Friday, January 25, 2019

Simone Weil

Simone Weil in 1921.
Simone Weil's fame was posthumous, and owed in part to her life story. Weil was the daughter of a secularized French-Jewish family, and excelled in her studies in the prestigious École Normale Supérieure.  She was a supporter of left-wing causes during the 1930s, and worked in various factories and farms in order to experience first hand what the lives of working-class people were like.  In 1936 she travelled to Spain to support the Republican cause in the early months of the Civil War, where she aligned herself with the anarcho-syndicalist CNT trade union. In the years immediately preceding the start of the Second World War, Weil had mystical revelations that led her to embrace Christianity.

The essay we will look at on Monday, "Human Personality," was one of the last pieces Weil wrote before her untimely death in London in the summer of 1943 at the age of 34.  Commentators have written that Weil's unusual life and times have diverted attention away from her thinking and writing.  It is in many ways easier, after all, to focus on a fascinating life than to tease apart the complex ideas that are the product of that life.  "Human Personality" is considered an excellent synopsis of many of Weil's original ideas.  So far from expressing an idealized love of "humanity," the essay displays the warmth and the love Simone Weil had for the living and breathing people with whom she came in contact.