Monday, July 30, 2007


She is a guide and provocateur for atheists and Christians, for revolutionaries, recidivists, romantics, and realists; for religious and non-religious; for philosophers, factory workers, sociologists, cooks and truck drivers. “In France”, declared the New York Times, “she is ranked with Pascal by some, condemned as a dangerous heretic by others, and recognised as a genius by all.”

For Andre Gide she is “the best spiritual writer of the twentieth century.” And T. S. Eliot, whose conservative political and ecclesial outlook was in many respects the opposite of hers, concluded: “We must simply expose ourselves to the personality of a woman of genius, or a kind of genius akin to that of the saints.

Truly, Simone Weil (1909-1943) has a unique voice which needs to be heard again in the twenty-first century – a supposedly ‘post ideological’ era in which views and ideas are hardening in spite of (or perhaps because of) cultural diversity, spiritual confusion, secular angst and social fragmentation.

Weil was, in many respects, a disturbed person who lived life in fragments. Yet there is an unsettling wholeness to her vision which offers connectedness without uniformity, spirit without dualism, rebellion without inhumanity, nourishment without gluttony, and God without illusion.

Perhaps the best place to start with her work is Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil’s first ever publication. This is now available from Routledge in an edition which includes not just a foreword by friend, interlocutor and interpreter Gustave Thibon, but also a postscript he wrote in 1990 and which was published in English for the first time in an edition re-issued in 1999.

Stephen Plant, who I had the pleasure of working with through the international committee of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, has written a short introduction to Simone Weil (as well as one of my other lode stars, Dietrich Bonhoeffer) – one which is both appreciative and honest.

Reading Weil will always leave you unsettled at one level. But also inspired. It will not leave you unchanged. She is an eccentric in the technical (rather than purely pejorative) sense of the word: off-centre - when 'centre' is understood to mean "dominant ideas and ways of life".

“Our life is impossibility, absurdity. Everything we want contradicts the conditions or consequences attached to it. Every affirmation we put forward involves a contradictory affirmation. All our feelings are mixed up with their opposites. It is because we are a contradiction – being creatures – being godly and infinitely other than God… Impossibility is the door of that which is beyond nature. We can but knock at it. It is someone other who opens.”

[translation by the author – for Mary Metzler]

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