic the self is emptied and becomes the mediating object, the metaxu. This negative aspect that takes attention from a voluntary act without end, as she describes in the essay on “The Right Use of School Studies with a View Toward the Love of God” and makes it a moral and political position rather than a willing act. Weil conceives of the application of this higher

“Christ taught us that the supernatural love of our neighbor is the exchange of compassion and gratitude which happens in a flash between two beings, one possessing and the other deprived of human personality Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 90. Emmanuel Gabellieri, “Reconstructing Platonism, The Trinitarian Metaxology,” in E. Jane Doering and Eric O. Springsted, eds. The Christian Platonism of Simone Weil, (Notre Dame, IN: The University of Notre Dame Press, 2004), 138. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 64.

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form of attention in her essay “Forms of the Implicit Love of God.” There, she theorizes 18

that the negation of the will which “cannot produce any good in the soul” as the negation 19

of the active practice of attention. In turn, instead of attention to some willed desire Weil offers decreation as the opening of the self to the possibility of a true and impersonal attention to God and neighbor. Decreation, therefore, presents a mystical answer to political contingency without ignoring the politics of the crisis or turning away from the political world in Weil’s critical frame. As such, decreation remains in the realm of the earthbound world as both the height of attention and the preamble to grace. It is Weil’s move from voluntarist politics into the metaxic role of a prophet. Again, Rozelle-Stone and Stone guide our 20

way into this problem when they propose as the main thesis of their book that Weil offers her reader a way of life rather than a theology, through a reading of the Gospels that suggests the same. “By this statement,” they write, “she did not intend a criticism. On 21

the contrary, she was proposing a new orientation toward sacred text in which flesh and blood encounters, rather than propositions about the divine, are revealed.” Rozelle-Stone 22

and Stone take this one step further in their own analysis: “Attention and decreation together represent the crucial elements of the ‘conception of human life’ revealed by the Gospels to Weil’s mind.” But they do not go so far as to re-root these conceptualizations 23

in politics. Of course, from the perspective of politics, broadly construed, this reading presents a significant limitation. The conception of human life in Weil’s thought comes from the Gospels, as well as from a pluralistic reading of other religious traditions and 24

Both of these essays are contained in the collection Waiting for God. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 126. The Jewish theologian, Abraham J. Heschel, describes the prophet as a truth telling mediator between the love of God and the worldly evils of the people. See Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper & Row, 1962). A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 2. Ibid., 1. Ibid., 5. Eric O. Springsted, “Rootedness: culture and value,” 167-168.

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religious texts including the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Bhagavad-Gita, and Plato’s Timaeus, among others. Each of these books has, in Weil’s estimation, a version of the 25

incarnation. The incarnation and crucifixion must be taken seriously in the context of 26

Simone Weil’s mysticism, because these acts are integral to her understanding not only of creation but also of mediation, without which decreation is not only incomprehensible, but also meaningless. That said, as the steel girding of Weil’s mysticism, the idea of the Gospels and these other books as a way of life can be understood as developing from the synthesis of the two geneses of her response to crisis. Rozelle-Stone and Stone do not treat this aspect of her thought. These are the crisis of Nazism and Weil’s originary Jewishness. Both of which serve to limit the extent to which she is capable of finding truth in the conception of the absolute. These two historical problems also serve as her justifications for remaining outside of the Church and her advocacy for an antagonist toward orthodoxies of all sorts. The incarnation and the crucifixion are put forward as exempla of non-active action, that is, “acting not on behalf of a certain object, but as a result of a certain necessity…. This is not action, but a sort of passivity. Non-active action.” This non27

active action is not passivity, per se, but rather a sort of pure action in response to the conditions of necessity. Weil continues on her in Notebooks, ruminating, “[T]he absolutely pure motives appear as external… To seek after what is absolutely good, not what is good from such and such point of view and bad from another one.” The 28

complexity that underlies decreation, then, is the meeting of the ideas of the absolute and of purity. In contradiction, philosophically, but in agreement, politically, with Walter

In spite of her protestations, some have argued that Weil is influenced by both Talmudic and Kabalistic Judaism as well. See Maria Clara Bingemer, Simone Weil, Mystic of Passion and Compassion, trans. Karen M. Kraft (Eugene, OR; Cascade Books, 2015), 102. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 125. Simone Weil, Notebooks, 124. Ibid., 125.

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Benjamin’s conceptualization of nonviolent divine violence, Weil stakes her claim on a politics of pure ends dictating a purity of the related means.

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In this regard, Weil actually takes the logic of the Gospels as a conception of life further than Rozelle-Stone and Stone are willing to pursue her, all the way to the point of death. For Simone Weil, the purest of motives is not the motive of messianic proportions, but rather the sanctification of the afflicted. That Christ shows her how to suffer for justice is of greater significance than his personhood. It is only by Christ achieving not only his physical negation by death, but his already having passed through the previous negation of self through his interaction with affliction that he becomes the sanctified incarnation of God. This sanctification is necessary for the conception of justice – as both the Platonic beauty of the world and the Christian love of neighbor – that Weil mobilizes. It is this idea of justice that distinguishes her thought from theorists of civil disobedience. Weil is not trying to affect the changing of the society in some small way, but a total reconfiguration of the social fabric itself. As Hannah Arendt has pointed out, Socrates, whom Weil is more interested in emulating than Gandhi, is misunderstood when his death is considered as the model for civil disobedience. Socrates, like Weil, has a 30

different aim than just making a change in the city, she has no interest in accepting her punishment for overstepping the bounds of normal politics, but instead understands each moment of life before decreation, which in itself is not evental, as the preemptive punishment through affliction. Furthermore, the conception of purity within which Weil operates as a mystical goal, albeit a politically problematic framework, is a social conception rather than a personal one. In fact, the personal, in decreation, is abolished, making the idea of self-sacrifice redundant. The non-active action of decreation and grace is then reanimated in the love of neighbor just as it was deactivated through affliction.

Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” 239 Hannah Arendt, “Civil Disobedience,” in Crises of the Republic, 49-102 (New York; Harcourt Brace, 1972), 52.

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For Simone Weil, the person, the “I,” is defined specifically by a lack of goodness, purity, beauty, and the incapacity to love, because the person can be present for and party to sin. But the evil of sin is a prospective path toward the purification that is a 31

cliché of mysticism. For Simone Weil, the risk of sin, is ever-present, even and 32

especially on her path to unity with God, a path that is decidedly in this world. This is her check against herself falling into a more ethereal mysticism. In both “God in Plato” and 33

her Notebooks, Weil makes reference to St. John of the Cross’ “dark night” which is the 34

symbolic pathway towards mystical purification. She also makes use of Plato’s allegory of the cave, and joins the philosopher in advocating that one must return to the cave after experiencing the purification of decreation. Plato is, for Weil, both a great philosopher and the carrier of the mystical spirit of the Greeks. His allegory of the cave is heuristic in 35

this regard for an understanding of Weil’s conceptualization of purity. The purified, the decreated, must return to the collectivity and do good as an example of what decreation is, this is the penetration of the light from eternity. The loaded term “purification,” for Simone Weil or any anti-fascist thinker, is an inherently problematic one. One the one hand, the dark night of the mystic in which one passes through the pain and struggle of purification to reach the other side of communion with God is a trope that Weil both experienced and described in her letters and notebooks. The mystic often seeks purity, as Weil did both for herself and in her choosing of the Languedoc Cathars as her historical exemplar.

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Simone Weil, Notebooks, 126. Maria Clara Bingemer, Simone Weil, 98. I am grateful for conversations with my friend, and fellow Weil scholar, Benjamin Palmer Davis for helping me clarify these ideas. Simone Weil, Notebooks, 125; Simone Weil, “God in Plato,” in Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks, 74-88 (New York: Routledge, 1957); See also, Emmanuel Gabellieri, “Reconstructing Platonism, The Trinitarian Metaxology,” in E. Jane Doering and Eric O. Springsted eds. The Christian Platonism of Simone Weil, 133-158 (Notre Dame, IN; The University of Notre Dame Press, 2004). Eric O. Springsted, Simone Weil and the Suffering of Love, 82-83. The Cathars were particularly interested in the purity of belief, including giving the denomination of “perfect” to those who were baptized by the ascetic monks who spread the sect throughout southern France. In fact, the word “cathar” has been given to other sects of Christianity and comes from “the Greek katharoi” which translates to “pure ones.” See Sean Martin, The Cathars: The Rise and Fall of the Great Heresy (Somerset, UK: Pocket Essentials, 2014), 29. See also, Simone Weil, “A Medieval Epic Poem,” in

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The Cathars, or Albigenses, were a dualist movement of medieval Christianity spoken in the langue d’oc. An enumeration of what attracted Weil to the “Great Heresy”

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includes their pacifism, the asceticism of their “perfects,” and her sympathy for the victims of the very Roman way in which the Church perpetrated a Crusade of destruction against them. The historical instance of the Albigensian Crusade confirmed both Weil’s 38

idea of the Church as idolatrous and modern France as an historical instrument of deracination. Weil maps the poetic move of purification on to the theological position for which Leo Strauss called Machiavelli (whom Weil admired ) “the teacher of evil,” namely, 39

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atheism. The position of atheism in Weil’s thought also confirms her own pluralism: Religion, in so far as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith; and in this sense atheism is a purification. I have to be an atheist with that part of myself which is not made for God. Among those in whom the supernatural part of themselves have not been awakened, the atheists are right and the believers wrong. 41

The pluralism that Weil presents is one that is rooted in her idea of creation, which will complete the cycle of the concept of decreation. As Weil writes in “Forms of the Implicit Love of God,” the act of creation is one in which God actually gives up a part of the absolute. “On God’s part creation is not an act of self-expansion but restraint and renunciation. God and all his creatures are less than God alone.”

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In decreation, Mary G. Dietz finds only the potentiality for withdrawal from the world. This is based on her argument that “[Weil’s] mysticism offers no hope for 43

altering the earthly conditions—the human crime—that brings affliction into existence, only a way of stripping oneself o the ‘givenness’ of such conditions. For the mystical way

Selected Essays, 1934-1943: Historical, Political, and Moral Writings, ed. Richard Rees, trans. Richard Rees, 35-43 (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2015). Sean Martin, The Cathars. Simone Weil, Selected Essays, 41. Simone Weil, Selected Essays, 73. Leo Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958), 9. Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 115; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 238. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 89. Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine, 125.

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is not to change the world, but to withdraw from it. In this respect, we have to understand Weil’s mysticism as utterly antipolitical.” For Dietz the pessimism of Weil’s turn to 44

decreation is too far a move away from the modern subject who wills and acts publicly and potentially collectively. Dietz, however, does not reject the political purposive element of decreation in Weil’s work, which is to not only act with compassion but to open oneself compassionately to the struggles of those that surround one. I argue, that the non-active action of decreation and grace, in truth, seek to attain the opposite. Instead of an “antipolitical” withdrawal (which, not to quibble, would be a 45

political act in and of itself) of “genuine passivity in this world – an attitude of general motionlessness –” Weil’s decreative resistance instead is a disruption not through 46

physical motion but moral-political motion. This is not the total passivity that Dietz characterizes, but instead a purposive form of resistance grounded in opposition to the extreme voluntarism of fascism and Soviet Communism. What makes Dietz unable to see this historical situation is her own reliance on the idea of the liberal individual as the mechanism of politics. As a result she forgets, for just a moment, that Weil’s entire understanding of the self rejects this as an ideological precept. Decreation is how Weil gives the atheist part of herself back to God. Grace, decreated, is a transcendent notion that absorbs and alters the contingent historical moment, overcoming gravity temporarily, but never completely. Here, Weil comes up against the limit of the mystical non-active action within her political framework of rational action. If God renounced being everything, and the goal of decreation is to renounce the part of you that is not of God, then the movement made possible by grace is an inherently unsatisfying, yet thoroughly political counterweight to the totalitarianism of gravity. This reading is antagonistic to Dietz’s argument that “Weils mysticism as utterly

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Ibid.,122. Ibid. Ibid., 125.

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antipolitical” simply because “this mysticism offers no hope for altering the earthly 47

conditions … that brings affliction into existence.”

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And yet, Weil’s multifaceted mysticism attempts to answer this same problematic – the antagonism of immanent gravity and transcendent grace – also through the pathway of atheism. “There are two sorts of atheism,” writes Weil, “one of which is a purification of the notion of God.” This complicates the previous problematic by inserting it into a 49

feedback loop with itself. Decreation is the return of the atheist part of creation to God, and yet God must pass through the atheism of Christ’s doubt to be purified. Both the limited individual and the absolute God that may only self-impose limitation are required to go through the same experience of the dark night. This is Weil’s understanding of Christ on the Cross, it is how she understands the cry of eli eli lamma sabbachtani [father, father, why has thou forsaken me?]. In that section of Gravity and Grace and the Notebooks, entitled, “The Self,” along with those essays she wrote during her time in London, she expands on this idea, placing Christ’s suffering in the distinction between redemptive suffering in which God’s absence is felt and expiatory suffering in which the self is destroyed by the world. “The bringing about of the absence of God in a soul completely emptied of self through love is redemptive suffering…. External destruction with which the soul associates itself through love is expiatory suffering.” Each of these 50

modes are of value to Weil. She offers an argument that one requirement for redemption is to love of the world in the absence of God. This atheist love goes beyond just the purifying expiation of one’s own affliction because it is done impersonally. In other

Ibid., 122. Ibid. Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 114; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 126. By way of support for this idea, Weil writes in her Letter to a Priest, “In so far as ‘God exists’ is an intellectual proposition – but only to that extent – it can be denied without committing any sin at all either against charity or against faith. (And, indeed, such a negation, formulated on a provisional basis, is a necessary stage in philosophical investigation.)” Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 62. Simone Weil, An Anthology, 100, 110; Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 28; and Simone Weil, Notebooks, 342.

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words, redemption is directed externally, toward the world through love, while expiation is directed only inward toward the soul. In the pain God experienced in his – for Weil and Christianity, God is irreducibly masculine – incarnation, Weil sees a parallel of the path of doubt and frustration with those of Plato, Descartes, herself, Arjuna, and the mystics. Purification is the unmistakable goal, and even God was marked as a slave in the process. Gravity drags down even the transcendent, and Weil’s atheist symbol of this dragging down is the cross.

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The paradoxical relationship between the dialectics of immanence-transcendence and particular-universal comes to play a role in Weil’s mysticism as much as it does in her critique of revolution. In both cases, Simone Weil is simultaneously calling for the abolition of the oppressive society and the abolition of the concept of self that accompanies it. In order to achieve the grace-ful love of neighbor, the overcoming of the human personality is of equal and simultaneous import to the overcoming of the gravity of the individualized social order. The struggle against social oppression, in its mystical and political forms, is a struggle against the self in its mystical and political forms. Contrary to Rozelle-Stone and Stone, I argue that the transcendence of the personality expressed in Weil’s atheist mysticism does not constitute an absolute rupture with the immanent human. It is only because decreation is a continual struggle that it may be universalized as a weapon against oppression. For Weil, as for Lukács, the idea of self52

abnegation as a political concept is generalizable to a class and therefore has revolutionary potential; it cannot repeat that political potential as a path of purification because it does not offer redemption, only expiation. When Weil tells Father Couturier

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Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 55. Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 80.

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“if the Gospel omitted all mention of Christ’s resurrection, faith would be easier for me. The Cross by itself suffices me,”

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Simone Weil is committing to a position against martyrdom and in favor of life 54

even though the Cross is, undeniably, a symbol of death. Weil gives multiple examples of martyrdom as an ersatz form of decreation in the willing acceptance of one’s own destruction. She writes “Martyrdom came easier to the early Christians than to 55

those of succeeding centuries, and infinitely easier than to Christ’s immediate disciples, who, at the moment of supreme crisis, were unable to face it. So today, sacrifice is easier for a Communist than for a Christian.” To confirm this point, 56

Weil writes, “Christ was afflicted. He did not die like a martyr. He died like a common criminal, confused with thieves, only a little more ridiculous. For affliction is ridiculous.”

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For Rozelle-Stone and Stone, “[Weil] does not communicate a theology but instead reveals a conception of human life, albeit in paradoxical ways.” This conception 58

of human life is one that is not free, and the fundamental paradox of this state of oppression is that between the gravity that pulls us back down to earth and the grace that provides us the possibility of drawing us up. And still, grace after decreation offers no promise of moving up vertically nor does it follow that the place above is preferable to the real world of oppression. What is good is the antithesis of that which is evil, but it still exists in the world.

Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 55. “Martyrdom came easier to the early Christians than to those of succeeding centuries, and infinitely easier than to Christ’s immediate disciples, who, at the moment of supreme crisis, were unable to face it. So today, sacrifice is easier for a Communist than for a Christian.” Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 149; Mary-Magdeleine Davy, The Mysticism of Simone Weil, trans. Cynthia Rowland (Boston; Beacon Press, 1951), 25. See, for example, Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 152; Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 84, 88; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 148; Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 215. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 149. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 73. A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 2.

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That Rozelle-Stone and Stone argue for the understanding of Weil’s mysticism as an “atheology” is indicative of the difficulty of coming to grips with the connotations of 59

a God who is both good and evil, a version of Christ as both afflicted victim and transcendent metaxu, and a reading of the Gospels as a way of life. However, the term “atheology” ignores that Christ is incarnated, and not simply a prophet of justice or of good. The relation between the immanent preference “in favor of a real hell rather than of an imaginary paradise” comes down to the question of “the void” that atheism is capable 60

of navigating. The negative freedom of atheism is thus parallel in its swerve around imagination [which fills the void left by affliction] as anarchism is in its swerve around bureaucratic forms of oppression. These aversions do not achieve negation or absence, as Rozelle-Stone and Stone’s terminological choice implies. Atheism, for Weil, has no conception of God and therefore can purify God just as anarchism “escape[s] the bureaucratic hold only because [it] know[s] nothing about action methodically organized” and thus can purify the Great Beast by negating its necessity. Nonetheless, if 61

Weil truly felt that the ideas of atheism and anarchism where pure answers there would have been no reason to engage with the mystical and the utopian framework of The Need for Roots would be drastically different. Transposing Weil’s own understanding of The Gospels to an understanding of Weil’s own thought, Rozelle-Stone and Stone’s case for Simone Weil’s philosophy as a conception of human life is undergirded by their advocacy in favor of Weil’s exhortation 62

not to fill the void with imagination. As they argue, “Recall that according to Weil, when 63

we suffer, we almost always attempt to establish ‘equilibrium’ by deflecting the suffering back onto the world. Sometimes these deflections take the form of revenge; sometimes they take the form of an imaginary reward for the suffering. In all cases, these deflective Ibid., 5. Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 53; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 320. Simone Weil, “Reflections Concerning Technology, National-Socialism, The U.S.S.R. and Certain Other Matters” in Oppression and Liberty, 28. A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 5. Ibid., 71.

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consolations are anesthetic distractions that constitute evil.” What this means for the 64

scholar of Weil’s work, let alone the Christian or the radical who seeks to follow her, is that we must find the pessimistic stream in ourselves, rejecting the imaginative optimist that expounds upon our hope for salvation. This pessimism is the prerequisite not only 65

for the political act, but also for the political non-active act. Simone Weil’s pessimism is the barricade against the weaponry of words with capital letters. The embrace of real hell is not an inherently radical idea, just as the grace of decreation does not lead to the redemption of the expiated soul. Instead, in realizing that we live in the world of oppression and gravity – that is, on a planet that is scientifically proven to be holding us on it surface by force – we are able to find the bits of God that were left for us in the act of creation, and love them as beauty and justice. We must accept these natural forms of beauty as enough to maintain in us the dedication to the natural beauty reflected by justice. In regarding Plato as a mystic, Weil gathers together 66

the conceptual definitions of beauty, justice, truth, and God as being combined in the power of the absolute and the universal. Moreover, these conceptual definitions are 67

reliant on the act of the love of neighbor, the purest act of attention, which does not seek to pull the neighbor out of their affliction by sheer force of will (or of force itself) but instead to find their real hell alongside our own. It is, quite frankly, a matter of compassion. This is the manner in which gravity and evil are combatted in Weil’s moral mysticism. Turning to Rozelle-Stone and Stone again: “Gravity”(la pensateur) – while not equivalent with Weil’s notion of evil – does capture the nearly irresistible pull toward actions and fantasies that generate the semblance of homeostasis and themselves constitute evil. True, we sometimes submit almost unconsciously to gravity; we can “fall” into evil by negligence and inattentiveness, just as we can easily fall prey to propaganda. However, there is always the original consent to l’imagination combleuse [the imagination that fills Ibid., 76. Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine, 119, 141. For a detailed Weilienne study of the relationship between beauty and justice, see Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999). Simone Weil, Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks.

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the void]. Our freedom is significant because of the choice of orientation in relation to the void: Will we impatiently deny that we are hungry for the good and resort to ersatz fillers or recognize and embrace the hunger for the good? 68

The mystical-pessimistic defense against imagination is the active rejection of idolatry in the compassionate search for the good. The attention to the void is, contradictorily, how we guard against its gravitational pull of self-expiatory voluntarism in place of redemptive suffering. In its finality, grace cannot completely escape gravity. This is the limit of Weil’s conception of decreation. Even though it contends with gravity and oppression as a totality it is incapable of conceiving of a future for itself. However, the rejection of saving oneself in favor of a compassionate love of neighbor is certainly a political act that is worthy of high regard. Still, Dietz is right to criticize Weil for failing to go beyond the personalized rebellion. There is something so totally pessimistic in her regard for the evil of the collectivity that her ability to organize resistance seems to fall flat. In the metaphor Weil conjures in “Human Personality” of the tree whose roots are pushed down into the earth but are in truth raised to the sky in awe of the sun’s rays, she 69

gives a glance at the importance of her dualism and the depth of the paradox involved. Weil’s dualist paradox presents a series of limitations for her thought. The pessimistic impulse of Weil’s mysticism is shown through the dualism of immanent and transcendent in the image of the tree that draws its nourishment from God from its roots in the sky, but remains stuck with its roots in the ground of the material world. The conflict between the two sets of roots is inevitable, and yet both are necessary for the nourishment and stability of the tree. The tree pulled by gravity and grace is also a metaphor for each of us who desires good in spite of the contradiction between this desire and the nuance of decreative grace. The image of the tree with roots in the ground and the sky excellently describes Weil’s understanding of the nature of good and evil.

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A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 80. Simone Weil, An Anthology, 86.

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Like that which draws the roots up to the sky, Weil describes pure motives as being outside of the self. Grace, the decreative and attentive good, is never for one’s own sake. Though this is true, it leads one to a curious conclusion that doing good is 70

exceptionally difficult and entirely unexceptional at the same time. But the growing of vertical roots would be most exceptional for a tree. “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied, real evil dreary, monotonous, barren and tedious. Why? On the other hand, imaginary good is tedious.” And the implication is that real good is romantic and 71

extraordinary. The tediousness of the real evil is that same gravitational force that drives 72

the roots down into the ground. It is all the more powerful when it goes unnoticed as evil as a result of its very dreariness. Weil’s understanding of evil, in the end, presents itself as a theologized variant of Hannah Arendt’s conception of banality in which resides the evil of the failure to be a moral and political actor. In other words, evil can be understood as the incapacity to consider anything other than following orders.

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Roots and Rootedness: The Heuristic State “[O]ne’s native land never seems so beautiful as when under the heel of a conqueror, if there is hope of seeing it again intact.” 74

The content of evil evident in Arendt’s theory and Weil’s theodicy “is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring or immoral (or a mixture of both).” It contradicts the 75

idealized forms of the nefarious mastermind and the flamboyant talking villain by presenting these as simple literary devices. Nonetheless, the evil in the world, 76

Simone Weil, Notebooks, 125. Simone Weil, “Literature and Morals,” in Late Philosophical Writings, ed. Eric O. Springsted, trans. Eric O. Springsted and Lawrence E. Schmidt, 145-150 (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), 145. Simone Weil, Notebooks, 140-141. See Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York; Penguin, 2006). Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 101. Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 70; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 143. Ibid.

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particularly the evil of fascism of the 1920s-1940s, drove both into hiding and then exile 77

along with the other Jews of Europe whom it did not capture and kill. Arendt’s refugees who display their very uprootedness by the ability to be Jewish, Polish, German, French, and American all at the same time without being able to be any of them in truth are the 78

exemplary lesson of how uprootedness is self-perpetuating. It is discomfiting that these 79

refugees, including Weil and Arendt themselves, are worthy of being considered the lucky ones of their generations. In Weil’s understanding, those who were interned and 80

murdered in the concentration camps or systematically shot in the forests and fields of the Eastern Front suffered not only for their own uprootedness as Jews, Roma, the disabled, homosexuals, and political dissidents, but for the uprootedness of the Germans and the inhabitants of those countries they conquered. “Whoever is uprooted himself uproots others. Whoever is rooted himself doesn’t uproot others.” When Simone Weil wrote 81

these two sentences, in the section titled “Uprootedness in the Towns,” Part II of The Need for Roots, what she had in mind was not only deracination in the political sense, but also the spiritual deracination through which she understood the history of European civilization since the Romans conquered the Greeks and, later, assimilated Christianity into their imperial raison d’etre.

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When the materially and spiritually deracinated Germans conquered the northern half of France in 1940, they brought an even more extreme form of uprootedness to what Weil already considered a spiritually dead collectivity (France). The further refugee

I am using the term “evil” as a political and theological term simultaneously as both Weil and Arendt do. The moral question in politics is what is at stake here, and so the use of the paradox of “good and evil” is an intentional and necessary one. Hannah Arendt, “We Refugees,” in The Jewish Writings, eds. Jerome Kohn and Ron H. Feldman (New York: Schoken, 2007), 271. See E. Jane Doering, Simone Weil and the Specter of Self-perpetuating Force. In the United States it is often forgotten that it was not simply those of Arendt and Weil’s generation – that generation whose fathers fought in World War I, who survived the despondency of the Great Depression, and who then gave birth to the Baby Boomers in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War – that was exterminated by the Nazi war machine, but that their parents’ generation, their grandparents’ generation, and some of the oldest of the Baby Boomers themselves were also victims of the Shoah. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 48. Simone Weil, Selected Essays, 139. Simone Weil, Selected Essays, 78.

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migrations to the area controlled by Petain’s Vichy regime, North Africa, the British Isles, and the United States, were all part of the catastrophic death of the Third Republic. Weil and her family fled south to Marseilles, then to Morocco en route to New York City. Weil then left for London alone. Her family stayed in New York until the war 83

ended, two years after Weil’s death. Her parents returned to Paris and her brother André made a career in Brazil and some of the most illustrious universities in the United States. While in London working within the Free French Forces under De Gaulle, Simone Weil sought a way in which to insert herself into the resistance on French soil. She was prevented from taking the various steps she had planned, including her proposal for a corps of frontline nurses who would offer as much spiritual and moral support as medical, by her comrades in London and her own health. She was put to work considering the political issues that would face the new national government in the aftermath of the war, especially the question of how to handle the trades unions. What Weil offered them was a “second magnum opus” dedicated to outlining the 84

moral and political grounds for the rebirth of France after the German occupation. The center of The Need for Roots is the question of how to reorganize an uprooted society it into something that can grow and blossom again. The metaphor of the tree with the roots in the ground and in the sky is apt here because what Weil intended for The Need for Roots is that it would be, as its subtitle suggests, a Prelude to a Declaration of Duties towards Mankind including moral, political, and spiritual obligations. In the words of T.S. Eliot, who wrote the “Preface” to the English translation of The Need for Roots, “This book belongs in that category of prolegomena to politics which politicians seldom read, and which most of them would be unlikely to understand or to know how to apply.” But it is also that very type of book that was the required form for Weil to map 85

Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 461-471. Simone Weil, Seventy Letters, 186. T.S. Eliot, “Preface,” in Simone Weil, The Need for Roots: A prelude to a Declaration of Duties towards Mankind, trans. Arthur Wills, (New York: Routledge, 1952), xiv.

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the rational society she had called for as early as 1932, in “Prospects: Are We Heading for the Proletarian Revolution?”.

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The transition from uprooted collectivity to rooted community is drawn from the 87

very individual idea of decreation. This is not to say that morality is derived by a mass of individuals all decreating at the same time and simultaneously forming a collectivity of the decreated. This would be too optimistic to be Weil’s intention. Rather it is the collective trauma of deracination that has the capacity to be the impetus for collective attention to the afflicted. What Weil seems to be gambling on is – and she shares this with the Marxian tradition – the development of mass solidarity through shared hardship. What Marx calls class-consciousness, which Luxemburg describes as a spontaneous, and Lukács demands be abolished in the act of revolution, can be translated into Weil’s mystical terminology though the movement through attention, decreation, and grace. In order for France to cease to be counted among the uprooted nations, it had to fall upon the hard times of the Nazi occupation; it had to experience the greatest form of collective affliction possible, military conquest and occupation.

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In The Need for Roots, Weil presents the rooted collectivity not as a perfect one of decreated individuals, but as a community oriented toward the good and comprised of attentive individuals. She is not, by any means, shooting for the moon – the transcendent and supernatural are temporarily forgiven for being absent in human society so long as we are able to meet the minimum requirements of the supernatural desire for the good. Attention, as a materialist conception, is sufficient for a collectivity that can provide nourishment to the individuals it grows. If attention is, in part, scholastic preparation and apprenticeship for the radical impersonality of decreation, then it is possible that Weil’s

Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 1-24. I use this term here, more in deference to Roberto Esposito’s work on biopolitics and on Weil than of my own accord. See Roberto Esposito, Bios; Roberto Esposito, Communitas; Roberto Esposito, Third Person: The Politics of life and the philosophy of the impersonal, trans. Zakiya Hanafi (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2012); Roberto Esposito, The Origin of the Political, Hannah Arendt or Simone Weil?. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 50.

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utopian suggestions are for a heuristic society that may develop individuals trained for the possibility of passing through affliction into a state of grace. It is most certainly for this reason that her utopian schema still includes such hardships as punishment, risk, and property (both private and collective), as well as the 89

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continued dedication to physical labor, which “in a well-ordered social life … should be its spiritual core.” It is no accident that Weil should choose the needs of the soul and 92

physical labor as the bookends to her longest work. It is the interaction between transcendent and material necessity that her society must nurture the forthcoming generations to be like the tree rooted in the ground and the sky. Everything she writes is tilted toward the future with an idea that her generation will not share in the ultimately rerooted collectivity. This is not to say that she thought of post-war France as something that would wither away, like Lenin’s State, but instead as an attentive collectivity that could raise attentive individuals. But what is an attentive collectivity? Weil offers both moral and practical supports upon which this can be based. There is a single principle that underlies what Weil is attempting in The Need for Roots. It is not the roots, nor is it the topsoil, but the transcendent sun, toward which the roots in the sky reach, and that is that the tree that is 93

society must hold within each ring of its trunk the shedding of oppression. Simone Weil’s

Ibid., 20-22. “Punishment only takes place where the hardship is accompanied at some time or another, even after it is over, and in retrospect, by a feeling of justice.” Ibid., 33. “Risk is a form of danger which provokes a deliberate reaction; that is to say, it doesn’t go beyond the soul’s resources to the point of crushing the soul beneath a load of fear. In some cases, there is a gambling aspect to it; in others, where some definite obligation forces a man to face it, it represents the finest possible stimulant.” Ibid., 35. “There is no natural connexion between property and money. The connexion established nowadays is merely the result of a system which has made money the focus of all other possible motives. This system being an unhealthy one, we must bring about a dissociation in inverse order.” Ibid., 298. Bataille also had an interest in the relation of the sun to the natural world in his three-volume work The Accursed Share. This text, completed and published after Weil’s death is, in the very least, indicative of her influence on the man she so reviled. See Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share, Volume 1, Consumption, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Zone Books, 1989), 54.

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rooted society must have within it the metaxu of those generations who have died fighting for the ability to plant roots.

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Because Weil understands cruelty to be ahistorical but oppression to be 95

historical, she is forced to treat transcendent good as ahistorical, but justice (its political 96

corollary) as a historical concept. This is made especially difficult in light of her own pessimism evidenced in her “Meditations on Obedience and Liberty,” a fragment written during the same London period during which she authored The Need for Roots, “Such a state of things results in profound and irremediable spiritual torture for every man with the public welfare at heart. Participation, even from a distance, in the play of forces which control the movement of history is not possible without contaminating oneself or incurring defeat.” This pessimistic view of history and humanity shapes Weil’s 97

understanding of just what constitutes roots and rootedness in the first place. It is of note that Part III of The Need for Roots is titled “The Growing of Roots” (L’enracinement), but the 123 pages that follow it are a complex narrative that 98

intermixes the various strains of Weil’s thought into considerations on the consequences of how the mode by which the liberation of France is won will necessarily determine the possibility of rootedness or uprootedness that will follow the defeat of the Germans. The paradoxes at play are not so much how she imagines the liberation of France to be achieved, but the meaning of liberation in the first place. For that, one needs to turn their attention not only to Part III of The Need for Roots, but to Part III in the context of Part I, “The Needs of the Soul.” Without this grounding, the final cautions and exhortations of the book that her present times are “sick” and that “physical labor … in a well-ordered 99

social life … should be its spiritual core” cannot be adequately understood. 100

94 95

96 97

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99 100

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 54. See also, Walter Benjamin, Theses “On the Concept of History,” Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 226. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 2, 40, 42, 60, 69, 70, 142, 146. Ibid., 146. Of the 2010 Routledge reprint of the 1952 translation by Arthur Mills. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 295. Ibid. 298.

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For Weil, the seeds of rootedness are already present in her contemporary moment, just as for Marx the seeds of communism already exist in capitalist social relations and for Plato the light from the sun can be seen in the cave in an adulterated form as the dance of shadows. These seeds are the needs of the soul: order, liberty, obedience, responsibility, equality, hierarchism, honor, punishment, freedom of opinion, security, risk, private property, collective property, and truth. Each of these, except for freedom of opinion and truth is part of a dialectical pair. Contrary to Springsted, who 101

calls these “antithetical pairs,” there is not a move toward an equilibrium as a future in 102

these but only as equally antagonistic concept with necessary aporia. From this we can understand that truth is of the most extreme importance. But that contradictory tensions between the various needs of the soul are generative of the conditions under which truth can be achieved. The rooted society is one that is in existence not only for the production and provision of the needs of the body and the needs of the soul. It is rather a collectivity that will bear fruit through teaching the individuals of whom it is comprised to be attentive to the needs of their neighbors no matter how contradictory this may be to their own needs.

A Compromised Utopia: “But honesty is not the same as loyalty. A wide distance separates these two virtues.” 103

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 26. It is possible, though the order of the needs of the soul does not suggest this, that these two needs could be understood as a dialectical pair in relation to each other. However, this would be a tenuous argument. For one, Weil argues for a sort of censorship in the Platonic mold, against the degrading lie in literature and the press. Secondly, and more tellingly, while Weil understands collective speech to be the enemy of truth, she considers individual speech to be its ally (her very own approximation of parrhesia). She makes it quite clear that “There is no such thing as a collective exercise of the intelligence. It follows that no group can legitimately claim freedom of expression, because no group has the slightest need of it.” Eric O. Springsted, Christus Mediator: Platonic Mediation in the Thought of Simone Weil (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983), 229-230; Eric O. Springsted, “Rootedness: culture and value,” 179; Eric O. Springsted, Simone Weil and the Suffering of Love, 113. See also Robert Chernavier, Simone Weil: Attention to the Real, 76. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 124.

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Simone Weil’s project in The Need for Roots is one that methodologically uses the dialectic of Plato rather than of Hegel. In other words, many of the contradictions 104

Weil constructs are left unresolved. The tensions between honor and punishment or obedience and responsibility are left to stand as productive contradictions. Each of the needs of the soul has a specific purpose in Weil’s philosophy of education. For Weil utopia is a heuristic methodology used to direct the reader to give attention to the historical traits that France shares with all modern nations so as to see that the suffering in the world is real and to have compassion for its victims. As The Need for Roots guides the reader from diagnosis to prescription – Weil stops short of prognosis – she offers a systematic critique and reorganization of French political society that seeks to stretch the limits of the Third Republic spirit of nihilism.

105

Each of the dialectical pairs Weil mobilizes in outlining the needs of the soul reappear later in her book under the rubric of the aporia of rights and obligations. In 106

response to a world in which the discourse of rights had failed, Weil looks to the republican tradition of highlighting obligation to the State (as in the works of Rousseau, Montesquieu, “the Men of 1789”, and Machiavelli ) as the basis of her utopian frame. 107

Again, because of the historical context within which this project was taken up, it is no wonder that Weil makes heavy use of French political thought in order to make her 108

point. Even though The Need for Roots was written in what was a kind of frenzy – she produced an astounding number of pages of written work, as well as notebooks, in the ten Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 12. Weil writes, “The second characteristic, closely connected with the first, is that needs are arranged in antithetical pairs and have to combine together to form a balance. … What is called the golden mean actually consists in satisfying neither the one nor the other of two contrary needs. It is a caricature of the genuinely balanced state in which contrary needs are each fully satisfied in turn.” For a contextualized reading of Simone Weil as one of the thinkers in the refusenik “esprit des anees trentes” [the spirit of the thirties], in the late Third Republic. See Athanasios Moulakis, Simone Weil and the Politics of Self-Denial, trans. Ruth Hein (Columbia, MO: The University of Missouri Press, 1998). See Chapter 3, p. 139, above. For further explication of these influences, see Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine, and E. Jane Doering, Simone Weil and The Specter of Self-perpetuating Force. Yes, I know that Machiavelli is not French.

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months between her November 10, 1942 arrival in London and her death on August 14, 1943 –, Weil most certainly had a series of specific arguments to which her collected 109

writings from that time point. These arguments get their most holistic treatment in this book. Moreover, The Need for Roots is evidence of the important argument brought by Miklós Vetö in 1971, namely, “that there is no break between the first and last works” of Simone Weil. The culmination of many of her arguments and concerns from her pre110

factory and pre-conversion writings reappear here in a systematic treatment. It is no 111

surprise that The Need for Roots would be called, a “prolegomena,” by T.S. Eliot, as it treats politics, morality, and history in a holistic fashion.

112

While Weil did not have something akin to a “plan” for The Need for Roots that would lend itself to Straussian reading, it cannot be denied that her book is written with specific intentions and simultaneously speaks to three distinct audiences. A lightStraussian reading, if something with that sort of title could exist, of The Need for Roots would rely on the tension between these three audiences - the resistance fighters, the government in exile, and her fellow believers – and the way in which Weil offers each a version of her story while simultaneously undermining some points for the sake of others. I am not proposing a reading of The Need for Roots that incudes both an exoteric and esoteric reading. It is not my contention that Weil hides her true arguments underneath “a popular teaching of an edifying character,” but that she did, as Leo Strauss suggested 113

about reading Spinoza, look “forward to a time when, as a result of the progress of popular education, practically complete freedom of speech would be possible, or – to exaggerate for the purposes of clarification – to a time when no one would suffer any harm from hearing any truth.” What Weil does in The Need for Roots is describe just 114

Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil: A Life, 489. Miklós Vetö, The Religious Metaphysics of Simone Weil, 7. Eric O. Springsted, Simone Weil and the Suffering of Love, 113. T.S. Eliot, “Preface,” xiv. Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Chicago; The University of Chicago Press, 1988), 36. Ibid., 33-34. Granted, the term “progress” would be a source of great consternation for Weil. One cannot be sure if these two contemporaries were aware of each other before or after Weil’s death (there is a greater

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that sort of society in which truth would be of the highest order and available to all, but she does not rely on progress to achieve it, nor is it clear if she trusts De Gaulle and his comrades to build it. In The Need for Roots Simone Weil treads a fine line between her mystical, anarchist, and communist tendencies and providing the conservative Free French Forces in London (under de Gaulle) with a navigable road-map to a spiritually grounded, attentive, post-war France. Needless to say, The Need for Roots was not what De Gaulle and his nationalist-conservative government-in-exile was hoping for from Weil. As such, this complex book is addressed, in part, to a government that could never accept its premises. It is not clear, in Weil’s account, if Occupied France can be redeemed or if it is among those “dead collectivities which, without devouring souls, don’t nourish them either.” And “if it is absolutely certain that [The Third Republic was] well and truly 115

dead, that it isn’t just a question of a temporary lethargy, then and only then should [it have been] destroyed.” Weil intentionally leaves this question open throughout the 116

book. It is dependent upon the reader’s ideological, theological, or historical frame, to decipher her answer to this question of destruction or redemption. Even her final call for 117

a reorganization of society around a “spiritual core” of “physical labor” does not settle 118

this tension, but rather presents it as a final aporia which, hypothetically, could be achieved in part under any political formulation. As is discussed, in depth, in Chapter One of this study, Simone Weil’s critique of the Church, the party, and the State as ersatz metaxu by which idolatry and totalitarianism is presented as the result of the historical process of deracination. What some readers of chance that Strauss would know of Weil after her death, but one cannot necessarily presume such contact). However, the implications of Strauss’ theory of reading are not applicable to Weil even if she did make use of some of the methods that he suggests because of the contingencies of history that both lived through. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 9. Ibid. Though he is not the only contemporary of Weil’s to engage with the tension between redemptive and apocalyptic messianism, Gershom Scholem’s books The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays, (New York; Schocken Books, 1971) and Sabbatei Sevi: The Mystical Messiah 1626–1676 (Princeton, NJ; Princeton University Press, 1973) are perhaps the best and most thorough explorations thereof. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 298.

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the book miss is that the references to the French republican tradition are a common language for Weil, her friend Maurice Schumann (a government minister), and De Gaulle. Thusly, while she offers a defense of obedience to a country’s chosen leaders and laws, she also reminds these leaders that a totally secularized “body politic governed by a sovereign ruler accountable to nobody is in the hands of a sick man.” Weil also suggests 119

that because De Gaulle’s Free French were official only in spirit and word, but not in deed, they avoided this very problematic. In regards to the possibility that this can be 120

construed as the tacit acceptance of a social contract, Weil offers the caveat that Dietz recognizes as a central part of her argument. This caveat to the social contract is that one may maintain the possibility of withholding consent so that “the demands of conscience [may] be satisfied.”

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Thusly, just fourteen pages in (to the translation), Weil has already set up an aporia. We owe obedience to leaders, except when morally impelled not to obey. In this case, our obedience is owed to higher powers than to telluric leadership, which cannot be disobeyed without consequence. In spite of this, Weil offers no inclination of ascribing to the tenet of civil disobedience that the disobedient must accept the penalty for stepping outside the law in the non-active act of of decreation. Instead decreation calls the telluric 122

powers into question, directly. As such, this is simultaneously Weil’s moral-political and Christian imperative. It is a rehashing of the conflict between the Antigone and Creon, 123

and an implication of Weil’s own political independence in a time of totalitarian parties. In other words, there is subversion at play. For Hannah Arendt, in her essay on “Civil

Ibid., 14. Ibid., 190-196. Ibid., 14. Hannah Arendt, “Civil Disobedience,” 66-7. It is no mistake that a photograph of the 13-year old Simone Weil graces the cover of the Hackett paperback publication of Sophocles’ Antigone. Sophocles, Antigone, trans. Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2001).

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Disobedience” Weil’s radical antagonism to the established order crosses the line from civil disobedience to revolution.

124

In Part II, Weil takes a close look at the moral authority of De Gaulle’s “government” in the context of a genealogical variant of French history. It is at the end 125

126

of this section, during which she declares a general French “hatred of the State.”

127

Moreover, the “moral injury” that weakened French society’s ability to resist the 128

German conquest is “a direct result of that extraordinarily brief yet bloody civil war of May 1871, which continued secretly for nearly three-quarters of a century.” The 129

historical victory of the forces of centralization and nationalism against the revolutionary working class has paved the way for the Nazi conquest. In this passage Weil brings her redemptive mysticism into contact with her anarchist and Marxian politics to both embolden and diminish the Free French Forces in London. She writes: “Not possessing any governmental authority – even a nominal, fictitious authority – over the French people, based entirely upon free consent, it has something of a spiritual power about it. The unswerving loyalty displayed in the darkest hours, the blood spilt freely every day in its name, give it the right freely to use the most exalted words in the language.” 130

These voices over the radio have legitimacy by virtue of lacking authority. This 131

synthetic argument recalls Weil’s “Reflections Concerning Technocracy, Nationalsocialism, the U.S.S.R. and certain other matters,” namely, that anarchists were the only ones to be able to escape bureaucratic stagnation due to their inability to organize formally. In a stunningly contradictory move, Weil seems to be arguing for the 132

legitimate leadership of a proto-government and proto-party while also reminding them 133

Ibid., 77. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 190-196. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 190-196. Ibid., 190. Ibid., 194. Ibid. Ibid., 196. Ibid., 189. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 28. Weil, in many places in The Need for Roots and the entirety of the Note On the Abolition of All Political Parties, expresses her warnings to De Gaulle and his followers not to follow the historical formalization of the party-form.

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that the power they hold is both ephemeral and tertiary to the French fight for freedom and the obedience owed to moral and spiritual matters. The future regime had only “something of a spiritual power about it,” which in Weil’s political mysticism is not 134

even remotely the same thing as a true spiritual power, which can only be held by God. Thus, we have the preamble to a form of social organization that is, in itself, compromised in Weil’s eyes. But this lack was insufficient for Weil to not travel to London for the purpose of joining them. The explanation for this, however, seems more biographical than it does 135

philosophically relevant. And the historical situation, as far as Weil was concerned, 136

required active participation in the Resistance. Her purpose is to influence a politically powerful person (or people) to reevaluate his (in this case, De Gaulle) proposed path. She does this in the same way as Machiavelli, with an interpretation of history that is meant to lead De Gaulle to the conclusions she wants from him. But like Machiavelli, she also councils wholesale change.

137

Weil offers honesty, instead of loyalty, to the Free French Forces in London. The 138

assignment that allowed her to write The Need for Roots was to guide this organization on the question of how to handle the trades-unions and the working class organizations in France that would certainly re-form after the war; Weil does not hide her prescriptions for a just society for the working classes from De Gaulle. This prescription, however, is a pill that De Gaulle could not possibly swallow and would not take even if he could. Yet, there is an urgency to Weil’s diagnosis: This problem of the building of entirely new working-class conditions of existence is an urgent one, and needs to be examined without delay. A policy Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 196. Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 487. In this way, it is more a consequence of history, such as Franz Neumann and Herbert Marcuse working for the OSS in the American War effort. But her long friendship with Schumann, her physical limitations, and the difficulty and danger of returning to Occupied or Vichy France as a Jew and a leftist intellectual likely had more to do with her taking up a position in London than any real intellectual fellowship with De Gaulle. See Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 487. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 53. Ibid., 124.

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should at once be decided upon. For as soon as the war is over, we shall be busy building in the literal sense of the word – that is, constructing houses, buildings. What is built this time will not be demolished again, unless there is another war, and life will become adapted to it. 139

Weil continues with an outline of her “tentative proposals” which are necessary for the “re-establishment” of “the working-class by the roots” which are antagonistic to both 140

central planning and central government. “Large factories would be abolished…. Only half a day’s work would be required, the rest of the time being taken up with hobknobbing with others similarly engaged…” In her plan, there will be educational 141

programs for the workers that would cover both the technical aspects of their particular part of production and the project as a whole. Most importantly, “The machines would not belong to the concern [that is, either to a private business person or a company or corporation]. They would belong to the minute workshops scattered about everywhere” and thus would be returned to their 142

proper place as metaxic, or intermediary, objects between the workers and the materials upon which they work. Contrary to the form of capitalism in the 1930s and 1940s and the organization of labor during that same period, workers in Weil’s utopian France would not be subjected to the machines on which they worked. Instead, the machines would be returned to their proper social (intermediary) role as the tools of the human beings who worked them. No single worker would be dispossessed, but the feudal and bourgeois method of accumulation through inheritance is to be eliminated. And, finally, women would no longer be prevented from either political participation or the ownership of property in its abridged form.

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Such a reorganization of society defines the specific form that Friedrich Engels described, in the Anti-Duhring as “humanity's leap from the kingdom of necessity to the 139 140

141

142 143

Ibid., 73. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. 74. Ibid. 74-76.

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kingdom of freedom.” Moreover, her plan for the reorganization of society achieves 144

Weil’s own rewriting of Marx’s dream in The German Ideology. Her future workers would labor in the morning, kibitz in the afternoon, critique in the evening, and pray each night – all in a loose federation of independent workshops. To put this more clearly: 145

Simone Weil’s political project in The Need for Roots requires the decentralization of the oppressive apparatus of the State and the organization of labor. It offers a compromise with the organizational premise of the State for educational and minimally logistical matters, contemporary legalities regarding gender and ownership, and the continued existence of a cultural project of Frenchness (one that Weil herself is not willing to abandon). In this utopian formulation Weil leaves to the central government (free of parties or official Churches) the role of a metaxic clearinghouse for the logistical bureaucracy. It is absolved of any decisions, those being given to the workers and peasants themselves. The society in which the workers and peasants are prepared for their eventual role as the moral and spiritual center (something that Weil already affords them) of their own future is one in which the State still exists in a minimal way as the connective tissue for the loose federation of rooted collectivities. In order to operationalize these rooted collectivities as the connective tissue of the State, Weil’s dialectical contradictions become irresolvable paradoxes. The pessimist – and Simone Weil is nothing if not a pessimist – would be skeptical both of the efficacy of such a form and of the ability of the rooted workers and peasants to resist it, especially when this federal State follows its own logic and attempts centralization , let alone the 146

federal State’s ability to resist its own logical extension of power. In order to communicate this point, Weil largely defines her utopia in negative terms. This decision is a pedagogical tool for the education of the impending Gaullist regime. Weil defines her Friedrich Engels, Anti-Duhring, in Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 25: 1873-1883 (New York; International Publishers, 1987), 270. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 73-76. Simone Weil, Selected Essays, 137, 140.

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future society in opposition to a historical understanding of the centralization of France in the late monarchical and early Republican years. In other words, Simone Weil makes her case for the federation of workers’ councils by educating the Free French Forces in London; she shows how their forefathers in the project of a centralized France (Richelieu, Louis XIV, the Men of 1789, the Third Republic) were agents of historical deracination. Weil’s history of the oppressed is partnered with moral, intellectual, and 147

affective needs that are more difficult to measure, let alone achieve, than the existentially contentious realities of class power and domination. Her political analysis and suggestions are imbued with a pessimist’s compromise that her final idea of a liberated society is beyond the spiritual capacities of her political moment. Thusly, there is a contradiction between the existentially realizable elimination of material necessity through a liberated form of social organization with work as its “spiritual core” and the improbable realization of a holistic spiritual society. Weil’s 148

indication that the collectivity – something she shows little patience for in “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression” – is not only meeting of her approval, but is an indispensable part of the society she wishes for the future, has been interpreted antagonistically by Dietz and Springsted. The theologian Springsted, finds “a deepening and maturing of her ideas… [which] are also the fruit of [Weil’s] theory” of metaxu, developed “in her writings from at least 1939 on.” Dietz, the political theorist, 149

whose dissertation was written and defended around the same time (1982), but published as a monograph in 1988, counters Spingsted’s claim, arguing that in The Need for Roots, Weil, “with a decisive stroke, […] thus reverses the hierarchy of values in her thought. What was in her mystical writings anathema to all that is pure and spiritual now becomes a vital human need. What endangered the autonomous methodical thinker in her Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 105: “It must be admitted that the forty kings who in a thousand years made France, did so often with a brutality worthier of our own age. If a natural correspondence exists between the tree and its fruit we mustn’t be surprised if the fruit is, in fact, very far from being perfect.” Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 298. Eric O. Spingsted, Simone Weil and the Suffering of Love, 103.

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materialist writings – the collectivity – is now the primary nourishment of the human soul.”

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Though her pessimism does sometimes mask the political arguments that she makes by hiding them behind the difference between what she desires and what she thinks of as possible, in the end, she proposes something truly radical: a new France under the spiritual and political control of the working classes, populated by generalists who share their time in educational and fraternal manners as a loose federation of councils of workshops rather than factories.

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Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine, 151.

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Conclusion: Simone Weil & The Pessimistic Spirit of Criticism “We must not seek consolation in what is best in ourselves – The task of pure intelligence is not to console…” 1

Though she lived a scant thirty-four years, Simone Weil left a complex collection of writings intended to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies of her times. Following Miklós Vetö’s argument that there is no “break” in Weil’s thought between her materialist thought and her mystical Christianity, I have presented Weil’s work as a 2

coherent analysis of oppression. I have, in particular, attempted to highlight both the heterodoxy of Weil’s arguments (as well as her arguments for heterodoxy) and the deep pessimism of her questions and her answers. Weil’s work constitutes a departure from both orthodox Marxism and the Catholic Church. From her earliest academic writings on Descartes to her last political writings, which intended to influence the Free French Forces in London under De Gaulle, her departure from all orthodoxies can be observed throughout. Her thought cannot only be defined negatively; it is at the same time mystical, materialist, communist, anarchist, Christian, immanent, and transcendent. Her mystically infused political writings are inseparable from her politically informed mysticism. Simone Weil’s critique is one that is aimed at a totality of social relations and is expressed as a totality, though neither of these totalities are a completely enclosed system. In other words, Weil recognizes and accepts the logical and inevitable opposition of thought within the real material and ideological frames of critique. Following Plato, her dialectics forgo any promise of reconciliation, often reaching limits in paradox and aporia. She offers a critique of the totality of social oppression, but she does not offer a closed system of critique. This absence of a closed system, as Andrea Nye argues, is generally a justification for the exile of any given thinker from the canon of political

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Simone Weil, Notebooks, 84. Miklós Vetö, The Religious Metaphysics of Simone Weil, 7.

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thought (especially if the writer is a woman ). In explaining the rationale for choosing the 3

4

works of Rosa Luxemburg, Simone Weil, and Hannah Arendt for her study, Philosophia (1994), she emphasizes the radical openness of their thought. In like fashion, Maurice 5

Blanchot, in his exceptional tome, The Infinite Conversation, writes of Simone Weil, “I do not see why Simone Weil alone would be disqualified as a thinker because she accepted within herself as legitimate the inevitable opposition of thoughts.” Perhaps this 6

is because Weil’s thought resides in that plane of heterodoxy in regards to both political thought and Christian theology, never quite achieving heresy, and never allowing itself to be subsumed into the idolatry of the orthodox.

7

Among Weil’s contemporaries, Maurice Blanchot was not alone in critiquing and admiring her thought and her person, and those who have come into contact with her thought posthumously have been equally effusive in their praise or contempt for Weil. The roots of the aporia that Blanchot sees in Weil’s thought is clear recognition of the delicate balance of the Platonic, mystical, Marxian, and pessimistic poles of her thought. The inevitability of aporia—which Blanchot learns just as much from Bataille, Nietzsche, and Heidegger as he does from Weil—and the inconclusiveness of her dialectical frameworks, are appropriately understood as a strength by Blanchot. This dissertation has also presented this independence as one of Weil’s strengths. Blanchot is in agreement with Weil about the irresolvable contradictions of oppression and liberty in the capitalism of the 1930s, which we can still see in our own historical moment. In other words, it is no surprise that these two French philosophers came of age in the same years as the first generation of the Frankfurt School, who also abandoned the messianic hopes of Marxian theory for the study of the deepening

See Penny A. Weiss, Canon Fodder: Historical Women Political Thinkers (State College, PA: Penn State University Press, 2009), especially the “Introduction” and Chapter 1. Andrea Nye, Philosophia: The Thought of Rosa Luxemburg, Simone Weil, and Hannah Arendt (New York: Routledge, 1994), ix. Ibid., xix-xx. Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, 106. Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysiticism, 9.

3

4

5

6 7

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conundrum presented by inter- and post-war capitalism. The heterodoxies of that era 8

have grown into multivalent categories of political thought, including contemporary critical theory, deconstruction, biopolitics, and postmodernism. Simone Weil’s influence can be detected in each of these streams of thought, which have ossified into traditions of their own even as they remain open to challenge and alteration. Returning to Weil as a primary source is a step to prepare the ground for the rethinking of contemporary crises in a Weilienne fashion. It accepts that a new heterodoxy is needed as we move deeper into the twenty-first century, in which orthodoxy is increasingly deracinated. With this restatement of the importance of heterodoxy both in Weil’s thought and for the advancement of contemporary critique, this final chapter will take on two tasks. First, it will present a recounting of what has been written in the chapters that precede it. This task will include a restatement of the links between Weil’s critique of idolatrous politics, afflicted labor, the moral problems inherent in violence and revolution, her mystically-rooted conception of resistance, and her compromised utopian plan for postWar France. In recounting these themes, this chapter will also restate the strengths and weaknesses of Weil’s constructions and arguments. This task will be broken up into constituent parts that summarize the corresponding chapters in this dissertation. The second task of this epilogue will attempt to offer a critical analysis of what Weil offers for the advancement of the contemporary critique of oppression. This section will include a second consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of her thought in a sort-of balance sheet. The task here is not simply to create a formula for critique or to decipher what part of Weil’s critique is “useful” or not. Rather, the purpose of this exercise is to decipher the vitality of Weil’s pessimistic heterodoxy.

8

Stuart Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss, 139.

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Simone Weil’s Heterodoxy: Simone Weil understands the role of mediation, what she calls metaxu, as preeminent in the relations of the immanent and the transcendent, whether these find their form and content in the relationships between the human and the divine, the people and ideology, the worker and the product of labor, or the real and the good. She searches endlessly for the proper place of the metaxic object and criticizes the objectification of the beings and the ideas that the metaxu regulates. She resists something like her 9

contemporary Georges Bataille’s pure immanentism, which he expresses through the construction “the animal is in the world like water in water.” Bataille’s version of 10

freedom as the triumph of the irrational is antithetical to Weil’s rational study of the 11

apparatuses of idolatry, the anathema sit, affliction, attention, and decreation, all of which are rooted in the valorization of metaxu rather than the desire for its abolition. 12

Oppression is a confusion, dislocation, or reversal of the appropriate metaxic relations. Contra Bataille, Weil problematizes and criticizes the fetishization of the metaxu, calling attention to the totalitarian impulses of the collectivity expressed as the idolatrous relations to the institutions of the State, the Church, and the Party. In idolatry, the Church, the Party, and the State are displaced from their role as metaxu between the immanent individual and the transcendent collectivity. They thus come to be totalistic collectivities that dominate the individual. In this dissertation, Chapter One recounts Weil’s dialectic of oppression and liberty in regard to this relationship of the individual and the collectivity. In this framework, the Roman Catholic conception of excommunication, the anathema sit, is held up as the mechanism by which these collectivities control the free movement of action and thought. In other words, the anathema sit polices orthodoxy.

Simone Weil, On the Abolition of All Political Parites, 12. Georges Bataille, Theory of Religion, trans. Robert Hurley (New York; Zone Books, 1989), 23. Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil, A Life, 208. Weil writes, in her Letter to a Priest, “I would translate as follows: In the beginning there was Mediation.” Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 70.

9

10

11

12

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As a result, not only is the orthodox position made into the only acceptable position, it is also made into the only safe position. For Simone Weil, the heterodox 13

position of the mystic or the unaffiliated fellow traveler – even in the politics of dissent – become the only viable positions for those who wish to balance this relation by bringing it to equilibrium rather than resolution. When the institution places itself not as metaxu, but as the transcendental, it becomes not only an idol, but an ersatz idol – an ersatz form of an ersatz god. To elaborate this point, Weil writes of the inheritance of Rome as being passed from the Caesars to Richelieu and Hitler, each in turn believing their State to be the final expression of humanity.

14

In Weil’s analysis, each new layer of idolatry and each step away from rootedness raises a new historical Great Beast – a term she adopts from Plato’s critique of the Sophists – seeking to excommunicate the prospects of redemption through the State’s 15

idolatrous claim that the messiah has already come. Her argument is contingent upon her genealogical understanding of the Albigensian Crusade and the Cardinal Richelieu’s 16

repressive centralization. Both the destruction of the Cathar sect and the centralization drive of Richelieu are presented as exemplars of the deracination of France and the moral bankruptcy of the Catholic Church. In this explication, Weil’s genealogical method of historical reconstruction benefits and detracts from her argument. On the one hand, her timely critique of totalitarianism is supported well by her reconstruction of its historical roots in Rome and the Hebrew Scriptures. Weil’s history is a history of the oppressed with an explicit political purpose. This purpose is exposing totalitarianism throughout history for the sake of its defeat in the conflicts of the early-tomid twentieth century. At times her construction blurs the lines between a historical study of the origins of totalitarianism and the mapping of the modern totalitarian model onto historical collectivities. Too often she makes the claim that the Roman Empire or the 13

14

15 16

See Herbert Marcuse, “Repressive Tolerance.” Simone Weil, Selected Essays, 76, 91, 94, 96, 102, 124-125. Plato, Repubic, 493a-493b. Simone Weil, Selected Essays, 36, 37, 45, 46.

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ancient Hebrews were totalitarian rather than showing her readers how the forms of social organization practiced by these historical peoples contributed to the Nazi and Soviet forms of domination. This is not her only misuse of history. Though the links in her thought are numerous and of great import, Weil’s historical conflation of the three preeminent collectivities of the Church, the Party, and the State ignores the historical ebb and flow of their relative powers as well as the interplay between the three institutions. Because her time saw the party at its height in relation to the State and the Church, it is this institution that is banished from the mise-enscene of her vision of post-war France. At the same time, she fails to see the conflict, 17

either historically or in the crises of her time, between these institutions. Perhaps a thinker more inclined toward a pluralism of institutions rather than ideas would find a potential equilibrium in the competition between the various institutions that vie for public adulation rather than a monolithic view of these three institutions as different manifestations of the Great Beast. Weil’s monolithic conception of the Great Beast is significant for the distinction of her heterodoxy and the orthodox radicalism of the early-to-mid twentieth century. Her rejection of the Party as a mechanism for change or the State as a symbol of collective pride separates her from the Bolshevik brand of communism in both its revolutionary and bureaucratic forms. Her critique of the idolizing of institutions cares little for Stalin’s or Trotsky’s version of orthodox Marxism. Instead she hitches her wagon to the power of heterodoxy as such, and makes the target of her critique a thread that is shared between the State, the Church, and the Party: the anathema sit. In her Letter to a Priest, she writes of the Church’s internal contradiction between its aim to be “catholic” in fact

18

and the mechanism of

excommunication (the anathema sit), which duly prevents any possibility of this

17 18

It is no surprise that her late essay is a Note On the Abolition of All Political Parties. Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 11-2.

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achievement. She returns to this point in the Note On the Abolition of All Political Parties that presents the Church as the ur-form of the Party. Tangential independence from these 19

institutions, for Weil, is a badge of honor. Her inability to take baptism was a selfimposed constraint for the purpose of maintaining her own intellectual freedom. Her logic is clear: because of her heterodoxical mysticism, excommunication would have been the inevitable result of baptism. Solidarity with believers outside the church was a preferable position. Following Plato, Simone Weil develops an understanding of these institutions as being in a state of perpetual internecine struggle – the conquest of the self is always ongoing. The anathema sit, on Weil’s account, is the Christian-Roman form of Plato’s argument that the State is the conqueror of itself replayed on the ideological level.

20

Centralization, on the Roman model of empire carried out by Richelieu and Hitler—and perhaps also by De Gaulle, she feared—is the modern form that this aporia has taken.

21

But the antagonism to liberty presented by centralization and the power of anathema sit as general tendencies of the collectivity is simultaneously a limit for Weil. The limit is that her critique of the collectivity is so totalizing that instead of seeing any possibility of its defeat, she sees only the migration of the Roman (and Hitlerite) model from one place to another.

22

Deracination is a communicable disease. Weil’ writes, “Whoever is uprooted himself uproots. Whoever is rooted himself doesn’t uproot others.” When the State’s 23

conquest of itself or the Party’s totalitarian aspirations push beyond their initial national boundaries, they carry with them the pressures of uprootedness to new peoples. Simone Weil, On the Abolition of All Political Parties, 26, 27. Following from Weil, Roberto Esposito writes: “Rather than an intrinsic, full, absolute state of health, what we have here is a state of immunity that blocks evil by setting up an impassable limit. This means that the negative – the prohibition, the interdiction, the law – is not only the opposite of the affirmative, the expansive, or the vital; rather, it is its very condition of existence/ The negative is the point of resistance that allows life to last, as long as it submits to that which protects it. It is the limit, the order, the law by which life can remain as it is, only by bending itself to the power that goes beyond it.” Roberto Esposito, Immunitas, 55. See also, Plato, The Laws. Simone Weil, Selected Essays, 131. Ibid., 139. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 48.

19 20

21

22 23

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Conquest, destruction, and depopulation are all manifestations of deracination. The advance of deracination appears inevitable in the context of Weil’s concepts of the State and the Party. These institutions must export their power. For Weil, it is in their very nature to seek total power by usurping the intellectual energies of as many individuals as possible. No matter the name it is given, there is an aporetic relation between the collectivity and the individual. Deracination is not only a product of the machinations of the State, the Party, or the Church, it is also endemic to the irresolvable quality of this relationship. Wherever there is a corrupt collectivity, the individuals subsumed within it are reduced to it. In regard to this aporia, Simone Weil’s historical context is that of an ever-increasing oppression through the centralization of social life. Linking Weil’s criticism of idolatrous orthodoxy presented in Chapter One and the organization of labor presented in Chapter Two is the organization of knowledge and its tie to social power relations. Weil attacks scientific discourses for falling into just this trap in “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression.” She writes: The inversion of the relation between means and ends – an inversion which is to a certain extent the law of every oppressive society – here becomes total or nearly so, and extends to nearly everything. The scientist does not use science in order to manage to see more clearly into his own thinking, but aims at discovering results that will go to swell the present volume of scientific knowledge. Machines do not run in order to enable men to live, but we resign ourselves to feeding men in order that they may serve the machines. Money does not provide a convenient method for exchanging products; it is the sale of goods which is a means for keeping money in circulation. Lastly, organization is not a means for exercising collective activity, but the activity of a group, whatever it may be, is a means for strengthening organization. 24

What can be seen in this paragraph is exactly what Weil is working against, namely, the closed systems of particulars in which each system serves as an end-in-itself. True attention must always be directed outward.

24

Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 111. (My emphasis.)

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It is no contradiction that the increase in ideological centralization that Weil comprehends as the limitation of truth is combined with a simultaneous individuation and decentralization of the labor process. In a corresponding movement, the orthodox institutions attract the desires of individuals through idolatry and ideology while the spaces of labor, what Weil calls “real life,” work to increasingly isolate and dehumanize 25

the worker. Her frame remains Hegelian in spite of her protests.

26

Simone Weil’s dialectical disciplinary paradigm holds within it both the possibilities of totalizing affliction and the development of attentive capacities that are necessary for the breaking of the bonds of slavery, or at least the organization of resistance against the slave-masters. It is affliction, rather than decreation, gravity, or grace, that is Weil’s most Christianized concept. For Weil, even before her mystical experiences, the soul was already the center of the crisis. The transformation of the person (already an imperfect subject) into the worker into the slave, in descending order, corresponds to the advancement of the techniques of training of the soul through routine coercion and humiliation, ending in the compounding of affliction. By associating the afflicted with slavery, and slaves with the procedures of Christianity, which she valorized, Weil takes what could be a simple intensification of 27

Marx’s alienation, and instead muddles it – though she does not weaken it. What drives Weil from alienation to affliction, from the material to the mystical, is the affective quality of humiliation. Humiliation and affliction are the result of the inversion of the relation between the tool as metaxu and the human as ends, so that the worker serves the machine.

28

The humiliated soul is created as a canvas for the imputation of the physical pain of the work itself and the self-hatred of the afflicted when they are forced not only to accept their affliction but also to accept it as being either their natural lot in life or the 25

26

27 28

Simone Weil, Seventy Letters, 10. Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks, 17. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 124. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 13, 41.

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result of their own failings. At each step, there is a need for active attention to discipline, 29

to the machine, to the job at hand. This attention, for Weil, is ritualized in the conception of “cadence.” Perhaps a bit confusing for linguists (or cyclists), the demeaning of cadence in favor of rhythm as a reality of work for Weil is a semantic distinguishing of something mechanical from something natural. Cadence required an active attention to the machine 30

that resembles servitude; rhythm permits attention to the world and to nature. The clock measures cadence; rhythm is measured by the sun and stars. This second form of 31

attention is not to be confused with a Bataillean ecstasy, nor is it limited to the by-gone 32

agrarianism and skilled trades manufacturing that Weil champions. As an ontological condition, Weil’s conception of rhythmic work is attuned to the proper relation between ends and means and which of the subject or object determines the movements, tempo, and duration, of the labor involved. The free form of labor provides the opportunity for 33

the opening up of one’s attention to the universal, rather than the immediate object. Attention, then, may take its proper role as radical openness to the possibilities of solidarity, divine inspiration, the beauty of the world, and philosophical thought. It is a revolutionary form of compassion for the world, for beauty, for justice, and for the neighbor. This form of attention also requires training – and Weil prescribes prayer. The key to a Christian conception of studies is the realization that prayer consists of attention. It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God. The quality of the attention counts for much in the quality of the prayer. Warmth of heart cannot make up for it.

34

Eric O. Springsted, Simone Weil and the Suffering of Love, 29. Simone Weil, The Simone Weil Reader, 61. Ibid., 55. Georges Bataille, “The Sacred Conspiracy,” in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939, ed. Allan Stoekl, page numbers (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1985). Simone Weil, The Simone Weil Reader, 69. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 57.

29 30

31 32

33 34

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Just as the move from alienation to affliction is fraught with mystical imputations, the liberatory form of attention must pass from free forms of labor, through study, to the concept of prayer. Weil departs from the Spinozist tendency in philosophy (which 35

includes Hegel, Nietzsche, Foucault and others) in her theological rejection of the benefit of knowledge for knowledge sake. Attention to “School Studies,” as the title of her essay suggests, holds use value so long as they are “with a View toward the Love of God.” It is only in this way that it may be conceived of as a premise for solidarity, piety, and liberation. Only when attention is turned toward the afflicted, in the form of the question “What are you going through?” does it become the premise for the love of 36

neighbor, which is indistinguishable from both the love of God and justice. In perhaps one of her most poignant combinations of Greek philosophy, Christian mysticism, and twentieth-century revolutionary spirit, Weil writes, “The Gospel makes no distinction between the love of our neighbor and justice.” This expression of love encompasses the 37

radical spirit of thinkers of her same generation like Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adorno, Georg Lukács, Hannah Arendt, and even Bataille, all of whom believed that solidarity itself was a form of beauty, especially in the face of the aesthetics of fascism.

38

Attention as a form of resistance cannot be reduced to aesthetics or an appreciation of the beauty in the world, in spite of the correlation with justice that Weil inherits from the Greeks. The relation intrinsic to attention and resistance is one that passes through Weil’s critique of violence. While she only gives the title to the Iliad, there are three poems of force in Simone Weil’s philosophy. The Hebrew Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita join Homer’s epic Ibid., 90. Ibid. Ibid. 85. See Theodor W. Adorno, The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, ed. J.M. Bernstein (New York: Routledge, 2001); Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Penguin, 1965); Georges Bataille, Guilty, trans. Stuart Kendall (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2011); Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, trans. Stuart Kendall (Albany, NY: State Univesity of New York Press, 2014); Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, Third Version” in Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-1940, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, 251-283 (Cambridge, MA: The Belknapp Press of Harvard Universtiy, 2006); and Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness.

35 36 37

38

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in her mind as the archetypical descriptions of the force. Force, for Weil is the engine of history. Alongside these ancient and theological roots, Weil’s reflections on violence provide a contextualization for her understanding of oppression and the prospects of attentive resistance. Only a soul so morally grounded as Arjuna’s is able to carry out violence without destruction. “He [Arjuna] will fight because he cannot stop this war, and because, if it takes place, he cannot do otherwise than take part in it. (It has already begun.) To do only that which one cannot do otherwise than do. Non-active action. … Non-violence is only good if it is effective.” Thus is the quandary that Weil leaves for her reader, because in 39

the crises of her times she was unable to come to a sufficient conclusion for herself. Weil’s original pacifism mutates not into something else, like a justification for selfdefense or revolutionary violence, but into a pessimistic pacifism, that is, a pacifism that recognizes that there are times when one has no choice but to act violently. In that sense, Weil’s quandary is also a command: because one must resist, because one must fight oppression, there is no other choice but to do so. But one cannot simply congratulate oneself for doing this, or do it at moments when it will instead be harmful to some part of the afflicted. Moreover, “It has already begun.” In sum, the moral effects of violence are 40

just as powerful for the user and the abused. Force penetrates all elements of the relationship. A pessimism about morality becomes the overarching theme of her critique of violence and revolution. This hesitancy concerning violence is predicated on the inherent gravity that Weil saw in its enactment. She was unable to rectify violent resistance to oppression with her own understanding of the two-fold character of violence, that which kills and that which “does not kill just yet.” This is precisely because of the necessity for the superhuman 41

morality of Arjuna, which Weil did not believe she herself held. Violence, then, would 39

40 41

Simone Weil, Notebooks, 96. (Weil’s emphasis.) Ibid. Simone Weil, An Anthology, 185.

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not be a means to a just ends for her, as it would transform her as it transformed the Acheans at Troy. “The truth is, nobody really possesses [force],” but instead force takes 42

possession of whomever puts it to use. As E. Jane Doering rightly designates, rather than justice or piety being self-perpetuating it is force that appears as the inescapably transhistorical property of Weil’s thought. However, what Doering ignores is that force, for Weil, is also the mover of history itself that functions in the same fashion as Hegel’s chopping block or Marx and Engels’ understanding of revolution. The Christianity inherent in both Weil’s thought and Doering’s interpretations mask the dialectical character of force as an agent of synthesis. This self-perpetuating and inescapable violence is the material problem for revolution. The ideological problem of revolution, however, is equally aporetic: it seems that the word had lost its meaning sometime between Marx and Engels’ Manifesto of the Communist Party and Weil’s “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression.” Perhaps this is because of her pessimistic rejection of any teleological 43

process of history. Nonetheless, Weil’s understanding of “revolution” remains within the 44

Marxian doxa of class struggle. She remains desirous of the victory of the afflicted in “their permanent revolt,” whenever it bubbles to the surface of life as she recognized it 45

in Machiavelli’s retelling of the ciompi rebellion in Medieval Florence.

46

“Non-active action,” is the prospect of attentive grace, the path to justice. In its truest form, it could be considered a practice of listening to the voices of the afflicted. Cornered by the oppressive forces of gravity, the radical compassion that is required to only do what one cannot avoid doing requires the un-selfish attention to the afflicted. But this profoundly stated mystical politics is a compromise Weil makes with herself. It is an

Ibid., 191. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 55. Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks, 17; Simone Weil, Letter to a Priest, 48; Simone Weil, “The Romanesque Renaissance,” in Selected Essays, 1934-1943: Historical, Political, and Moral Writings, ed. Richard Rees, trans. Richard Rees, 44-54 (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015), 44. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 69. Simone Weil, Selected Essays, 55-72.

42 43

44

45 46

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embrace of her penchants for pacifism and pessimism as well as the recognition that such forms of politics are inherently limited in their power to stop a dangerous enemy. Blanchot is correct in his description of her as being called to motionlessness without the capability to be still.

47

But what of this very problematic? If attention to the afflicted is a necessary condition for true resistance that cannot be conceived of through revolutionary slogans or collectivities of artificial solidarity, then what is the essence of the rationally ordered society that Weil hopes for without hope? It is only when one is trained in attention to such an extent that it becomes non-active that the radical openness Weil calls decreation is possible. Without a mass of humans in the throes of decreation, true revolution seems impossible. Reflexively, however—and this is the rub—mass decreation is impossible without first re-rooting the collectivity so that it nurtures the individual towards decreation. Decreative resistance will be her greatest promise for compassion and her most frustrating limitation; it is the most powerful expression of her pessimism. In spite of this, Weil struggles with the idea of purity in the mystical sense. Her visions of anarchism and atheism as passages of purification towards an obliging social and religious framework provide a glimpse of the deep-seated hesitancies she holds about belief. These hesitancies, problematically, drove her to compromise some of her most powerful political positions. Moreover, this limitation set her on a path to seek purities antagonistic to the Nazi idea of the pure race that denied and threatened her humanness. Thus, she moved from pure ideas in Descartes, to the politics of pure means in Marxism and pacifism, to the purity of Christ as the incarnated and crucified expression of affliction. Each of these attempts to find the pure relationship between means and ends or subject and object was disrupted by aporetic limitations. Her vision of freedom is a rational one in which there remains a balance of oppression, because purity is reserved for the absolute conceptions of truth and the good. 47

Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, 122.

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Decreation is an affirmative negation. It is the negation of desire and what is personal in the soul in favor of what is human in the neighbor. It is the affirmation of compassion, love, and justice through the returning of the created part of the soul to God. The apotheosis of Simone Weil’s politics is thereby expressed through her mystical Christianity—in Platonic and Marxian terms. The ramifications for the political value of Weil’s thought are masked by this very move. Decreation is, according to Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, a way of life. In this way, Weil is thoroughly Christian 48

and thoroughly Greek at the same time. Decreation, as a form of quotidian politics, is the good; as a form of resistance, it is akin to amor fati; and as practice, it is the embrace of the unknowable transcendental demand for tikkun olam, to repair the world (which makes it also Jewish), and the imitation of Christ on the Cross. Decreation is the distinction between revolutionary action, which is expiatory and messianic, and the suffering of the saints and the afflicted, which is sacrificial and redemptive. “We must,” Weil writes, prefer “a real hell rather than… an imaginary paradise.”

49

There is an Upanishad metaphor that Weil uses to explicate this convoluted dualism in decreation: the tree with roots in the ground and in the sky. If decreation, as 50

the non-active act of love of neighbor, is the apotheosis of Simone Weil’s philosophical “deposit of pure gold,” the growing of roots is her ultimate political project, albeit an 51

incomplete one. Because Weil understands cruelty to be ahistorical but affliction and 52

oppression to be historical, she is forced to treat transcendental good as ahistorical, but 53

justice (its political corollary) as a historical concept. As a result, The Need for Roots outlines an impossible heuristic collectivity that stands as the antithesis to the crisis of the Nazi Occupation of France. The rooted collectivity presented in her second magnum opus is not an utopian outline of the final actualization of her heterodox communism, but is 48

49 50

51

52 53

A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone and Lucian Stone, Simone Weil and Theology, 2. Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, 53; Simone Weil, Notebooks, 320. Simone Weil, An Anthology, 86. Simone Weil, Seventy Letters, 196. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 226. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 2, 40, 42, 60, 69, 70, 142, 146.

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instead the society that Weil intends to “wither away” after providing the individuals under its care proper spiritual and political nutrition. Like Moses, Weil believes that neither she nor De Gaulle will see the Promised Land, but they must train the inheritors of Joshua on a moral basis. And that is her utopia’s limit. Because there is no teleology or messianic promise in Simone Weil’s thought, the prospects of the just society are infinitely deferred. In the end, her “cosmic pessimism” wins out in the paradoxical battle with her revolutionary 54

political leanings and her mysticism of resistance. But it is that very pessimism which provides the political grounding for what she had hoped to pass on to the next generation of militants.

Analysis of Oppression:

“A tree whose roots are almost entirely eaten away falls at the first blow. If France offered a spectacle more painful than that of any other European country, it is because modern civilization with all its toxins was in a more advanced stage there than elsewhere, with the exception of Germany. But in Germany, uprootedness had taken on an aggressive form, whereas in France it was characterized by inertia and stupor.” 55

The forms of social oppression, crisis, and affliction are different now from how they were from 1909-1943. Thus is it necessary to ask the question: what in Simone Weil’s thought that is of use to radicals now? If Weil saw her own vocation as that of making “militants think,” then what is it that contemporary militants may learn from 56

her? What sort of analysis of our contemporary historical juncture can be made with the conceptual apparatus that Weil provides? Marx’s truism from The 18 Bruamire seems apt here, “first as tragedy, then as” th

something that can only be described as “farce” by those who have not yet experienced 57

it as tragedy again, let alone utter catastrophe, such as those who marched in solidarity Mary G. Dietz, Between the Human and the Divine, 119, 141 (N.12). Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 49. Simone Weil, Oppression and Liberty, 25. Karl Marx, The 18 Brumaire of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (New York: International Publishers, 2008), 15.

54 55

56

57

th

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with Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rise of the right, whether it is neoBonapartism or, more likely, neo-fascism, provides the appropriate context for re58

opening the heterodox critiques of the interwar period, Weil’s included and, here, underscored. We must ask with her whether the continued rise in power of the Alt-Right and their preferred politicians has occurred in the United States because it is the place where “modern civilization with all its toxins was in a more advanced stage [] than elsewhere?” If so, will it take the bellicose form as it did in Nazi Germany now that it 59

seems to be growing out of its period of “torpor and inertia”?

60

Weil’s concepts of idolatry and the Great Beast are of particular use in this regard, not only because of the increasing power of words and dereliction of language, but also, even more so, because two of her Great Beasts are ascendant. The State has never left behind its totalitarian aspirations of the 1930s. Instead, it has found more subtle ways of achieving the goal of an enraptured population. The reintroduction of colonial wars in the post-Cold War era was only the first step. Weil’s understanding of the State as the conqueror of itself has since taken hold as, increasingly, military weaponry and tactics have been translated into the context of domestic law enforcement. The political Party, too, has increased its drive for its ontological goal, totalitarianism. Like Weil, we were convinced that the competition between American and British political parties was simple, vague, and resembled “sport.” But we have been 61

presented with a twenty-first century, cyborg-like Great Beast unmediated by our traditional methods of the established press, but mediated by the algorithms of megacorporations who hold the power of understanding and monitoring our communications. On the one hand, we live in a golden age of free speech; on the other hand we have capitalized nearly all the words in our political lexicon without taking the time to define them. The ability for sophists and demagogues to penetrate our increasingly siloed 58

59

60 61

See Dylan Riley, “American Brumaire?” in NLR 103, January-February 2017, 21-32. Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 49. Ibid. Simone Weil, On the Abolition of All Political Parties, 3.

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experiences, as well as their attempt to draw us into collectivities that seek to suck us dry, demands Weilienne language. The political Party, in its official forms and its illegal (both right and left) formulations, has not faded with the collapse of Soviet Communism. These parties, even in the mainstream of American neoliberalism, have increasingly demanded absolute loyalty to the point of developing competing narratives of victimization. From the perspective of a Weilienne analysis, however, the self-victimization of the contemporary American right is unsurprising. In The Need for Roots, Simone Weil outlines the conditions and causes of historical deracination: military conquest, centralization, urbanization, unemployment (“an uprootedness raised to the second power” ) consumption, and deracination itself. 62

63

“Whoever is [deracinated] himself, uproots others,” she wrote. Her points of reference 64

are relevant for the contemporary American ideological frame: the Ancient Hebrews idolatry of a chosen people and the alliance between the Church and the Roman Empire. The American ideology of a great people backed up by the combination of a sense of ideological superiority and massive force is not foreign to Weil’s analysis. The great historical conquerors of North America were deracinated Europeans and importers of slaves from Africa. The nativized immigrant peasant and proletarian masses have imagined themselves as the inheritors of Rome and Jerusalem as a collective whole. The great promise of that John Locke saw in this terra nulla, the prospect of a 65

place to become rooted, has backfired, and the current mood of our politics is reflective of Weil’s conceptual apparatus of ideology built upon the capitalization of the founding principles of the colonizers. It would be disingenuous to attempt to make some sort of grand theoretical statement about how the American political crisis is proof positive of Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, 45. Ibid., 44, 45, 47, 48, 49. Ibid., 48. Locke’s conceptualization of property in his Second Treatise on Government has a causal relationship with the British experience of colonizing the Eastern Seaboard of North America. See John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 285-302, especially 301.

62

63 64

65

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deracination as the predominant form of life in contemporary times – and it is a platitude to admit that such a statement is disingenuous. Because the concepts of ideology and deracination remain of value for analyzing contemporary politics, it is worth exploring the continued relevance of Weil’s argument for heterodoxy. The idea shows some merit: in the period between 2008 and 2014, the movement of the squares, which came to its fullest expression in places like Athens, Cairo, Madrid, Hong Kong, Oakland, Johannesburg, Kiev, and Instanbul, presented themselves as site-specific contestations that were open to a broad array of ideologies. These movements expressed class antagonisms without making concrete demands; they emerged as places where different conceptions of resistance and revolution came to meet and meld. They expressed only their shared intentions, in a minimal way that either had content (The People want the regime to fall) or lacked content (We are the 99%) if they developed slogans at all. It seems that the left had organically come to this realization around sixty years after Weil’s death. It was this global phenomenon that spurred the undertaking of this dissertation project in the first place. But the wave ebbed. The next set of movements has been based on a different strain of politics, one of personhood and identity. This tendency is shared by the left (in the form of the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements) and the right (the triumphant return of White Nationalism and White Identity Politics). As the ideologies of the right-wing movements form concrete idolatries as they gain State and Party power, they must be again challenged by ideas that refuse to be subsumed into their strict visions of politics and collectivity. The mechanism of the anathema sit and the limitation of thought and expression of anti-patriotic sentiment are very real. As Nancy Fraser has recently pointed out, the remnants of Clintonism and Blairite politics, what she calls progressive neoliberalism, in 66

the meritocratic forms of feminism (lean-in), anti-rascism (diversity), LGBTQIA rights 66

Nancy Fraser, “The End of Progressive Neoloberalism” in Dissent Magazine, January 2, 2017.

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(marriage and benefits), and multiculturalism (the tried and true tolerance preached by Locke and defamed by Marcuse ) have come crashing into the anti-financialization 67

68

critique leveled by Trump and his ilk on the right has broken the electoral hold that the meritocracy of capital letters that indicate identity such as Woman, Gay, Black, etc. previously held. Thus, the electoral left has been pushed into an aporetic position that is 69

reminiscent of the 1930s. It is the Great Beast and the delineation of who is anathema that drove the Obama administration into the violent repression of Black Lives Matter as much as Donald Trump’s fear tactics and wall-building while grabbing as many Chelsea Dollars as he can.

Precarity and Pessimism:

Precarization and precarity, according to Isabell Lorey, as the new ersatz forms of

capital and State, are indicative of deracination as the ontologized status of humanity in the era of triumphant neoliberalism. Whereas Weil could not have foreseen that the State 70

would be completely overcome by the bureaucratic needs of capitalism’s logistics, she did understand that the mass imposition of distraction and humiliation in both work and politics (in the narrow sense) was already a predominant modality of oppression in the late industrial period.

71

In what is perhaps the most valuable of Weil’s offerings to critics of the neoliberalism and post-industrial capitalism, her work pre-empts the advent of “the precariat” as a term of art in describing a new form of work and the working classes in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. It is the soul that carries Weil’s critique of interwar industrial capitalism forward to the contemporary Western context of See John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration (New York: Prometheus Books, 1990). See Herbert Marcuse, “Repressive Tolerance,” in Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington More Jr., and Herbert Marcuse, A Critique of Pure Tolerance, 81-123 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965). Nancy Fraser, “The End of Progressive Neoliberalism.” See Isabell Lorey, State of Insecurity. Simone Weil, Formative Writings, 225.

67 68

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70 71

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precarious intellectual and service labor. As the anarchist misfit within the Italian Operaist tradition, Franco “Bifo” Berardi, has pointed out, we are in a time in which the aftermath of “the collapse of the global economy can be read as the return of the soul” to 72

the center of the labor process. Berardi’s argument for the reconsideration of the soul as a central element of the labor process is preempted by Weil’s work eighty years before his own. Both thinkers are building upon the foundation provided by Marx’s conceptual apparatus of alienation. Within the factory system of interwar France, Simone Weil experienced and theorized a close connection of affliction and attention through the mechanisms and techniques of the training of the soul. This training hinges on the affective dissonance created by subjecting workers not only to material alienations from their work and their potential comrades, but also from their own emotional and intellectual selves. The workers are, while at work, driven to include themselves in their accounting of the machines of the factory. All of this seems far from relevant to the contemporary postindustrial economy, in which not only have the factories been sent away, but the jobs that have replaced those jobs are less skilled and less permanent. It is this impermanence that Gary Standing and other economists, social scientists, and social theorists have dubbed “precarious labor.” Standing himself has even coined the term “the precariat.” This new[ish] class is lacking in “self-esteem and social worth 73

in their work; they must look elsewhere for that esteem, successfully or otherwise. If they succeed, the disutility of the labor they are required to do in their ephemeral unwelcome jobs may be lessened, as status frustration will be lessened.” Such a class of workers has 74

many parallels to those who engaged in piece-work alongside Weil. Though the precariat is universal and the piece-workers were both feminized and (in Weil’s experience) almost exclusively women, they have the common experience of their jobs being impermanent Franco “Bifo” Berardi, The Soul at Work, From Alienation to Autonomy, trans. Francesca Cadel and Giusseppina Mecchia, (Pasadena, CA; Semiotexte, 2009), 207. See Gary Standing, The Precariat, The New Dangerous Class (New York; Bloomsbury, 2011). Ibid. 21.

72

73 74

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as well as driven by both fear and the disavowal of self-esteem. This is how Weil comes to the idea that the main part of affliction is not the threat of physical violence or the power of material need, but is the humiliation to which the afflicted are subjected. In a service economy, the humiliated workers, Weil’s afflicted class, cannot show their humiliation outwardly – it must be repressed. Thusly, Standing’s argument that “the precariat is not a class-for-itself, partly because it is at war with itself” can be understood 75

in his context of the different elements of the precariat being rivals for jobs, housing, government aid, etc. It can also be understood through a Weilienne analysis of not wanting a “‘bad’ job” and of the self-association with their affliction that when repressed 76

arises as anomie or anxiety.

77

There is a distinction to be found in Weil’s critique that lies in the question of what/who the worker is serving. The distinction between attentive service to the neighbor and the humiliating service to capital perhaps can offer a framework for the understanding of the affliction of the precarious service worker. While this is in alignment with Weil’s critique of the use of humiliation for the training and making docile of workers, there is an inherent contradiction in the idea of service as labor to the conception of love of neighbor. The act of service that, in capitalism, is monetized and made into something that is anathema to the concept of justice Weil seeks to put forward in “Forms of the Implicit Love of God.” The question “What are you going through?” is reduced for both the 78

79

asker and the askant to “What will you have?” and “How much does it cost?” Thus the relationship between these two is made into a simple exchange of money rather than a relationship in which the service and the good act as intermediaries for the ends of the individuals. Instead, the individuals, both the server and served, become the objects

75 76

77

78 79

Ibid. 25. Simone Weil, Formative Writings, 158. Gary Standing, The Precariat, 19. Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 85. Ibid. 64.

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through which the money and the final exchange is mediated. Solidarity between such totally alienated individuals is impossible. In such cases even work-to-rule would, by necessity, include a polite smile in response to banal and insulting requests. In the case of service labor, the exhaustion of the work appears secondary in affective power to the perpetual humiliation of being at the whim of another’s changeableness. It matters not if the other is the customer or the manager; they cannot be our neighbor. But what conclusions can be drawn from this? Neither the mystical nor the philosophical forms of attention seem enough for a coordinated resistance. The form of labor Weil experienced is now foreign (as in, outsourced) to the experience of most workers in the post-industrial states. There is a contradiction in Weil’s thought, and in capital’s current organization. On the one hand, service to others, be it in the form of love of neighbor or some other less mystical form, is antagonistic to capitalism. On the other hand, service is exactly that type of work that is the predominant form of labor in postindustrial economies. Moreover, Weil’s understanding of the free labor on the land is most certainly negated by the factory farm which provides a great deal of the food eaten in the industrial and post-industrial States. This aporia of service is redoubled in the aporia of attention and affliction as they relate to the training of the soul. The training of the soul has the dialectical possibilities of oppression and liberation that depends not only on the orientation – though that is of great import – but also on the quality of the training, the space in which the training takes place (prison, factory, or fields), and the methods used to convey discipline to the trainees (cadence, rhythm). It seems that there is only temporary escape left as an option for contemporary readers of Weil. It is almost as if, in her study of the organization of labor, she found resistance to be so difficult as to make revolution impossible.

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Revolution, for Weil, in the contemporary sense, is not only avoided by the docility of the afflicted. Both revolution and the use of violence require a moral grounding that is beyond any but the most morally good. Between despair and the extremely high moral standards Weil constructs, revolution becomes an impossibility. This is the case even without taking into account whether violence is involved, whether there is a revolutionary Party, or if there is any revolutionary theory (perhaps now there are too many of them) to be had. In considering Simone Weil’s political thought and its validity for the contemporary critique or contestation of politics, it is perhaps this question of revolution or resistance that Weil comes up so dishearteningly short. Because of her own pessimistic attitude about the possibility of repairing the world, the tikkum olam, her reader will find a seemingly internally directed concept of decreation. However, decreation as a form of mystical-political resistance may be the most important step that can be taken as the more vulgar means of idolatrous power continue their ascent and spread their power. The openness of decreative resistance requires a radical emptying of the self through compassionate interaction. To ask “what is happening with you” in a distracted age when the superficial answer to that question can be blasted out on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, at any moment, is perhaps a greater skill than even when Weil suggested it. These expressions and metaxu of expression are designed for the construction and maintenance of the personality, rather than what is sacred in the human being. Her suggestion that we strip the personality away through the question “what is happening with you?” is not simply a form of mystical retreat from the world, but is a mysticalpolitical engagement with it. The question “what is happening with you?” is a question that requires both the emptying of the desirous self in favor of compassion and one that seeks a limited and pessimistic justice at the same time.

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Decreation is a strategy of resistance, to be sure, but it is limited exactly because it is only an individual phenomenon which can serve as a basis for solidarity. It offers nothing for this solidarity to be based on, only an openness to it. It offers nothing in the way of a plan of action based on the solidarity it may engender. It offers no plan what so ever. The relevance of Simone Weil’s heterodox pessimism for contemporary critical thought and critical engagement with the world comes to its fullest expression in this compassionate pessimism. It offers nothing concrete, only the openness of engagement. It prefers real hell to imaginary paradise. It neither expiates nor redeems. It dreams of a future that is already possible for the individual, but may never come for the collectivity. It does not, however, end with a disheartened shrug. It ends with an engaged and caring oreintation to justice.

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